With OK Jaanu, Shaad Ali is remaking another Mani Ratnam film: Is OK Kanmani the best choice?

Gautam Chintamani

Dec 14, 2016 16:08:53 IST

There are times when certain tags get attached to filmmakers and these, unfortunately enough, end up becoming their calling cards. This writer has always felt that when one thinks of Shaad Ali, best known for Saathiya (2002) and Bunty Aur Babli (2005) and the misfire-yet-still-grossly-underrated Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007), one more often than not, ends up thinking of him as the guy who mostly remade Mani Ratnam films in Hindi. In a career that now nearly spans a decade-and-a-half, Ali had made five films, including the upcoming OK Jaanu (2016), and nearly half his oeuvre comprises Mani Ratnam remakes.

With OK Jaanu, Shaad Ali is remaking another Mani Ratnam film: Is OK Kanmani the best choice?

Mani Ratnam's OK Kanmani (L); Shaad Ali's OK Jaanu

Debuting with Saathiya that was the Hindi version of Ratnam's Alai Payuthey (2000), Ali has almost come a full circle where his next release, OK Jaanu, is also based on Ratnam's OK Kanmani (2015). Amongst the younger crop of filmmakers in Hindi cinema today, Ali is blessed with one of the best ears for music and can effortlessly elevate screenwriting (that could otherwise have fallen woefully short) to become a sociocultural statement. These were best seen in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, a film where he had taken a departure from the things that he had become used to, and also relied upon — namely, a ready-made project in the form of a remake. Perhaps the film's lackluster run at the box-office in spite of decent enough star power and a soundtrack that was one of the best in recent times, somewhere dented his chances of going beyond remaking his mentor's films in a different language.

Saathiya

Saathiya

Born to filmmaker Muzzafar Ali (Gaman, Umrao Jaan) and Subhashini Ali née Sehgal, Ali assisted Mani Ratnam on Dil Se... (1998) where he learnt the finer aspects of the craft observing one of India's best filmmakers. Unlike most assistants or associates who move on once they embark on a solo career, Ali continued to collaborate with Ratnam even after delivering successes such as Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli.

In fact, between Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Kill Dil (2014) Ali assisted Ratnam on Guru (2007) and the multi-lingual Raavanan-Raavan (2010). That Ratnam might have had a strong influence on shaping Ali's cinematic choices is a given but Tamil cinema, too, seems to have had a significant impact on the filmmaker.

Even beyond his straight Ratnam remakes Ali's Kill Dil where two orphans (Ali Zafar, Ranveer Singh) raised by a local gangster (Govinda) to be assassins appears to be inspired by the mood of Vishnuvardhan's Tamil gangster film Pattiyal (2006) where Kosi (Arya) and Selva (Bharath), are contract killers working for a middleman Sami (Cochin Haneefa), who is almost like a father figure to them. Even the character of the 'girl' in both films — Parineeti Chopra in Kill Dil and Padmapriya Janakiraman in Pattiyal — has a similar track where things go south once she enters.

Bunty Aur Babli

Bunty Aur Babli

The film that truly announced Ali's arrival as a filmmaker was Bunty Aur Babli, which, was also one of the first solo hits of Abhishek Bachchan. Written by Jaideep Sahni, Bunty Aur Babli was also the first time Ali was not encumbered by the rigid template that is somewhat inescapable while remaking a film.

He made the most of a narrative that allowed enough opportunities to create vignettes and moments that could bear his signature. The film's story — two people (Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherji) from small town India with dreams too big for anyone's liking embarking on a crime spree where they con people for kicks — and it's unapologetic celebration of crooks resonated with a generation of viewers who did not find anything wrong with taking the easier way out.

This was also the film where Ali's knack for picking up a great tune came to the fore and moreover, his imaginative use of the legendary lyricist Gulzar who penned instant classics such as 'Kajra re' and 'Chup chup ke'.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

Making the most of Bunty Aur Babli's success, Ali's next Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was an ambitious project and one where the stakes were the highest up until then in his career. Here was a film that otherwise might have been just another in the roster for the producer's, Yash Raj Films, but the focus become sharper as the music had caught the fancy of the people and the success of Bluffmaster (2005), Dhoom:2 (2006), Guru (2007) and also the critical appreciation in Kabhi Alvia Na Kehna (2006) had made Abhishek Bachchan in a star in his own right.

The rest of the cast in the film especially Bobby Deol, the second lead, was not a draw anymore and the entire onus rested on Bachchan junior, which was too much for the kind of irreverence that Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was probably aiming for. The word of mouth on the film was so poor that its fate was sealed within the first few days of its release.

Revisiting Jhoom Barabar Jhoom one can see how if the film's screenplay (which was written by Ali himself and is also the only film he has written himself) had been treated slightly differently, it could have been a richer cinematic experience. In spite of having fallen short of its potential, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is one of the best examples of metacinema when it comes popular Hindi films and worth a re-look.

Kill Dil

Kill Dil

The question one needs to ask when thinking of filmmakers with potential is that does a penchant for remaking films like Ali, or rehashing classics such as Gus Van Zant's frame-by-frame Psycho remake or rebooting franchises in the case of JJ Abrams who has helmed one Mission: Impossible, one Star Wars and two Star Treks in the five films he has directed to date keep them from being taken seriously? Or does it not matter as long as the audience enjoys the films and they do not lose money?

The film that OK Jaanu reprises, OK Kanmani, is perhaps the weakest of Mani Ratnam's films. It also a film which even some die-hard Ratnam fans found difficult to sit through. Ali is the best person to reinterpret the film for the Hindi audience but this rather safe refuge of the filmmaker where he seems to return to his guru when he needs a miracle, to this writer's mind, has somewhere robbed Hindi films of a filmmaker who could have been so much more.

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2016 16:15:35 IST