Monday, January 14, 2008

Manichithrathazhu: The Unmaking of a Classic

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 ne
glectful 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 w
hy 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.

16 comments:

Abhinav said...

Re: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)!

As far as I can remember from Vidya's interviews she had only watched the film once and that too when she was in school,and Priyadarshan had told her to come as a blank slate to the set because he wanted spontaneity(no matter how asinine that may sound).Now apart from that it was not she who was yearning to lift the bed it was you who was waiting for her to do so,having seen the same thing happen over and over again,which is where you miss the crux of it all.A thriller is never the same once you've seen it unfold.You might discover new facets of the film if you are lucky enough but you wont be amazed once again at the originality of it.Because quite frankly once you have seen it all you are waiting to see in a remake you are looking for how the actor will do it,and when its the 'how' you are looking for,in most cases you are bound to be underwhelmed because the surprise of the original cannot be surpassed.And the very fact that you feel Vidya tried hard is enough of a proof that she was good enough,maybe not a match to Shobhana but good enough nonetheless.
The bed scene as you argue,had its framing altered in Bhool Bhulaiyaa.The way it has been canned here is different and as a result less than whelming.Even the dance sequence at the end does not give Vidya much of an opportunity due to poor camerawork(to argue that it was to cover up for her lack of dancing skills is purely stupid-watch Shubha Mudgal's Kisson ki chaddar-Vidya is a very good dancer) and the choreographer concentrated on the chemistry between the two lovers and the dancer' being in awe of her lover.
All I see you doing in your article is praise the original and bring down the other film.Let me add I hated Bhool Bhulaiyaa but your article reeks of peculation and shallowness.
It would be better if you consider the changes in the script in Bhool Bhulaiyaa as compared to the original,here Vidya's character has clearly been relegated to the background to makeway for Akshay Kumar to cash in on his burgeoning fan following.The fact that Vidya still stands out is some sort of an achievement in itself,though I beleive her performance is decent at best,and certainly not upto scratch with what it should have been had a decent director been directing her.

Jo said...

Well written. Manichithrathaazhu remains as a classic and we should thank not only Fasil, but all those directors who did their bit for the film. I think Priyadarshan was also involved in shooting some of the scenes? Shobhana is irreplaceable by any other actress. Seeing the Tamil version by Jothika made me laugh my guts out in the climax scene.

കിഷോര്‍:Kishor said...

Ranjith is right about song "pazham thamil.." which many, on first time viewing, thought was a mis-fit for the situation and was inserted only to satisfy Mohanlal fans. When poisoning of Nakulan was busted by Dr.Sunny, Ganga was almost on the verge of a mental breakdown. Dr.Sunny diverts the situation by accusing Sreedevi and locking up her, and starts to sing this song. The song, set in the same tune (& ragam) as that of the Tamil song that Sunny heard from Thekkini, is an abstract poem about a viraha-nayika and Ganga is shown keenly looking at Sunny and empathising with the song. The song was intended to be theraputic for Ganga.

But I don't agree with the observation that Ganga's mental disturbances were caused due to lack of sexual satisfaction from Nakulan. Even though its a nice interpretation, the movie makes it clear that it was Ganga's lonely childhood in the village away from her parents that caused her mental issues. Once she is back in a village setting as an adult(from Calcutta), she is again reminded of her lonely childhood. This, along with the colorful stories about Nagavalli's spirit, is what is explained as the cause of her multiple personality disorder.

There is no such scene where Nakulan is refusing Ganga's invitation to bed (atleast not in my DVD). Here is the exact scene :

മാടംബള്ളിയിലെ ആദ്യ രാത്രിയില്‍ കട്ടിലില്‍ കിടന്നു വായിച്ച് ഉറക്കത്താല്‍ മിഴികളടയുന്ന ഗംഗ ജോലി ചെയ്യുന്ന നകുലനോടു പറയുന്നു : “കിടക്കാന്‍ നേരത്തൊന്നു വിളിച്ചേക്കണേ നകുലേട്ട, എനിക്കുറക്കം വരുന്നു”. നകുലന്‍ “ആയിക്കോട്ടേ..” എന്ന് മറുപടിയും പറയുന്നു.

To me, this indicates that this couple have an active sex life. There is no other scene in the movie which can be interpreted as Nakulan avoiding Ganga's advances. The song "Varuvanillarumee Vijanamam Ee Vazhiyil" is more about Ganga reminising her lonely childhood in village, aided by her favorite poet Mahadevan's poem. Giving it a connotation of sexual dissatisfaction is not what the writer/director intended.

Ranjit Nair said...

@Kishor: WRT the relationship between Nakul and Ganga, I had not interpreted the song that way either. However, there was an interview of Madhu Muttam on a Malayalam publication where he did mention that he had a sitting with the lyricist to insert elements of Nakul’s purported impotency. And I’d beg to disagree with you regarding the lyrics - the first stanza clearly indicates that Ganga wishes for a ‘friend’ / companion, despite having no hope for this happening. Their relationship, while not THE reason for Ganga’s later pschiatric problems, might have played a factor in making her susceptible, I guess (no expert on this stuff!).

After noticing and accepting this aspect, I also noticed (and I might definitely be attributing here) an akwardness between Nakul and Ganga in the final scene, where Sunny tells them to ’start a new life’. Of course, I might be imagining things there :).

Ranjit Nair said...

@jo: Thx jo; Priyadarsan was one of the directors on this project, yes. I have never been able to figure out who did which portions though - think Priyan and Sidhique-Lal did most of the slapstick portions with Innocent, Pappu etc.

Ranjit Nair said...

@abhinav: I'd beg to disagree: Priyan also says that Salman Khan outdid Mohanlal in 'Kyun Ki', would you believe that too? I'd take Vidya's statements with a pinch of salt there.

I do feel that Vidya tried hard (she was certainly several notches above Jothika), and also accept that I'm too big an admirer of the original to give an entirely unbiased opinion. However, regarding Vidya's dance performance toward the climax there can be no doubt; it was poorly done. That she might have danced well in other sings does not excuse her shoddy performance here.

Script changes - were there any? In what manner has Vidya been relegated to the background? She's got exactly the same scenes that Shobhana had, and Akshay Kumar has exactly the same scenes that Mohanlal had (plus/minus a song). I disagree with you entirely on that note.

The post was not meant to be a Tamil/Hindi movie-bashing one. However, both Chandramukhi and Bhool Bhulaiyya were unmitigated disasters, while Manichitrathazhu remains a classic.

കിഷോര്‍:Kishor said...

Ranjit, You are not the first one who has implied about Ganga’s mental desease being caused partly due to sexual dis-satisfaction. If you think about it, Nagavally is the worst nightmare for any married man. Not only is she openely having an affair, but she also wants to kill her husband! So, we are dealing with some very primitive male fears here. And viewers (depending on who they are) may rationalize this situation by giving different interpretations that will pacify them. The visuals shown during “varuvanilla” shows flashbacks of Ganga as a child watching the gate, expecting her parents arriving from Calcutta. The word “priyamulla” can be used in Malayalam in a non-romantic way.

But any great art form is open to different interpretations. And I would even add that some of the interpretations might not even be intended by its creator! Once created, art gets a life of its own. Infact, I have read a research paper which analyzes the interactions between Dr.Sunny and Chandu(Sudheesh) and draws some bizzare conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Just watched Bhool Bhulaiyya..okay movie. It was funny in bits though I do think the acting was OTT. Agree with you on Vidya Balan. Shiney Ahuja was grinning like an ape through the first half and clearly pretend crying through the second. Stuff that I can't appreciate/understand about the casting though was Vineet??!!! Why him? Because he could dance? Very disappointing...also because I used to think Vineet was a trifle okay looking until this film. It was a severe shock - he looked like some chinless wonder. Also - hate me if you will about this trivia - but I couldnt handle the sweat patches during that period song and dance piece. Coming to Shiney Ahuja and Vidya Balan - there was just no chemistry. The lady has serious weight and s.a. issues. Akshay Kumar was doing a stand alone role and everybody else it seemed was support cast. Ameesha was just not happening and the movie didnt explain anything about the girl who'd visited the palace when she was a kid and was consequently struck dumb. What was that about..? Could you fill me in on the details for that bit from the Mallu fim? Am not too much of a hindi film afficianado so this was one of those rare experiences.

Anonymous said...

I must say that the tamil version of "Manichithrathazhu" was such a poor remake of a very good film. The movie needed an intelligent director, who would understand the nuances of the movie....the Hindi version was also not as good but better than the Tamil version.
I must say the actress Jyothika was simply bad as the personality of the dancer....the eyes, facial expression....was simply ridiculous. Maybe she would have done better under a better director.
Shobhana (Ganga) in that one instant where she shows excitement over Nagavali's jewellery is fantastic....a subtle change in expression, but the excitement in her eyes and face...it is so fleeting but it makes us understand, how that one moment tipped of the psychiatrist that something was going on with her....where as in Tamil, Jyothika looked freaky and the dialogues did not go with her facial expression, eyes or her stiff body language and movements. And any respected psychiatrist would have put her on immediate medication if he was confronted with that crazy expression.
I do think though Vidya Balan did way better than Jyothika in the Hindi version. Vidya was not able to do justice to the scene where she shifts her personality in front of her husband....the way she recovers when her name is called was very badly done and unconvincing....whereas Shobhana not only nailed the shift in personality, (wow! her whole body portrrayed the hatred and blood lust for her husband and she was ready to hurl that bed on him.) but the way all those emotions actually drained her, when she recovers and she sways on her feet...the confusion on her face...she just nailed it!!
I read somewhere about how the film did leave various audiences with different conclusions. I remember seeing this movie in high school for the first time and being convinced it was a ghost story and not a case of dissociative personality disorder. I saw it many times after and can see the way the movie actually does tie up all loose ends and the psychiattric disorder actually makes perfect sense. You can watch "Manichithrathazhu" so many times....but that is where "Bhool Bhulaiya" failed...you can just sit through it once...barely! It failed to hold you to your seat....it just failed!

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SAFWAN said...

manichitrathaazhu had it's shooting in the famous palace (trippunithura hill palace) which is called ac MAADAMBILLI in the film.

SAFWAN said...

it's such a cruelty's to madhu muttom and fazil (the ramakes of manichithrathazhu). the remakes of the movie had only over actings. those actresses where just kidding and they cant acheived the face expressions as that of shobhana. Mainly the foolish expressions of jyothika. these movie couldn't get the naturality and quality of manichitrathazhu. Because it is that much touches the heart's of viewers....

Anonymous said...

ooohh.hh...... My God.. The author gives such a bad impression on the work of priyadarshan's bhool Bhulaiyya... pls let me make it clear that it was a great entertainer similar to the ranks of the true version in manichithrathazhu. It was the highest grossing movie in the year of it's release. and Priyan and crew has done a good job especially Vidya Balan. Let me also make it clear for the author of this article( or the idiot) that Nukulan was neither impotent nor that he neglected or ignored Ganga. It was a usual talk in bed that they had while nakulan was working. Tamil version was a complete disaster and never can be compared with Priyan's or fazil's work. So pls the amt grossed itself speaks more than the article above since Bhool Bhulaiyaa was the highest grosser in box office in 2008. Idiot Author pls stop this business of writing critics on movies and open a barber shop.. you can better do that job rather than this writing articles

Arun Sivadasan said...

About your comment: "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... "

I happened to read the screenplay of manichitrathaazh recently. In the original script, the shaking of the leg is not there. It was an improvisation by Mohanlal. And I should say, Brilliant !

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