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Evergreen story: Archana plays the role of 16-year-old Kunjimalu, which was enacted by Ambika in the first version of ‘Neelathamara.’
Evergreen story: Archana plays the role of 16-year-old Kunjimalu, which was enacted by Ambika in the first version of ‘Neelathamara.’

K. RAJAN

Lal Jose helms the remake of the classic Malayalam movie ‘Neelathamara,’ based on a story by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

The sit-out of Vadakkath house at Anakkara near Edapal is a beehive of activities. The house is one of the sets for Lal Jose’s remake of the classic movie ‘Neelathamara.’

Cinematographer Vijay Ulaganathan, director Lal Jose and his crew are focussed on a scene that has Devaki Amma and her grandson Appukkuttan (played by Suresh Nair) bidding farewell to her grand-daughter Kunjimalu (played by debutante Archana). Kunjimalu is left in the care of Malukkuttiyamma (Sreedevi Unni) who rules the household. Litterateur and filmmaker M.T. Vasudevan Nair is closely monitoring the shoot of the film that is based on his book. It takes five takes before the shot is canned. The entire crew bursts into applause. Lal Jose gets up from his chair to congratulate Devaki Amma.

Debutante heroine

Archana, a BBA graduate, looks comfortable in the traditional costume of a village belle. She dons the role of a 16-year-old that was played by Ambika in the original. Compelling circumstances force the youngster to work as a domestic help in a large household. Her travails form the rest of the story.

“I was excited when I was told I would be playing the lead. It is a challenge to play the role,” says Archana.

Debutant Kailash, an MBA graduate from Thiruvalla, is Hari, the hero. He steps into the chappals of Ravikumar who played the lead 30 years ago. He admits that he is apprehensive about comparisons between the two.

Rima Kallungal (Sharath Ammini), Samvruta Sunil (as Hari’s wife Ratnam) and poet Mullanezhi, who has acted in a couple of films, are some of the other characters in the movie. Suresh Nair, though not a newcomer to filmmaking, makes his debut as actor in the role of Appukkuttan, which was perfected by Sattar in the original version.

“This remake project came by chance. I was planning to make a small-budget movie with new artistes when Suresh Kumar mooted the idea of making a remake of ‘Neelattamara.’ M.T. Vasudevan Nair had apparently suggested my name for the job. It’s like a dream come true for me. It is a challenge to live up to the great expectations. The film is not a performance-oriented project or a slick technical one that makes the characters larger than life. Therefore, it requires minute detailing of expressions to make the well-etched out characters live on screen,” says Lal Jose.

The director has taken care to ensure that the remake has a touch of originality. He calls it ‘a a new film done independently.’

A favourite of M.T.’s, ‘Neelathamara’ is one of the five scripts in M.T.’s ‘Ente Priyappetta Thirakkathakal.’ M.T. feels that some Malayalam films can be successfully remade, especially those that deal with romance and social themes. He cites the repeated remake of Sarath Chandra’s ‘Dev Das’ as an example.

“With technological advances, many black and white films including ‘Randidangazhi,’ (1958), which starred P.J. Antony, can be remade, However, some movies like ‘Asuravittu’ (1968), for instance, is not possible.” However remaking a hit film of a certain period has its own set of unique problems.

“In the 1979 film, Ravikumar uses a certain brand of cigarette that is no longer available now. This and other materials like camera, cigarette pack and matches have to be recreated,” says Lal Jose.

M.T. affirms that his original script remains unchanged. “The only change is in its ‘mounting,’” he explains. Both Lal Jose and M.T. spent days reworking the old script and in selecting an artiste who resembled Ambika.

Striking change

“A striking change in the story line of ‘Neelathamara’ is that in the 1979 film, the story revolves round happenings in a matter of six months. For the remake, the film begins in 2009, turns to the happenings of 1979 before coming back to the present.”

The remake is producer Suresh Kumar’s tribute to the film. “Suresh is a fan of the movie. He first watched it in his youth. The movie was not marketed well in those days. He wants the younger generation to see the film in a new format,” says Lal Jose.

The film, slated to reach theatres on October 9, is being shot at locations in Pattambi, Malamalkavu, Chamravattam, Kuttippuram and Thavanur. Produced by Menaka Suresh under the banner of Revathy Kalamandir, the remake has two songs and two keertans. Vidyasagar has tuned lyrics penned by Vayalar Sarath Chandravarma.

Songs are rendered by V. Sreekumar, Balram, Sreya Ghoshal and Kartik. Stills are by Hari Thirumala.


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