Success sits lightly on Malayalam director Jeethu Joseph. The unbelievably phenomenal hit of his last film, Drishyam, has not gone to his head. In a simple blue T-shirt and with a disarmingly affable manner, he meets this writer in Chennai during a promotional campaign for the Tamil remake of Drishyam, called Papanasam. (The Hindi edition carries the same Malayalam title, and will open at the end of July.)
Papanasam is set to hit the theatres on July 3. The movie will have one of the two South Indian superstars, Kamal Haasan, essaying Suyumbulingam -- a character that Malayalam superstar Mohanlal immortalised as Georgekutty in Drishyam.
It was a brilliant performance -- low-key, muted and restrained -- as a cable television operator, whose addiction to cinema helps him to outwit the police force of the entire state. Mind you, here was a simpleton who had not even cleared his standard four at school, foxing and frustrating cops on the trail of a murder.
Haasan's Papanasam (a town near Thanjavur renowned for over a hundred herbs not found anywhere else in the world, and whose literal translation is destruction of sins) will be an almost near copy of Mohanlal's Drishyam. Of course, Haasan and his family (wife played by Gauthami, who returns to the screen after about 15 years, and two daughters, portrayed by Niveda Thomas and Esther Anil) will speak the Tirunelveli dialect of Tamil, the accent commonly heard in and around Papanasam.
It remains to be seen whether Papanasam will seduce the masses the way Drishyam did. Asked if he could put his finger on why the Malayalam film proved such a success, Joseph says that the masses identified themselves with the tragic sufferings of Georgekutty and his family -- when the son of the influential Inspector General of Police (Asha Sarath, also to be seen in the same role in Papanasam) clicks the picture of the elder daughter while she is bathing and later tries to blackmail her. "Georgekutty's woes and dilemma became those of the audiences, whose emotions were on the same wavelength as those of the screen characters. People completely sympathised with the cable television guy."
And the movie was script driven, not star driven (despite Mohanlal's towering presence and personality). "It was a near perfect script."
Near perfect? Joseph is modest enough to admit that there were a few flaws in Drishyam, which he noticed much later. One of them pertains to the use of mobile telephones. "Did you see the driver of the police van parked outside Georgekutty's house talking on a cellular phone -- when early on in the film he tells his daughters that there is no mobile signal there?" asks the helmer.
Papanasam will correct all these errors. New ones may crop up though, for, as Joseph says, there is nothing called a 100 per cent perfect script. Even Hollywood has not been able to achieve that.
Besides a good script that managed to draw viewers deep into the plot of the movie, one cannot ignore Mohanlal's performance. One presumes Haasan will be as riveting.
Joseph, who has just directed Haasan and Mohanlal, is happy that he got a chance to work with two of India's living legends. "Both have their distinctive strengths. It will not be right to compare them. Each has proved himself. Mohanlal portrayed Georgekutty in his own quiet manner, while Haasan essays Suyumbulingam in his own way, which is emotional. This is the main difference between them. But, both are absolutely professional and committed to whatever they are doing. One can never find these traits in the younger crop of actors," Joseph contends.
Apart from the language and the cast, there is not much of difference between Drishyam and Papanasam. Yes, Papanasam was shot in Papanasam, and also in the same place where Drishyam was filmed -- near Thodupuzha in the Idukki district of Kerala. Drishyam centres on a Christian family, while Suyumbulingam is a Tamil Nadar. Obviously, the appearances and mannerisms will differ in the two versions. Georgekutty uses a bicycle, and his Tamil counterpart will ride a motorised two-wheeler, which is very common in this part of the country.
Joseph avers that beyond these changes, he has not tinkered with the script when shooting Papanasam. "The script is tight. You really cannot add to or subtract anything from it."
Finally, another great attraction in Papanasam will be Gauthami, a fine actor, who is still remembered for her roles in Apoorva Sagotharargal and Thevar Magan. She will emerge from the shadows in Papanasam, and with Kamal by her side, the work promises to thrill us all over again with its quirky tale of a David pitted against a Goliath -- a David fighting to save his family from the brute force of a state.