‘Vakeel Saab’ to ‘Narappa’, the travesty of remakes in a digital era

‘Vakeel Saab’ to ‘Narappa’, the travesty of remakes in a digital era, the vie

Can remakes work when original films are easily available on digital platforms? A look at the recent Telugu remakes — ‘Vakeel Saab’, ‘Narappa’, ‘Thimmarusu’ and ‘Ishq’

A casual glance at the recent Telugu films cannot go past the remakes. Pawan Kalyan-starrer Vakeel Saab, the remake of the 2016 Hindi film Pink, was a crowd puller before cinema halls were closed for the second wave of COVID-19. Theatres in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh reopened last week after three months, to screen two remakes — Thimmarusu (from the 2019 Kannada film Birbal) and Ishq, based on the 2019 Malayalam film of the same name. A few days earlier, vying for attention on the digital space was the Venkatesh starrer Narappa, the Telugu version of the 2019 Tamil film Asuran.

The timing of all these remakes may be purely incidental but it has made film enthusiasts ask if there’s a dearth of original stories in one of the biggest film industries in the country.

2021 has seen more than 75 Telugu film releases, with several of them being original stories. Box-office hits such as Uppena and Jathi Ratnalu weren’t remakes. However, the recent spurt in remakes is sticking out like a sore thumb primarily because of the easy access to original films on digital platforms. During the pandemic, home-bound film enthusiasts have ravenously devoured films across languages.

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Jhansi, Ankith Koyya, Satya Dev and Brahmaji in ‘Thimmarusu’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In an ideal scenario, remakes help a story reach a newer audience in regions that have less digital penetration or where the audience prefers to watch movies in the native language than keep an eye on subtitles. Had Narappa released in theatres, it would have stood a chance to appeal to those in the interiors of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh; the lead character’s transformation from a meek, ageing farmer to a vengeful hero might have been greeted with whistles and cheers.

In his interview to The Hindu prior to the digital premiere of Narappa, actor Venkatesh had stated, “If people can relate to the emotions in Narappa, it wouldn’t matter even if they have seen the original. We have tried to keep it raw and rustic like Asuran.” On staying faithful to the original, he added that having worked on more than 20 remakes in his career, he had learnt that it is best not to spoil the original material.

The Narappa team was upfront about its decision to take the digital route, given the uncertainties of the pandemic. The move might have benefitted the team, but many urban and semi-urban viewers who had watched director Vetrimaaran’s Asuran starring Dhanush wondered about the point of remaking a film to release it on the same digital platform (Amazon Prime Video). The fact that Narappa downplayed the caste issue and played ‘safe’ also didn’t augur well with this set of viewers who are familiar with Asuran’s story, which was based on writer Poomani’s Tamil novel Vekkai.

Taking the safe route might have been a calculated move on part of the film team’s to cater to the box office. On a digital platform, the film drew mixed reactions.

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Nivetha Thomas, Anjali, Ananya and Pawan Kalyan in ‘Vakeel Saab’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Playing safe was an obvious move with Vakeel Saab as well. Unlike the Hindi or the Tamil (Nerkonda Paarvai) versions, the three women in Vakeel Saab weren’t returning from a rock concert, but an office party. And the opening song is filled with montage shots showing the women being dutiful daughters, at a temple and so on, to make them appear more conservative and acceptable.

These comparative observations prevail among those who have watched either Pink or Nerkonda Paarvai. Director Venu Sriram, in his pre-release interview, stated, “The multiplex, urban viewers might have watched Pink. But here is an opportunity to take the ‘no means no’ gender sensitivity message to a wide audience in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, with a star like Pawan Kalyan. I’ve grown up watching Telugu movies and I’m aware of the need to reinterpret and narrate the story, appropriating it to the regional milieu.”

Last week’s theatrical release Thimmarusu, helmed by Sharan Koppisetty and starring Satya Dev, largely escaped comparisons as Birbal wasn’t a film many Telugu viewers had warmed up to on the digital platform. Ishq, however, was panned by critics for taking up a problematic narrative and making no amends to it from the original.

In the recent past, a remake that gained appreciation was Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya. Adapting the story of the Malayalam film Maheshinte Prathikaram and setting it in the less-explored milieu of the Araku Valley, director Venkatesh Maha presented a protagonist who redefined on-screen masculinity.

If you thought you’ve had it with remakes, think again: there are more lined up, including those headlined by A-list stars. Under production are Telugu adaptations of Malayalam films Dhrishyam 2 and Ayyappanum Koshiyum, and Maestro, the remake of the critically-acclaimed Hindi film Andhadhun. Maestro is directed by Merlapaka Gandhi and stars Nithiin, Tamannaah Bhatia and Nabha Natesh.

Jeetu Joseph directs Drushyam 2 starring Venkatesh and Meena, while Saagar Chandra adapts Ayyappanum Koshiyum with Pawan Kalyan and Rana Daggubati. The latter is scheduled to release in January 2022, by which time the film industry hopes the pandemic will wane and business will be on an upswing.

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