February 17, 2012
Gautham Vasudev Menon
Prateik Babbar, Amy Jackson, Manu Rishi
Truth be told, I’m so tense about my book deadline that I was planning to skip reviewing Ekk Deewana Tha. But writer-director Gautham Vasudev Menon has created such a silly myth about Malayali Christians in this film, and in the past 24 hours I’ve read so many conversations on Twitter by authorities of half-baked knowledge, that I couldn’t resist.
Stereotyping apart, Ekk Deewana Tha is an excellent case study for the worst way to remake a lovely film. Quite literally, it is a carbon copy of Menon’s own hit 2010 Tamil film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VTV / Will You Cross The Skies With Me). But you cannot Xerox a story, transport it to a completely different setting, and make no adjustments for the new milieu!
VTV was the story of the love between a Tamil Hindu boy and a Malayali Christian girl in Chennai, his unwavering feelings, her confusion and indecisiveness especially in the face of her family’s opposition, and an impetuous decision she takes in a fit of anger/irritation that changes their lives. It was a very poignant, very mellow film about two very real people whose longing for each other gave me an ache in my own heart. When Karthik is burning with desire for Jessie, you see it in the way his fingers surreptitiously brush against her feet as they sit chatting on a train. When he tells her their chemistry is undeniable, you see him seated across a table from her, locked in an argument, while in his mind’s eye he’s with her on her chair locked in a passionate embrace. Jessie was not a girl I entirely liked or respected, but of course such muddled-up, dithering women do exist. VTV was excellently acted by Silambarasan and Trisha Krishnan, impeccably written and directed by Gautham Menon, complemented by a top-class technical team, featured one of A.R. Rahman’s best ever soundtracks … and I loved every bit of it!
The Hindi remake Ekk Deewana Tha, on the other hand, works in places, but is filled with so many incongruities and strikes so many discordant notes that it is hard to get entirely drawn into the story.
The problems begin with the casting. British actress Amy Jackson plays Ekk Deewana Tha’s heroine Jessie, a Malayali Christian girl based in Mumbai. Is it just me or are there others out there who agree that Jackson does not look Indian? Dark hair doth not a desi beauty make! Her features are a tad too European to be convincing. While that may be debatable, what’s not debatable is that the poor girl has been bestowed with the worst make-up you’ve ever seen on a Bollywood heroine! Through parts of the film her face looks orange, elsewhere she has a light chin with dark cheeks and forehead, in one close-up it seems as though no effort was made to mask the dark circles around her eyes, and she looks oily faced almost throughout! It’s as if the entire technical team (make-up, lighting, camera) conspired against her in the film!
Prateik Babbar in Ekk Deewana Tha is Sachin, a Marathi Hindu unemployed engineer who wants to work in films. Playing a man who falls irrationally in love with Jessie, Babbar makes up somewhat for his shockingly bad performances in last year’s Aarakshan and My Friend Pinto. There’s a spark somewhere in there no doubt, so let’s not write him off just yet.
Those who’ve seen VTV may agree that Rahman’s lovely music is not used one-tenth as effectively here as it was in the original film. But the biggest issue with Ekk Deewana Tha is the writing. Menon is credited with the story and screenplay, while Manu Rishi has written the dialogues. Both of them seem strangely disconnected from the setting of their film, and that disconnect is exemplified by their portrayal of Jessie’s people. In VTV, the heroine’s Chennai-based family with their roots in Alappuzha seemed true-to-life … Malayali Christians tend to be conservative, and it’s quite believable that her family would frown upon love marriages and consider filmmaking a useless profession. Why just Malayali Christians? A large percentage of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs share these views too. But in the Hindi Ekk Deewana Tha, Messrs Menon and Rishi have a rather weird way of showcasing Jessie’s family’s orthodoxy. When she meets Sachin for the first time, Jessie explains that she was born and brought up in Mumbai. Since she’s 23, I guess I can safely assume that her entire family was based in Mumbai for at least 23 years? Yet an earlier conversation reveals that Jessie’s father does not know who Amitabh Bachchan is! And when Sachin asks Jessie about Malayalam megastar Mohanlal, she has not heard of him either! Her explanation: among us, watching films is considered “a sin”! She does not say “in my family”, she says “among us”. The implication being that Malayali Christians consider film-viewing a sinful pastime! Huh? That’s not true! Besides, how stupid and insular is this family that has lived in Mumbai for over two decades (in Juhu which is Bachchan’s neighbourhood) but is clueless about the Big B?!! And how lousy is this girl’s general knowledge that, despite being a Malayali, she is not aware of Mohanlal’s existence?!! Perhaps Gautham Menon would also like us to believe that Malayali Christians (even software firm employees like Jessie) don’t read newspapers, don’t watch TV, don’t notice hoardings, don’t talk to neighbours and colleagues, and in fact live in isolated settlements of the sort conceived by Manoj Night Shyamalan in The Village!
Sadly, because Menon is a south Indian himself and because he reportedly claims that Ekk Deewana Tha is his own story, there are Hindi film viewers out there who will assume that the picture he’s painted is correct. Sadder still, because south Indians (a.k.a. “Madrasis”) and Christians are still considered exotica by many people in the northern part of our country, this silliness too will be filed away in folklore. Though as @jojitjoseph wrote to me on Twitter, tongue firmly planted in cheek: “At least I am glad (that because of Ekk Deewana Tha) Bollywood now knows that there are Christians in Kerala. They believed that Christians are indigenous people only found in Goa.”
On the plus side, in Ekk Deewana Tha, Kerala as seen through cinematographer M.S. Prabhu’s lens is beautiful. And with all its flaws, the film does throw up scenes that tug at the heart strings, and others that are funny. I particularly enjoyed the one in which Sachin, seated in church during a wedding, guesses the bride’s next move based on the church weddings he’s seen in films. Some people may consider Jessie’s garrulous uncle in Alappuzha a stereotype, but I didn’t mind the bald little man’s enthusiasm for Hindi and “lenj” (lunch). Occasional caricatures can be amusing. Let’s focus our energies instead on ignorance, insidious stereotypes and disjointed film making.
Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating: U/A
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ek_Deewana_Tha