For Tamil cinema, this looks like the best of times, to quote the first sentence from Charles Dickens’ immortal story of the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. Indeed so, for Tamil producers and directors -- and perhaps even actors -- have learnt to be humble enough to accept a good foreign plot or script and remake it in their native lingo. Probably like Vishal Bharadwaj, who has mastered the art of Indianising Shakespeare -- Haider, Maqbool and Omkara (Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello).
Watch the trailer of The Intouchables here:
In recent months, we have seen a string of such Tamil versions of inspiring foreign works. Kamal Hassan’s Thoongavanam was recreated from the French Sleepless Night. Two weeks ago, Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum was remade from the Korean picture, My Dear Desperado.
And on March 25, we will see Oliver Nakache’s and Eric Toledano’s The Intouchables transforming from the French language into Tamil and Telugu, Thozha/Oopiri, helmed by Vamshi. Admittedly, the Indian story has been shot in Paris, Lyon, Belgrade and Hyderabad, and so one supposes a French flavour will be discernible in Thozha/Oopiri.
The Intouchables is a fascinating piece of celluloid narrative, which this writer saw in 2011. Based on a kind of true incident, it is a buddy film about a quadriplegic white millionaire and a rather uncouth black caretaker. It is both funny and touching to see them strike an unusual bond.
Philip (played by Francois Cluzet), who is paralysed from the neck down after a paragliding accident, is a rich widower who lives with his teenage daughter, secretary, caregiver and housekeeper. Now, Philip is tired of all those caregivers, whose intrusive attention is irritating, to say the least. So, he is on the lookout for a new guy, and a black man, Driss (Omar Sy), lands up. He is really not keen on the job, and has applied merely to show one more rejection to get his dole. But, well, Philip takes Driss in, much to his annoyance, and then begins his learning curve in a movie that reminds one of The Scent of a Woman, My Fair Lady and The Prince and the Pauper.
The secretary in The Intouchables does not have a great part. But in Vamshi’s version, Tamaannaah as Keerthi, the secretary, gets into the frame with gutsy gung-ho. Preferring to describe Thozha as an adaptation rather than a strict remake, Tamannaah said in a recent interview that her character was a combo of the French film’s housekeeper and secretary. Obviously, there is a lot more of her that one would see in Thozha -- which will still be buddy, buddy with the Telugu star, Nagarjuna, portraying the wheelchair-bound millionaire, and the Tamil star with his trademark twinkling eyes, Karthi, reprising Sy’s Man Friday. And probably with a greater sense of innocent mischief than what we saw of Sy.
There is a scene in the trailer where Tamaannaah in a short dress is a posing for a photograph, the lensman here being Karthi, who keeps bending down till the girl understands what the guy is up to!
In a chat with this writer this morning, Karthi said it was important to have had a perfect rapport with Nagarjuna -- for after all Thozha (which translates into Companion) is all about companionship and camaraderie. “I had a great time working with Naga sir.”
Admittedly, Thozha is not a frame-by-frame copy of The Intouchables (The Untouchables in English), but the Tamil/Telugu editions have retained the soul and spirit of the French drama, Karthi averred. “Some of the situations could not just work in the Indian scenario, like we do not have social welfare. And so we had to think of some other reason to say why my character comes, in the first place, to the millionaire.”
Watch Thozha’s trailer here:
Otherwise, “the French work has so many aspects that lend themselves to the Indian psyche. The Intouchables had a lot of emotion (or as much as European cinema would let go) and there was even a party song that just fitted like a T in the Tamil/Telugu story,” Karthi added.
Some of best known Karthi’s works have been Paruthiveeran (where he plays a rustic brash), Madras (as an impulsive short-tempered guy) and Komban (a local rowdy). In a way, Karthi’s avatar in Thozha may not be very different from all these roles, but it may be interesting to see his transformation from a no-gooder to someone more sensible and caring in Vamshi’s creation. Sy did that with remarkable conviction in The Intouchables.