A few thoughts before heading to a screening of Shaad Ali’s OK Jaanu – mainly about Hindi remakes of Mani Ratnam’s films and what they miss. The first thing is the sense of place. There is an air of alienation when a Tamilian moves to a “north Indian” city – when Mouna Raagam’s Divya moves to Delhi, when Nayakan’s Velu flees to Mumbai, or even when Guru’s protagonist moves to Mumbai. The latter may not be Tamilian. He’s Gujarati. But in other senses, he’s cut from the same cloth as Divya and Velu. He’s an outsider. And this outsider-ness – this non-Bombay-ness – adds a layer of subtext to the drama. Velu has to not just survive, he has to survive in a city where the Establishment speaks a different language. Divya has to not just battle a marriage she’s been forced into, the battleground is filled with sardar-s who speak no Tamil. So when you make Divya a Hindi speaker in Kasak, when you make Velu a Hindi speaker in Dayavan, this subtext is lost. It’s now just a straight story.
This was playing on my mind when OK Jaanu was announced. The enjoyable film was one of Ratnam’s lightest, but it carried a subversive charge: two Tamilians were living together “in sin.” The premise is notable for a couple of reasons. One, couples just don’t have casual sex all that easily in mainstream Tamil cinema. Two, they wouldn’t have been able to do this in “conservative” Madras. They needed Bombay’s open and unjudging arms. It’s like how one sneaks away from home for a smoke – only, with condoms. But when it’s no longer Tamilians (I don’t know yet the background of the couple in OK Jaanu, though I assume both are “north Indian”), when living together has been a part of the mainstream Hindi-film landscape since at least Salaam Namaste, made over a decade ago, where’s the subversion? The story is now just about career vs. love. Hopefully, the film does something about this. After the screening, then.
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Nope! The film does nothing about this aspect. It’s going to be fun to see how audiences who haven’t seen the original respond to this remake, but for the rest of us, this isn’t an inspiration – it’s mostly an imitation, right down to the colours of the hero’s bedroom walls. OK Jaanu is about a commitment-phobic, career-minded boy and girl who meet cute, decide to live in till they go their separate ways, then find themselves confused by their feelings. In O Kadhal Kanmani, this wafer-thin plot was elevated by its Mani Ratnam-ness – the aesthetics, the cute/snappy banter, the direction of performances, the orchestration of on-screen chemistry, the staging, the detailing. When the Leela Samson character instructs her husband (Prakash Raj) to clean a vessel, she says, “Kadhai-ya nalla thechu kazhuvanum… adi pidichirukku.” She’s made roasted potatoes. It’s natural that the bottom of the vessel is charred. It’s natural that she’d ask him to pay particular attention to that aspect. This wonderfully specific middle-class-ness of Mani Ratnam’s cinema gets lost when the words become as generic as “Bartan dho lo.” Wash the vessel! The changes Shaad Ali makes aren’t for the better.
The worst change is the use of Humma humma instead of a song created for the film. The situation is that of a boy and girl who are really attracted to each other, flirting and seeing just how far they can go during their first night together – and all this is expressed through song. They sing Parandhu sellava… (Shall I fly away) with improvised music, improvised steps, seemingly making things up as they go along. Here, it’s staged with full-on choreography, like an MTV music video. The original gave us the sense of two people exploring a whole new world. Here, it’s two people looking back at 1990s Bollywood, like in a million other movies.
Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor just don’t have it. They look too… sculpted, perfect. Dulquer Salman brought to the part a self-deprecating impishness. He was saying, “What? Me? Good-looking?” Kapur says, “Check me out!” The character is from Kanpur, but Kapur looks like he stepped out of a Bandra gym. This duo just cannot hold close-ups the way Dulquer and Nithya Menen did – and this film is all about close-ups, those flickering changes that help us fill in the gaps in the dialogues, the story. I feel for Shaad Ali. Ever since his best film, the criminally underrated Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, bombed, he’s been at sea. Remaking his mentor’s works may be a way to keep himself visible, but someone should tell him an echo is not a voice.
- O Kadhal Kanmani = see here
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