Before I get into the review of Bhramam, I would like to point out a great example of a filmmaker (Christopher Nolan) giving his own unique spin to the source material (Insomnia, 1997) when he remade it. It seemed fresh while essentially telling the same story. One notable difference was in the way they ended. Two different outcomes, you see.
I hoped Ravi K Chandran's Bhramam - the Malayalam remake of Sriram Raghavan's Andhadhun - would give me a similar feeling. It didn't. There are minor noticeable differences confined for the most part to the visual choices and, to a smaller extent, the third act of the screenplay, but that's about it. We'll get to the latter in a while. No spoilers, of course. First, the performances.
Let's admit that Andhadhun was not an acting exercise. It was more about the plot, and the actors were there to service it and not have their performances take all the limelight. But what worked in that film's favour is how all the actors managed to keep their performances restrained, even when they were required to get whacky. The acting and storytelling operated in perfect synchronicity.
There was no attempt from one to overshadow the other. Everything worked like the beats of a piece of great classical music - piano, in this case. I remember being incredibly relaxed while watching Andhadhun for the first time on the big screen because it was staged and edited in a way that kept you thoroughly invested in the storytelling.
Bhramam, on the other hand, have areas that test one's patience. Even a versatile composer like Jakes Bejoy can only do so much in a film confused about where to place his music. It's like taking part in a musical chair where everyone is always seated.
In Andhadhun, the characters behaved as if every event in the film is happening for the first time. The characters in Bhramam seem to have been rehearsing their reactions to situations that they have already foreseen.
The Simi in Andhadhun (played by the unmatchable, irreplaceable Tabu) seemed more complex than she lets on. This Simi feels like the TikTok version in comparison. At one point, Ray Mathews (Prithviraj) calls Simi a "TikTok heroine". Well, he is right. But the funny thing is he sometimes acts like a TikTok star too.
Having said that, Bhramam manages to be a half-decent remake simply because the actors, including Mamta, get it right in some places. The culprits are straight out of film-noir. I also felt they did something interesting with Ray, the blind (or not?) pianist who shows up at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Prithviraj effectively oscillates between innocence and mischief, particularly in the first half. Ray is an oddball who goes around acting like a saint.
For instance, he wouldn't indulge in adultery to further his goals, but he has already proved to be someone with shaky morals on account of a particular habit. Ray reminds me of that guy who secretly admires a sensual photoshoot on Instagram but goes on Twitter to talk about the objectification of women in item songs.
There are moments where Prithviraj reminded me of Mohanlal and Mukesh from the 80s and 90s comedies in which the main characters used their charm to fool women. I also liked what they did with the unreliable narrator trope here. Unlike in the original, the minutely altered third act makes us doubt the veracity of the flashback that Ray narrates "two years later" in the climax. If I remember correctly, this plot development was approached in Andhadhun as if that's the truth.
Unni Mukundan as Dinesh - the dubious cop with 'brawns, but no brains'—is quite hilarious in some places. I liked that he didn't try to imitate Manav Vij's Inspector Manohar in Andhadhun. The humour at times comes from the idea that Dinesh isn't as successful as Manohar when it comes to concealing his nervousness.
Sometimes it's the meta situation that does it, like when Dinesh is trying to finish a dozen eggs while dodging questions from his wife (Ananya, also funny). Anyone aware of Unni's fitness habits and real-life persona will let out a chuckle or two at these moments.
I initially wanted to approach Bhramam as though I'm watching it for the first time, but that's hard to do when one has seen the original. Having seen Andhadhun twice, the visuals are still fresh in my mind. So when the remake is mostly a frame-by-frame remake, it simply becomes a 'spot the differences' game. Perhaps it would work for those unfamiliar with Andhadhun.
The makers claimed that Bhramam is funnier. I have to disagree. Yes, it did make me laugh in a few places but whatever energy the film had at the beginning fizzles out the minute Jagadish enters the picture, and through no fault of his own. He is good. In fact, I was happy to see that vintage Jagadish again. But it seems to me the film lost interest in its characters after a certain point.
It's like waiting long for the punchline to land and then being told that the punchline came, did its job and left already. Andhadhun benefitted from a relatively shorter runtime and tighter editing. Bhramam made me check the watch.
Michael Caine once said that only unsuccessful films should be remade, provided one finds a sure-shot way to improve the original. As someone who starred in a lacklustre remake of one of his brilliant early starring vehicles, he should know.
Director: Ravi K Chandran
Starring: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Mamta Mohandas, Unni Mukundan, Raashi Khanna, Jagadish
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video