As Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016) begins, a lovely melody wafts over a lovelier landscape. The imagery is so idyllic, unaffected, the accompanying beats just as charming that there’s an instant connect with the space that the filmmaker wants you to know. It’s an intimate portrait, rustic at heart, a celebration of the land he knows and loves well.
Pothan also invokes a mythical woman in the accompanying ode – he names her Idukki, after the glorious countryside, pans over life in the land as it exists. Once, it’s the tilling of the lush red earth, during others, it’s the harvest of a succulent root-tuber, or the country folk about their business; the frames perfectly in sync with the lyrics. The director and the lyricist also imbue Idukki with several characteristics over the course of the song; she acquires various forms, too –a lone woman weaving a comb through her hair, several womenfolk in harmonious domesticity, or just the rain-washed countryside.
When the poet sings of a spirited Idukki, a feisty little girl appears, hands firmly on hips. It makes for beautiful cinema, one that almost flows like a musical; between the filmmaker’s love for his land, he makes warm, informal introductions to his characters. Fahadh Faasil, when he appears, is vigorously scrubbing himself by the river, body streaked in foam, or stirring a pot over the stove, a towel carelessly slung over a shoulder.
Priyadarshan’s Nimir, starring Udhayanidhi, also has such frames that revel in their simplicity. The opening sequence though – the one which served to establish kinship with the audience in the original – is disappointingly cosmetic. If Maheshinte… had been fluid, almost delightfully abstract in its portrayal of the Idukki landscape, Priyadarshan opts for a more physical in-your-face representation to introduce his. A woman, dressed in heavy anklets and thick jewellery to mimic Tamil nativity, cavorts in pools and in fields with such gay abandon that it seems almost alien to the eye. Obviously, the world can never see another Oyila, especially not one that lacks the necessary rustic charm, and is unfamiliar with her surroundings.
But Udhyananidhi, with his perfect Dravidian features, someone who can pull up his veshti with a jerk of his ankle (there’s something insanely attractive about a flawlessly-worn veshti, the fold angled just so), is prudent casting – there aren’t many actors in the Tamil space who haven’t been already bestowed with specific heroic attributes. It’s something that a pre-Vikram Vedha Vijay Sethupathi could have played with flourish, but Udhayanidhi, still fresh and largely untainted, is a snug fit. His emotions may not be spontaneous, nor are his comedic lines particularly humorous, but that’s more of a flaw in the setting than the characterisation.
Manithan, another remake that the actor was a part of, is proof that he can deliver fiery lines, evoke a feeling if necessary. In Nimir [look up/chin up], he’s subdued for the most part, deadpanning when the script calls for humour, and almost dispassionate in romance. Which is just as well, for he’s a photographer whose work is almost clerical; he’s no artiste, not one like his father (a restrained J Mahendran) anyway, who sees beauty in the mundane, with the wild ability to idly gaze at the rain for hours together.
Udhayanidhi, as Selvam, owns a photo studio, shoots one dull photograph after another, quite comfortable in his mediocrity until he’s confronted with a rather unexpected assignment. Early in the film, he attends a funeral; the prospect of it excites him – he would finally meet his beloved who works in another city. The funeral, incidentally, is that of her grandfather’s. She arrives, they meet, and amidst the lament and cries, there are some stirrings of romance set to melodious scale.
Maheshinte… had successfully married humour and romance in this sequence, but much before it could happen, the 2014 Tamil film, Mundasuppatti had achieved this to greater effect, with a touch of melancholy. About a village that harbours quirky superstitions, it starred Vishnu Vishal (also a photographer) and Nandita Sweta in the lead – and its opening sequence featured a rather lovely number scored by Sean Roldan. Part-lament part-romantic melody, the body of the song – beautifully arranged – was a seamless blend of contrasting notes. Sean Roldan, whose voice almost acquires a nasal quality while rendering the first couple of lines, turns warm and dreamy as it flows over to the next few.
There’s something intrinsically wrong about comparing a remake with its original –a remake is never a copy, not in the literal sense, anyway – but where Maheshinte Prathikaram scored was with its rooted narrative. The characters intimately knew their landscape, as did the director, and situations were never prone to hyperbole – it’s quite baffling to watch Selvam’s serious conviction to exact revenge, the intensity is a little hard to fathom.
Parvathy Nair, who plays Valli, Selvam’s girlfriend, is quite the sophisticate; you don’t quite believe her when she says she had a karunkaapi – straightened hair and all – it doesn’t quite roll off her tongue the way it should. Namitha Pramod though, turns in a convincing portrayal – much of the second half belongs to her, and she has a riveting screen presence as Malar.
But the most unforgivable lapse of all occurs much towards the end, in the guise of humour; the gallery laughs as intended of course, but for the ones who recognise the sexist, almost Whatsappy nature of the joke, there’s an unpleasant aftertaste.
The Nimir review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.