Caution: spoilers ahead.
Two remakes of Sriram Raghavan’s acclaimed thriller Andhadhun were released on streaming platforms within weeks of each other. The Telugu-language Maestro, starring Nithin as the fake-blind pianist who “sees” a crime, was out on Disney+ Hotstar on September 17. The Malayalam version Bhramam, led by Prithviraj Sukumaran, was launched on Amazon Prime Video on October 7.
The remakes target viewers who have not heard of Andhadhun, did not watch it during its successful theatrical run in 2018, and do not have a subscription to Netflix, the current home of the Hindi movie. This seems to be a large enough cohort, which explains the success that co-producer Viacom18 Motion Pictures has had in selling the remake rights. A version in Tamil, starring Prashanth, is under production.
Sriram Raghavan’s fifth feature begins in one place and boldly lands in uncharted territory. The musician Akash, who is pretending to be blind in order to improve his compositional skills, unwittingly witnesses the aftermath of a murder. At the apartment of a former movie star, Akash sees the actor’s wife Simi and her lover Manohar with the actor’s body.
Although Akash escapes the scene of crime, Simi turns out to be a redoubtable adversary. Akash’s harmless con goes badly wrong when Simi blinds him for real. Enter a trio of illegal organ harvesters, one of whom offers Akash a devil’s deal: let’s kill Simi and use her eyes to restore the vision that she took away from you.
Andhadhun was inspired by the French short film L’Accordeur (2010) by Oliver Treiner. The Hindi film’s writers – Raghavan, Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladja Surti, Yogesh Chandekar and Hemanth Rao – have concocted a judicious mix of plausibility and suspension of disbelief.
Wicked humour courses through the narrative as Akash tries to resolve his predicament and Simi works to cover her tracks. Although Andhadhun always operates within the realm of possibility, the frame is ever so slightly tilted askew, which allows viewers to go along with the increasingly madcap turn of events.
The carefully calibrated performances are key to Andhadhun’s impact. Every major character buys into the film’s vision of escalating disorder but never goes off balance. Apart from Ayushmann Khurrana as Akash and Radhika Apte as his girlfriend Sophie, Manav Vij plays Simi’s hunky and not-too-bright lover Manohar.
Anil Dhawan’s self-deprecating turn as the retired actor Pramod Sinha sets the tone for the movie. Of this world but with one foot in La-la land, Pramod is besotted with his young and attractive wife. Simi is an aspiring actor too, and presses Pramod to get her roles.
The movie’s main draw is undoubtedly Tabu, who is terrific as Simi. Was she named after Simi Garewal, who played a scheming spouse-killer in Subhash Ghai’s Karz?
Simi reveals herself bit by bit, graduating from accidental killer (of her husband) to deliberate murderer (of a nosy neighbour). I have become a serial killer because of your stupidity, Simi complains to Manohar – one of the movie’s many macabre moments that is played absolutely straight.
The Telugu and Malayalam versions do not dare to tinker with the source material. Merlapaka Gandhi’s Maestro introduces a few changes but largely sticks with the original film’s flow. Bhramam, directed by Ravi K Chandran, similarly repeats Andhadhun’s pretzel-shaped twists.
While both versions miss out on Andhadhun’s zaniness and cheerful amorality, Bhramam gets closer to the darkness of its source. The remakes prove that while ideas can and do survive and reach new audiences in other languages, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate a movie’s mood, texture, pacing and attitude towards its material.
The biggest difference between Andhadhun and Maestro and Bhramam lies in the casting of the actor who plays the femme fatale. Andhadhun makes it clear that while Simi is younger than Pramod, this isn’t exactly a May-December relationship. Simi appears to be a bit over the hill herself. She isn’t as glamorous or perfectly turned out as her replacements. Her desire to be an actor is part of the movie’s larger philosophical joke that a person’s need must never exceed the grasp.
Tabu was 47 at the time of Andhadhun’s release in 2018 – just the right age to play a character who is experienced in the ways of men and the world and beyond caring for the consequences of her actions.
Maestro and Brahmam widen the age gap between the movie star and his spouse. In Maestro, Tabu is replaced by 31-year-old Tamannaah, while the husband is played by Naresh. Tamannaah’s Simran is visibly younger than her bewigged spouse, which add a dash of ickiness to their relationship. Tamannaah’s limited acting skills further make her task even tougher than it already is.
In Brahmam, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s blind musician looks about the same age as this movie’s Simi, played by Mamta Mohandas. At 36, Mohandas once again appears much younger than her screen husband, played by Shankar Panicker.
Although Mohandas’s Simi is more ruthless than Tamannah’s Simran, both actors fail to inject black comedy into their performances. It’s hardly their fault – the remakes follow Andhadhun’s refusal to moralise but miss out on its screwball quality.
Simi is a part clearly written for an older actor. By casting Tabu, Raghavan made possibly his best casting choice for the production. Tabu has been in comedic roles before, but never quite like this. She has played a villainish character in the past, but never quite like this. Rather than picking a younger actor, Raghavan chose a performer who brought vast experience and the right dose of wiliness to the role.
The Tamil remake Andhagan, which is being directed by JJ Fredrick, has the opportunity to get this crucial element right. Andhagan stars 45-year-old Simran as the unfaithful wife, while 1980s heartthrob Karthik has reportedly been cast as her hapless husband. Whatever else Andhagan achieves, it might get closer to the warped soul of Andhadhun solely on the basis of the casting of Simran.
Women who have crossed the 35-year age barrier in the movies are rarely given meaty and memorable roles. They are often compelled to play desexed mothers or syrupy sisters-in-law or wilting widows. The men whom they romanced on the screen not too long ago continue to be depicted as sexual magnets.
In Andhadhun, Simi has an active sex life (even if not with her legal partner) and the guts and brains to set things right. The role could have only been played by an older actor – the single-most important factor missing in the Telugu and Malayalam remakes.
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