‘Ghilli’ re-release frenzy: Why Vijay and Trisha’s masala fest still works

The re-release fanfare for ‘Ghilli,’ starring Vijay, Trisha and Prakash Raj, reminds one of a time when masala films didn’t bank on a ton of violence and higher budgets but a terrific lead cast, an engaging screenplay and a perfect soundtrack

April 21, 2024 05:36 pm | Updated 08:46 pm IST

Vijay and Trisha in a still from ‘Ghilli’

Vijay and Trisha in a still from ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: Sri Surya Movies

Nothing hits home quite like nostalgia, and as the recent trend of re-releases has proved, it is especially the case when it comes to cinema. 20 years after it was originally released, Ghilli is back on the big screen, and a matinee show on the packed main screen at PVR Sathyam cinemas on Saturday saw a crowd of fans dance to the opening beats of ‘Soora Thenga,’ as if it was one of the several First Day First Show celebrations of actor Vijay’s films that we have witnessed over the last two decades.

A remake of the 2003 Telugu film Okkadu, Ghilli follows Velu (Vijay), a kabaddi player who bravely dares to rescue Dhanalakshmi (Trisha) from a Madurai gang leader Muthupandi (Prakash Raj). The film’s plot and narrative is as simple as it gets, and yet, audiences since 2004 have gone back to it several times in the last two decades, mostly when it got aired on television and more recently on OTT. This has only led to more excitement building in the weeks leading up to the re-release, culminating in a social media frenzy thanks to fans who shared several videos of the revelry from packed theatres. So what makes a masala fest like Ghilli one of the most re-watchable movies?

Vijay in a still from ‘Ghilli’

Vijay in a still from ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: Sri Surya Movies

Dharani, a director who mastered making masala commercial entertainers

Twenty years later, Dharani’s Ghilli is still regarded to have perfected a formula — as an eminently re-watchable film that has the perfect drama, song, dance, fight, romance and comedy ratio. In 2004, expectations were set, given that director Dharani was also riding high on the success of his previous films, Dhill and Dhool.

Both films, helmed by Vikram had a similar, simple premise — an ordinary man who is tasked with taking evil head-on, encounters several roadblocks, has near-death experiences, and then proceeds to unravel an elaborate plan of revenge. If Kanagavel’s plans of joining the police force are thwarted by a corrupt officer in Dhill, Arumugam in Dhool has a larger issue from his hometown he hopes the government will address — a polluted water source.

In Ghilli, Dharani’s protagonist has less to worry about. We instead explore his relationship with his family and friends (who provide much of the comic relief) and laugh at his lack of a larger ambition apart from excelling at Kabaddi. He is a loafer, but an extremely likable one with heart and spirit, especially when faced with a challenge.

Vijay in a still from ‘Ghilli’

Vijay in a still from ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: Sri Surya Movies

Iconic dialogues and Vidyasagar’s music

Through the opening weekend, audiences have not stopped just singing along to cult favourite ‘Appadi Podu,’ but have also been loudly reciting the film’s many iconic dialogues with the actors on screen — including Vijay’s opening monologue, Ashish Vidyarthi’s ‘wrong nanbargal’, and Prakash Raj’s many declarations of terrifyingly heartfelt love. Phone cameras were also kept ready to capture Trisha’s memorable demand for kaara pori right in the middle of a heated chase sequence.

Much of the nostalgia tied to Ghilli is owing to its exceptionally fun soundtrack by Vidyasagar, in his fourth collaboration with Dharani after Edhirum Pudhirum, Dhill and Dhool. The high energy isn’t just reserved for a chase scene or a hero introduction song — even the romance here gets a high octane ‘Appadi Podu’, which remains one of the most popular Tamil dance numbers to this day.

Muthupandi and the wicked charm of his ‘Chellam’

Vijay and Trisha’s first scenes in the film might have been met with loud cheers, but the deafening cheers reserved for Prakash Raj’s Muthupandi had to be seen to be believed. It wasn’t surprising though, given how Muthupandi and his quirks attained a sort of cult status back in 2004. Muthupandi is a philanderer, but not when it comes to his ‘Chellam‘, as he tells a very revolted Dhanalakshmi after having killed both her brothers in quick succession. While this could have been a textbook angry thug out to get the man who has dared to get the better of him, Prakash Raj as Muthupandi hams it up in an entirely different way — chosing to go over the top with the comedy, all while baying for blood.

Prakash Raj as Muthupandi in a still from ‘Ghilli’

Prakash Raj as Muthupandi in a still from ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: Sri Surya Movies

‘Ghilli,’ a reminder of what good masala entertainers meant in Tamil cinema

Both sports and action films have seen a steady evolution over the years, with fights becoming better choreographed and sports sequences at least attempting to seem more authentic. The high points of Ghilli, from its many fight and action sequences, however, continue to remain most enjoyable and were met with loud cheers in the theatre. The filmmaking might seem dated in parts, but the high moments continue to be effective despite the time that has passed, which is a testimony to how the film has aged.

We’ve been seeing a streak of action films in the south, especially in Tamil, with a ton of violence, high stakes and higher budgets. But watching Ghilli now is a reminder of how you didn’t need much to make a great formulaic masala film work. The film banks on the energy of its lead cast, ensures the screenplay never lags, and has a perfect soundtrack. The roadblocks are dispensed off at breakneck speed, and there is enough comic relief for every fight sequence that dangerously toes the line with becoming repetitive.

A still from the ‘Soora Thenga’ song from ‘Ghilli’

A still from the ‘Soora Thenga’ song from ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: Sri Surya Movies

In our eagerness to up the stakes, have some of our action films in recent times truly lost sight of what works and has the power to remain memorable for years to come? There’s been quite a bit of discourse about how rom-com as a genre are flailing and an attempt to revive the same, and not enough is being said about the comfort of the Tamil masala movies from more than two decades ago, which continue to make for the perfect rewatches on lazy weekend afternoons.

While foreign locations or innovatively staged gory fights might be in abundant supply at present, a Velu and Dhanalakshmi driving across a highway to the beats of ‘Arjunar Villu’might be just the cinematic high that we all need to revel in from time to time.

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