From Drishyam to Oppam, why Mohanlal's films are remade in other languages often

Sujatha Narayanan

December 26, 2016 16:32:15 IST

Two years short of its silver jubilee anniversary, Mohanlal's Manichitrathazhu (The Ornate Lock) remains a classic 23 years later, with its core plot revamped (to call it a remake is an insult to the original) in varied languages (by Priyadarshan in Hindi, P Vasu in Tamil with Superstar Rajinikanth in Chandramukhi and ahead of that, P Vasu made it in Kannada with the late Soundarya).

The memory of a good film lingers on and Manichitrathazhu is one of those landmark films. This year saw Mohanlal's best box-office successes like Oppam and Pulimurugan, and he's also a premium actor whose films have been remade in multiple languages ever since he hit super-stardom with the 1986 blockbuster Rajavinte Makan (The King’s Son).

mohanlal

Mohanlal. Image from News 18.

The powerhouse performer that he is, Mohanlal has faced severe criticism for his choice of scripts whenever he has had a lean year, but it is stunning to note that he has starred in very few remakes himself. For example, he acted in the Malayalam remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Don (Rajinikanth did Billa in Tamil) but he stopped saying yes to remakes when he hit bull’s eye with his series of super-hits in different genres with an elite set of directors like Padmarajan, Fazil, Sibi Maliyil, Sathiyan Anthikad, Priyadarshan, Ranjith and their ilk. He continues to act with newer directors as the years go by.

Rajavinte Makan changed the tide for Mohanlal, who was up until then playing a mere second lead as Mammotty’s friend or foe in many films. The film was remade in Tamil for another villain-actor Satyaraj, who switched gears rather efficiently in 1987 with Makkal Enn Pakkam (People are on my side).

Thus began a series of Mohanlal films which were selected for remakes. A recent remake success would be Drishyam (2014) which released to a rousing welcome in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. The importance Mohanlal gives to the script, his director and thereafter to his own character in the film makes the movie work as one whole entity rather than just a stand-alone lead role which could just be adapted to suit a hero in another language.

Apart from Rajinikanth’s Muthu (1995) which was a remake of Thenmaavin Kombathu (1994) Mohanlal has had his films remade with non-superstar actors as well. Take Nadodi Kaattu (1987) for example. It was remade by K Balachander’s Kavithalaya Films as Kathanayagan (1988) with Pandiarajan and S V Shekar, and Spadikam was remade with Sundar C as Veerappu in 2007 many years after its release in 1995.

Content from Mohanlal’s films travels across eras, and the scripts work for whoever stars in them even though the lead actor comes from another generation altogether. A classic example is the Ajith starrer Kireedam (2007 - the Crown) remade from the Malayalam Kireedom (1989) which fetched Mohanlal his first Special Jury National Award for Best Actor. Thereafter even Bharatham (1991) for which he won the Best Actor - National Award, was remade by P Vasu with Karthik as Seenu (2000).

So, what is so unique about a Mohanlal film which makes actors from other states flock to remake them?

The answer also lies in how powerfully he is able to portray the character given to him which makes the hero timeless. However there are characters like Mangalaserry Neelakantan from Devasuram (1993) which are tough to touch. It took nearly two decades for Kamal Haasan — who hasn't shown much interest in remakes since Raajapaarvai — to relent his rule for only one film.

It had to be a Mohanlal-starrer Drishyam, whose Tamil remake Papanasam proved to be hit for Ulaganayagan in 2015. The list of heroes who have acted in remakes of Mohanlal’s films range from Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Satyaraj, Sundar C to a Madhavan who donned Mohanlal’s role in Lesa Lesa (2002) which was a remake of Summer in Bethlehem (1998) in Tamil.

Nagarjuna did Nirnayam in 1991 which was remade from Mohanlal’s Vandanam (both directed by Priyadarshan) and starred in Criminal by Mahesh Bhatt in 1995, the Indianised version of Harrison Ford's Fugitive. Venkatesh, who has a keen eye for stories in Tamil and Malayalam, starred in the Drishyam remake in Telugu while Ravichandran took over such remakes for Kannada.

When a Malayalam script is okayed by Mohanlal, it grabs maximum mileage when compared to his long-standing competitor Mammotty. This is some sort of an unexplained phenomenon which exists in the south film industry for the last two decades and now the Hindi market has also opened its doors for scripts from Mohanlal movies.

After a 100 crore blockbuster like Pulimurugan which was preceded by a 50 crore hit like Oppam (Ajay Devgn stars in the Hindi remake), Mohanlal awaits the release of his “family film” Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol, which, if one were to go by the trailer and songs, seems apt for Venkatesh in Telugu, Anil Kapoor in Hindi and who can star in Tamil? Well, your guess is as good as mine for the film is hot in the remake trade even before we hit the publish button on this article.

Updated Date: Dec 26, 2016 17:08 PM