Recently released Ayushmaan Khurrana's 'Bala' and Sunny Singh's 'Ujda Chaman' have stirred up a hornet's nest as they deal with similar social topics. 'Ujda Chaman', an official remake of 2017 Kannada blockbuster ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe', hit the screens a week earlier than 'Bala'. This is not the first time that movies with baldness as their theme were released.
Earlier this year itself, the Malayalam version of ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe' was treated to movie lovers by writer and director Ashraf Hamza and it turned out to be one of the well-crafted Malayalam movies of the year.
'Thamaasha', starring actor Vinay Forrt in the lead, turned out to be a refreshing experience for viewers, whereas 'Ujda Chaman' turned out to be unpleasant.
Onmanorama takes a look at what worked in favour of 'Thamaasha' and how it stood out even from the original.
The cultural setting
'Ondu Motteya Kathe' showed the struggles of a bald man and the incident he encounters when he steps into matrimonial world. The film, in fact, opens with a dedication to the legendary Kannada actor Rajkumar who through posters and songs is a character in himself throughout the film. It is shown that the hero Janardhanan even uses the image of Rajkumar as his social media profile picture. The legend is, probably, a figure whom he admired. One reason that the original works so well is because it takes its subjects seriously enough. The protagonist Janardhanan is a Kannada lecturer and even the beauty of the language sync well with the cultural settings.
“The cultural aspect was a major element in the movie. There is a difference between Bengaluru Kannada and Mangaluru Kannada. We intentionally used the latter as it is slow while speaking and we wanted to convey the lonely feeling that Janardhanan goes through. We wanted the character to speak slowly as it was needed to show his inferiority complex,” said Raj Shetty, director of 'Ondu Motteya Kadhe'.
Similarly, 'Thamaasha' too tactfully carried the similar essence of the original. Set in Kerala's Malappuram, the protagonist here - Sreenivasan sir -- is a Malayalam lecturer. Consider the scene where Sreenivasan sir attempts to write a love letter. When he makes his friend-cum-college peon to read it, his first response is, “you would a translator as well.” When Sreenivasan sir asks him if he should lower the standard of his language , he advises him to be as simple with it.
When it comes to 'Ujda Chaman', the family is shown as a middle-class Punjabi one based in Delhi's Rajouri Gardens.
The protagonist here is Chaman, a Hindi professor who has been trying to get married for the last five years. He desperately tries to date his colleagues - asking each of them if they would like to go out with him for a dinner and end up knowing that each of them already has a boyfriend. Trying to woo and date is totally acceptable but dating a 20-year-old student, and she flirting with a professor for a lame reason is totally loathsome.
“Janardhanan is the hero as well as the villain in the movie. We are all ordinary people in our own ways and have unique egos. Janardhanan has certain inhibitions, but he wanted to marry a beautiful girl,” said Raj talking about the character sketching.
Raj takes care of masculine insecurities with top performances from each of the cast. In fact, the light-heartedness of ‘Ondu Motteya Kathe’ was the result of cleverly written supporting characters. Raj tells that he shaped up the characters based on people around him. “The peon's character in the film was inspired by a close friend of mine. No matter what, he would call his wife every now and then. Parents are usually tensed when it comes to their kid's marriage. We tend to get jealous of our siblings yet we lean on them when we need support. I just wanted the movie to be relatable in every way and that is how I approached it,” he said.
When it came to 'Thamaasha', director Ashraf took his own time for everything. “This is my first movie and it was accidentally that I decided to remake the Kannada movie. But I wanted that it shouldn't be a copy-paste as such. Definitely, I liked the original and that's why I decided to do it. When we watch a movie, there would be things that we wish to see more of and that was my way of approach for 'Thamaasha',” said Ashraf.
There comes a sequences where the second female lead Safia played by Grace Antony meets Sreenivasan sir. The character was as rooted as it could be and the script took time to show what Safia had in store for Sreenivasan sir. In yet another instance, when Sreenivasan sir meets the third actress Chinnu played by Chinnu herself, the character is subtly drawn. Here, neither of them talk about their past nor about the future (which was seen in the Kannada and Hindi versions). There were moments of silence, sound of phone ringing, the starting trouble between two strangers meeting for the first time; all these could be easily felt by the genuine performances.
Unlike the Kannada and Malayalam versions, director Abhishek Pathak and writer Danish J Singh who did the adapted dialogue and screenplay for 'Ujda Chaman' designed a few jokes that take away the focus of the movie. The flat dialogues pull the movie down further and the script isn't sharp enough to make the characters interesting.
The original had Shetty as bald as in real and Malayalam version with Vinay Forrt's baldness was natural and felt more like a heart-warming biopic. But the baldness of Chaman played by Sunny Singh looked artificial and he seems to have no life other than being a crashing bore. There is a scene where he is shown riding a bike and looking at a barber moping the ground after cutting the hair of customers. Following this, he is also seen gazing longingly at people with hair. The masculine insecurities here seem too superficial in Chaman's case.
Developing the thread
'Ujda Chaman' gets it right by the end, all thanks to the original story. There are too much of exaggerations like in the 'masala films' we have seen from Bollywood. When Chaman enters college wearing a wig, he has an altogether different body language. With hands in the air and head held high over the background score, “Are kab tak jawani chupaogi Rani” (the song from the film 'Mujh Se Shaadi Karogi'), but such scenes barely carry forward the message.
While talking about the remaking concept, Raj revealed that he was offered to remake, act and direct the film in Telugu but he chose to decline. “For me, the movie was over. I had my own share of self-exploration. I am not against remakes of any sort but I do not want to delve into that topic again,” he said. “See, I am bald too. I truly understand the situation and when I was writing the movie, and I tried to bring in similar situations,” he added.
With soulful music and subtle yet rib-tickling comedy, 'Ondu Motteya Kathe' conveyed the message it wanted to. It was more based on how two individuals with entirely different dimensions finally end up together.
But 'Thamaasha' took a steep turn from the original. “Sreenivasan sir meets up four women (three leads and peon's wife) and meeting each of them made him realise different nuances of life. If the first half relied only on baldness, the second half showed body shaming. Imagine how to tell a story to a kid and that was how the plot development took place and detailing was done for 'Thamaasha',” said Ashraf.
Coinciding the story with cyberworld, Ashraf says, “We wanted to show how society as such treats such people and cyberworld is probably the best place to portray that.”
After the two characters Sreenivasan sir and Chinnu are body shamed on social media, the latter comes out in a live video and bares her heart out. “How come me occupying a space trouble you,” is what she asks and we can't agree more with her. She further adds, “These jokes are pretty old for me,” and 'Thamaasha' cannot be treated as a joke as the word means, literally and figuratively.
Post-script: We do not yet know which among the three surpassed the box-office numbers, but better not let any remake get lost in translation.