Right after watching Jeethu Joseph’s Malayalam blockbuster Drishyam (2013) for the first time, I couldn’t but help wondering how it would be if it was remade in other languages and who would probably do maximum justice to the lead role played wonderfully by Mohanlal. Of course this was way before the film became a huge success,before the various controversies it landed in regarding the authenticity of the film and eventually various remakes getting announced , made and even released (in case of Telugu and Kannada). The only person I felt confident about in terms of fitting into Mohanlal’s shoes was Kamal Haasan for various reasons. For starters Kamal Haasan continues to remain a major star in Tamil Cinema, retaining his fan following all over South India. Talking about how good an actor he is would be a futile exercise as he has already found a firm place for himself among the all-time best Indian actors, similar to Mohanlal. And of course the role requires someone with a lot of maturity, an actor who would look convincing as a family man with a wife and two daughters, and yet be a hero whom the audience would root for.
So while official remakes of Drishyam were announced in Telugu (Drushyam), Kannada (Drishya) and Hindi (Drishyam), it was the Tamil remake Papanasam which interested me the most. Not only was I happy as it was indeed Kamal Haasan who was to play the main lead as I envisioned, it was also the only remake which the original director Jeethu Joseph himself was slated to direct, increasing my expectations as well in the process. Considering that most recent releases of Kamal Haasan like Vishwaroopam and Uttama Villain have been mired in controversies it was nice for a change to see Papanasam release without any fuss. Any Kamal Haasan film comes with a lot of expectations and so is the same in case of Papanasam as well. Not known to feature as just an actor alone in his films of late, here he was doing just that and working in a remake to top it all. Considering the phenomenal success of Drishyam and with Mohanlal’s performance being universally appreciated, comparisons were also bound to be there both for the films and among the respective lead actors.
If Drishyam was all about Georgekutty (Mohanlal) and his family, Papanasam talks about Suyambulingam (Kamal Haasan). The setting may have changed from a place close to Thodupuzha in Kerala, to Papanasam close to Tenkasi, in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, but the premise remains the same. Suyambulingam is an orphan who found success thanks to his hard work and now he runs multiple businesses, most prominent being a local cable T.V network. Suyambulingam dotes on his family comprising of his wife Rani (Gautami Tadimalla) and two daughters, Selvi (Niveda Thomas) and Meena (Esther Anil). Suyambulingam is the sort of man for whom his family takes precedence over everything, they mean everything to him. Unfortunately one day something unexpected happens, throwing their lives in disarray. At the very outset it’s important to understand that Jeethu Joseph has more or less tried to remain faithful to Drishyam by retaining its core essence intact in Papanasam. The changes wherever visible (in case you’ve seen Drishyam) are just keeping the cultural context in mind and also to enhance some parts of the film.
It would I am sure have been tempting for any director at the helm of affairs to try out something new, cut down a bit etc. in their attempt to reinterpret the film, but that’s not what Jeethu Joseph does here. He has ensured that there is nothing diluted in the process of adapting the film in Tamil, the minor changes only elevate the proceedings. The usage of the title ‘Papanasam’ couldn’t have been better for the film, as it refers not only to the place where the tale is based, but in literal terms it also means the eradication of sins, something which comes across in the film too as it draws to a closure. And despite a part of the film being shot in Kerala it does not really distract us thanks to the detailing in getting the basics right (signboards, vehicle registration numbers, people/actors etc.). Considering that Papanasam is based in a place where people generally speak with the Tirunelveli accent, it is heartening to see all the actors essaying roles of local people speak the right way lending authenticity to the proceedings.
Talking of the Tirunelveli accent it is indeed wonderful listening to Jeyamohan’s dialogues in the film. They carry the native flavour and sound extremely refreshing as well. Due credit also goes to noted writer Suka for training Kamal Haasan to carry out the Tirunelveli accent the right way, the result is out there for all of us to see and appreciate. The screenplay by Jeethu Joseph was one of the primary reasons why Drishyam worked so well, so no surprise here again that it is the backbone of Papanasam. While the actual drama and post conflict point events unroll in the 2nd half of Drishyam, in case of Papanasam, there is a lot more which happens in the 1st half, setting up the 2nd half wonderfully for a riveting thriller, or more of a mind game. If you are one of those who haven’t watched Drishyam or its other language versions, be rest assured you will be in for a wonderful journey in the 2nd half as the writing is taut and keeps you clinging to the edge of your seats mostly. Even for those who have seen Drishyam, its fun to see the proceedings unravel again with a new flavour.
If Mohanlal played a cinephile to perfection in Drishyam then Kamal Haasan in his own characteristic manner, reinterprets the same so wonderfully here. He brings in self-references as well like being a big fan of Sivaji Ganesan, mention of ‘Padikkadha Medhai’ which is not just a classic Sivaji Ganesan film but also means uneducated genius which is what he is in the film and actually in real life too (he never even completed his formal school education), or how he is not really into politics etc. Also the use of props like a TVS moped and Cuticura talcum powder lend a lot of authenticity to the tale. Ghibran’s music-be it the BGM or the songs are totally in sync with the film, no wonder he is working so much with Kamal these days. The two songs in the film (both written by Na.Muthukumar), ‘Yeya En Kottikkaaraa’ (sung by Sundar Narayana Rao and Malavika Anilkumar) and ‘Vinaa Vinaa’ (sung by Hariharan) appear in the 1st half, during totally different emotional moments and are delightul.
Sujith Vaassudev’s cinematography is very good, he brings alive the natural beauty of the locations on the screen wonderfully. A special mention must be made of the climax scene where Ananth Mahadevan and Kamal Haasan share an emotional exchange of words, and instead of the camera panning to and forth and shifting the focus between the two people, it remains stationary, retaining the focus on the person who is speaking. A wonderfully written scene and enacted well by both the seasoned actors, the shot capturing makes it even more worthwhile on screen. A lot of people are wondering why Papanasam has a longer duration (181 minutes) when compared to an already lengthy Drishyam (164 minutes), but be rest assured there are no additional moments to showcase Kamal’s histrionics (as feared by many). The extra time is probably just a derivative of pacing being a little different with the change in language. Despite being a 3 hour long film it is engaging all the way, there’s hardly a moment when your attention gets affected. So editor Ayoob Khan seems to have worked well in tandem with Jeethu Joseph to ensure that the film does not suffer in terms of the length.
Papanasam can certainly boast of some wonderful performances, each member of the cast justifying his/her presence in the role. While people like M.S.Bhaskar, Ilavarasu and Delhi Ganesh bring out a dignified presence as expected, it is also heartening to see younger actors like Sree Ram (he plays Cheramadurai, the employee of Suyambulingam in the cable T.V business) putting in a spirited performance. Asha Sarath as I.G Geetha Prabhakar is effective once again, reprising the same role she had performed in Drishyam and Drishya. Ananth Mahadevan as Prabhakar, Geetha’s husband is very good and nearly matches Kamal in the climax scene that’s already been mentioned before. Kalabhavan Mani as Constable Perumal is a good choice, evoking the same menace that Kalabhavan Shajon had done so in Drishyam. Esther Anil as Meena who was so wonderful in Drishyam is good here too but being her third straight similar role (including Drushyam) she doesn’t carry the same innocence as before. Niveda Thomas as Selvi, the elder daughter of Suyambulingam and Rani is a treat to watch. She pulls of the emotional scenes with aplomb, the moment where she hides behind her father when a cop lands at their doorstep is scene where she is brilliant even without any dialogues.
Gautami makes a triumphant return to acting; her scenes with Kamal Haasan in particular are a delight to watch. But ultimately Papanasam works and works well because of Kamal Haasan, as Suyambulingam he is someone who has us rooting for him without resorting to any over the top histrionics. He is restrained largely and is very much in control, does not have to depend on any gimmicks to prove a point as well. It is not worthwhile to argue and discuss as to who is better on screen, Mohanlal as Georgekutty or Kamal Haasan as Suyambulingam. Kamal’s portrayal is as good if not better than Mohanlal’s and he does it in his own way which makes me feel good about my initial feeling that he would be the right choice to step into Mohanlal’s shoes. With Papanasam Jeethu Joseph achieves the rare distinction of completing back to back films successfully with two master actors, in the process even ensuring that a remake can sometimes work as well as the original.
Note-In Mumbai and other cities outside South India (also in a few screens in Bangalore) Papanasam is playing with English subtitles. The subtitles by Rekhs not only work very well for the film, but they add a special flavour at a lot of places, including when the two songs appear on screen.