Friday Review

Papanasam: A masterstroke

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It’s not often that a remake evokes such enthusiasm, fervour and anticipation especially since there have been other versions. I know people who refused to watch the original ‘Drishyam’ simply because Kamal was slated to act in the Tamil version. With Jeethu Joseph helming the Tamil remake they knew the content could not be in safer hands. Its Kamal’s interpretation of the protagonist’s role, played with effortless ease by Mohanlal that fans could not wait to watch. I had written that the role was just another day in the office for these two gifted performers. They don’t have anything to prove. We just expect them to be part of good, sensible films. Kamal’s reason for signing this film is that he wanted it to have a wider audience. That is justified given the limited reach of Malayalam films.

If ‘Drishyam’, till recently was the biggest blockbuster in Malayalam cinema it reiterates the fact that content is king. Good actors can only complement, not enhance. I say this because a great performance alone has never helped a films fortune. ‘Utthama Villain’ is a recent example. ‘Papanasam’ is a faithful, if not better remake. It’s an exhilarating cocktail of family, emotions, crime and redemption. It’s not a whodunit or a ‘howdunit’ because we know both. It places the viewer in a moral dilemma. Should we root for the protagonist who’s hiding a crime even though it was unwittingly committed? Strangely, many a time we find ourselves hoping the crook meticulously planning and executing a heist on-screen gets away. Jeethu Joseph’s watertight script would have got a nod of approval from Hitchcock. He may have found the filial sentiments silly but that’s Jeethu’s masterstroke. In fact that’s what absolves them of the crime in our eyes.

Jeethu spends a good part of the first half leisurely introducing the characters in a sleepy, verdant village. The protagonist, Suyambulingam is a self made man, uneducated but intelligent and knowledgeable. He runs a cable network and cinema other than being his passion is a window to the outside world. He’s parsimonious with his hard earned money but generous to a fault when it comes to loving his family. Just when you feel the proceedings are getting prosaic, like a mid-day soap, Jeethu jolts you. Suyambu arrives one morning to a house in disarray. A predator has preyed upon his most precious possession, his family. A crime has been committed and now he has to use all his native intelligence to cover up and save them from cops.

Jeethu Joseph is a puppeteer. He sees that you sink comfortably in your seat, makes you sit upright pre-interval and has you on the edge, pre-climax. It’s a superbly written script convincingly converted into celluloid. If you feel the first half is languorous I think it’s purely on purpose. The taut second half leaves you gasping. Jeethu’s ploy of tying the loose ends is ingenious. He has characters on-screen voice the logical questions running in your mind and has convincing answers. Kamal sinks his teeth gleefully into a juicy role. Mohanlal had told me that what you see on-screen is the way Keralites are in real life. “Tamil and Telugu people are louder,” he said stating a fact. Lal’s performance in ‘Drishyam’ was internalised. His feelings are palpable while Kamal is expressive, emotionally. He is established as a character who wears his heart on his sleeve. He‘s the kind of guy who weeps copiously even while watching ‘Pasa Malar’ for the umpteenth time. He’s more physical. While at home, he likes having his family within embracing reach, reassuring them with a protective hug and a look of pure endearment in his eyes. Kamal is a ‘physical’ actor but nobody has more eloquent eyes than him. The one expression of triumph and relief when the cops realise he’s outwitted them speaks volumes. Is he better than Lal? It’s basically two great actors individual interpretations based on their sensibilities and the audiences they’re catering to rather than their acting abilities. I feel Kamal can perform the roles Lal has essayed with equal ease but the opposite is not true and I’m not just talking about dance and stunts. You may call him self- indulgent and narcissistic but when supported by the right script he’s the synonym of acting in the Thesaurus of cinema.

Kamal’s gain is sadly Rajnikanth’s loss. The remake was first offered to the superstar who refused apparently because he thought his fans would not tolerate his getting bashed up by cops. It’s this narrow-mindedness that has stopped his potential remaining untapped. Rajni should have realised that the protagonist endures physical torture only to protect his family. Even if his fans had shied away families would have thronged the theatres. For once he would have outwitted his adversaries using brains rather than brawn. ‘Papanasam’ is just another feather in Kamal’s overcrowded plume. It would have been a resplendent jewel in Rajni’s sparsely adorned crown.



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Printable version | Sep 23, 2017 12:05:28 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/papanasam-a-masterstroke/article7403475.ece