An original film, even with its flaws, is beyond compare with any remake or interpretation of it simply because if it did not exist in the first place, the remakes would’ve never happened.
Hence, any comparisons of A Wednesday and Unnaipol Oruvan are futile and no matter how good Unnaipol Oruvan is, however improved it is, it cannot be “better” than the original.
Phew! Glad to have got that out of my system because when I tell people Unnaipol Oruvan is a certainly improved version of A Wednesday, they assume that I meant it’s better than the original. I am not sure if a remake can ever beat the charm of an original simply because an original did not have the benefit of hindsight and a remake has that advantage of looking back at a film and perfecting what did not work in it.
For those of you who haven’t seen A Wednesday, Unnaipol Oruvan spans a day in the life of a police commissioner (Mohanlal) who gets a phone call from a Common Man (Kamal Haasan) who says he has rigged the city with explosives and demands the release of terrorists.
Chakri Toleti’s Unnaipol Oruvan stays largely faithful to the original narrative and the filmmaker, along with writer Era Murukan, use the opportunity to fine-tune that classy political thriller a little more – politically and also in terms of characterisation to effectively transplant the plot miles away from terror-prone Mumbai where dealing with bomb blasts have almost become a way of life.
Yes, we in the South, have always been isolated from the problems of the rest of the country simply because we have not had to deal with the intense mayhem of communal riots, frequent serial blasts. In fact, the cityscape has been almost untouched by terror.
So there were a few things that seemed fundamentally irrelevant here and that notion of irrelevance is exactly what the makers decide to employ to appeal to the patriot down South.
The other advantage of distance is perspective and Kamal Haasan and Co have had ample time to iron out the minor flaws from the original narrative to make it more politically correct and sensitive. One of the four terrorists in this film is a Hindu weapons supplier, who shamelessly admits that it’s just business unlike the four Islamic militants in the original who echo each other saying ‘Faqr Hai.’
It’s a dream come true for any South Indian to watch Kamal Haasan and Mohanlal face-off and the veterans deliver, making it look effortless. Kamal Haasan speaks a little too much English for a Tamil film but when has language come in the way of an actor of his calibre and the audience. Even if he spoke in Mandarin, we probably would know what he’s saying, given the 50 years of seeing him around. Watch out for him in that emotional outburst following the revelatory twist, he will bring a tear to your eye. Ladies, please keep your hankies ready.
Mohanlal’s brand of restraint is a shade more refined than the emotional Kher (who loses his cool to beat the suspect with his own hands quite early in the film) and he plays the perfect foil to Kamal Haasan, playing the role with authority and a no-nonsense approach. There’s also Lakshmi as the Chief Secretary to the Chief Minister and the power play and equation between her and the Commissioner is again, a nice touch.
The film’s also a showcase for Ganesh Venkatram (who reprises Jimmy Shergill’s angry young cop with a little less bitterness), Anuja (who plays the cigarette-smoking stressed out TV journalist) and the geeky Anand Krishnamoorthi (last seen in Anjali May Maatham Sathi Leelavathi?) who plays the hacker minus the “dude-ness” of the guy in the original. Quite underplayed and effective, these three.
Yes, it’s a lot more detailed than the original (the common man’s paraphernalia is a little more elaborate – great work by the art department) and clearly Chakri’s focus seems to be on making it credibly tech-savvy (be it the SIM routing terms thrown around or the actual locations where they’ve filmed) but it’s also more predictable than A Wednesday since right at the beginning of the film the Commissioner lets in on us that it was the work of a Common Man.
You never even for a moment think that Kamal Haasan could be a terrorist but let’s get real, actors here are burdened with an image they cannot get rid of, even if they tried (btw, Kamal Haasan’s name appears without any Ulaga Nayagan tag in the opening credits) and it would’ve been futile even to attempt to make him look like a terrorist. Yes, here he does leave bags around at a shopping mall and a train compartment but after the revelation, you wonder what was the need for him to leave them there in the first place.
But then, A Wednesday too did something similar by telling us that the Intelligence agencies had got a photograph of a mystery man (we can see it’s Naseer though all we see are his eyes) who is suspected as a mastermind behind terrorist groups but is soon forgotten by the end of the story (This part wisely omitted in this version).
There are some nice additions by way of dialogue (like how he’s just an Invisible Man who can’t find his name in the voter’s list) and the film’s certainly shot much more lavishly than the original. It’s faithful and yet fresh in its own way.
Let’s just hope the market is ready to accept a film without song and dance (Shruti’s score remains in the background and that’s always a good thing) or even a heroine or a comedy track. Films like these are the need of the hour when cinema is getting increasingly infested with hero-worshipping entertainers. Hindi cinema has had hugely benefitted with the likes of UTV Spotboy backing quality scripts.
What Neeraj Pandey did this as a multiplex film, Kamal Haasan hopes to take to a bigger market. What the industry needs to kick open those doors to offbeat films is someone like you, Mr. Haasan. Unnaipol Oruvan.
Rating: 4 stars (3 and a half if you’ve seen the original)