I just had to watch 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', Priyadarshan's psychological take on the neo-classic 'Manichithrathazhu', even if only to criticize. In many ways, it is much more ghastly than 'Chandramukhi', for this movie at least had the excuse that it had to be tailored to suit the Rajni persona (and in the bargain, throw any semblance of logic out of the window. Can't imagine why this line of thought seems to have stuck with all Rajni directors. Wasn't Dalapathy good and entertaining cinema?). With 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', Priyan has no such excuses, since he fails to retain even a glimmer of the spirit of the original despite investing in scene-by-scene remake. This, despite him being part of the original's crew.
In both remakes - and at this stage, it seems prudent to remove Chandramukhi from the comparisons for the same 'excuse' mentioned above - subtlety seems to be a big no-no. Nuances from the original - which is one of the most important reasons why it is regarded as a classic by the current generation - are discarded with disdain. Instead, we have uniformly bad acting - even from the normally dependable Paresh Rawal and Rajpal Yadav, who really ought to take a break from the buffoonery they have been up to in their recent outings.
Consider this: in 'Manichithrathazhu', there is a strong hint that Nakul (Suresh Gopi) is a neglectful husband - sample the scene where Ganga asks Nakul to bed, and he excuses himself citing the excuse that he has work to attend to. In fact, the lovely Varuvanillarumee Vijanamam Ee Vazhiyil number strongly indicates that Nakul might even be impotent ( a fact that is only indicated at in the various remakes by Prabhu's nuanced performance). Thus there is a strong foundation laid for the possibility that Ganga is neglected, bored out of her wits, and thus particularly vulnerable and empathetic to the legend of Nagavalli. Instead, here we have Shiney Ahuja all the time grinning like an idiot, and happily nuzzling a rather plump Vidya Balan during an incoveniently placed duet.
And then, there are scenes where Amisha simpers (in that excruciatingly teeth-grating way that only she can) about the rat poison left oh-so conveniently in the kitchen - much like in the Tamil version, where we have 10 laborers literally groaning and moaning to carry the bed across the corridor. I am not sure why the directors feel that Tamil and/or Hindi audiences need such dumbing-down - after all, these are the same audiences that made superhits of a 'Thevar Magan', a 'Lagaan' and a 'TZP'. Labels like 'hey, there's poison in the kitchen' and 'this bed, that the possessed heroine will later lift, is so darned heavy' are juvenile and overkill - perhaps expected of P.Vasu, who wouldn't recognize good cinema if it bit him on his plagiarizing ass, but certainly not of Priyan who has made a lot of good films in the past.
Obviously, neither Jyothika nor Vidya are a match for Shobhana, who delivers a career-defining, knockout performance in the original. Jyothika overacts, to much merriment, and resorts to inane grins, light on the eyes etc to at least frighten the kids. Vidya Balan tries hard, though she's obviously watched DVDs of 'Manichithrathazhu' one too many times (never more obvious than in the scene where you can tell she's just yearning to pick up that bed)! Shobhana's expressions in the crucial scenes are phenomenal - attributable to bad/strange acting on first watch even if you notice the change of expression, but bang-on upon subsequent viewing. The most famous scenes, of course, are the ones with the psychiatrist displaying the jewelery with a manic fervor, the one at the temple where the psychiatrist deliberately tries to aggravate her, and then the by-now-classic scene with the lifting of the bed. Shobhana, despite not doing much of consequence after Manichitrathazhu, is a treeat to watch in what must rank as one of the greatest performances in the history of Indian cinema.
The psychiatrist is the main commercial ingredient of the movie - he provides comic relief, and acts as the main catalyst. At the risk of sounding biased, I just cannot imagine anyone other than Mohanlal in this role. His antics, like the one where he shakes his leg incredulously to check the sound of the anklet is coming from his leg, or the where he gazes lecherously at the portrait of the dancer, have by now been mimicked successfully by both Rajni and Akshay; however, most of these gestures were improvised by Mohanlal on the sets (does somebody have the link to the interview where Fazil said this?). While Rajni's role is ... well, more or less a typical Rajni role, Akshya Kumar copies Mohanlal's expresssions, body language and posture completely. He does a pretty decent job, but the magic is clearly not there.
The music of Manichitrathazhu was very important too, since the the alternate persona was a dancer-singer clearly well-versed with music; she sang and danced at night, after all. The Pazhamthamizh pattu number (conveniently ditched in the remakes, as the timing of the song placement was slightly awry) was not just a song randomly inserted into a scene; it was clearly the the doctor trying to soothe the alternate persona by singing a song in the same raaga as that of the one that the dancer dances to at night (the doctor hears this earlier, and hence he knows the song, so that loophole is closed as well).
I can keep going on and on; the original was a movie where all loopholes were plugged, and had several nuances/hints placed, only to tie them all up toward the end. Only several watches of the movie help you understand all of this. With the remakes,its difficult to sit through the movie even once - wild dogs couldn't drag me to a second screening.