Adapting a film to ‘local sensibilities’ is a tricky task. It can either mean filmmakers are generalising their audience and defining their tastes, or simply, restricting their taste. Films like Bheemla Nayak are paragons of this process, which has no written rules or guidelines. It also makes me wonder if no one knows their audience better than Telugu filmmakers. They know how to plant highs and lows, how to maximise the smallest of the threads to evoke an emotional response.
This is where Bheemla Nayak, the remake of Ayyapanum Koshiyum, excels at. Although it is largely faithful to the central conceit of the original, Bheemla Nayak is bigger, fiercer, and massier. The conflict is the same, but it’s treated as a huge one. The characters are the same too, but almost all of them are more aggressive — be it the constable who incites the conflict or a villager who supports the titular character. The famous scene in the original involving Biju Menon casually walking on a secluded road before kicking a man and destroying an illegal construction gets a terrific reimagination here; a simple one-on-one physical altercation from the original becomes a full-fledged fight to set up the intermission sequence and ends with actual fireworks. No wonder I had a ‘blast’ with this scene and the film in its entirety.
Trivikram Srinivas — who adapted Sachy’s screenplay — lets go of the verbose portions while exalting the lead characters and mostly retaining the high emotional points. For the unversed, the story is about a snowballing confrontation between two men — Bheemla Nayak, an upright and fearless cop (read: demigod) and Daniel Shekar, a young and fierce ex-military man. As opposed to the 170-minute long original, the remake is only 145 minutes long and the choice to make it racier does come at the price of character development, resulting in Daniel’s plain character.
Unlike Prithiviraj’s Koshi, Daniel is a largely one-dimensional person; he’s arrogant, arrogant, and arrogant. After pushing his opponent into deep trouble, Koshi takes out a moment to contemplate his actions and their potential repercussions. Daniel never ponders on his deeds because he is treated like a brat, a weak one. In fact, the lyrics of the film’s opening song Adavi thalli maata go Sebutunna nee manchi cedda, anthoti panthalu pobaku bidda, warning Daniel against waging a war on Bheemla. If the title didn’t give it away, the film makes its inclination towards Bheemla evident in every scene both the men share the screen in.
Despite not being a fight between two equals, what works about the writing of Bheemla Nayak is how it strengthens simpler moments from the original. One of my favourite moments in the film is Bheemla saving his enemy — who has just betrayed him — from being lynched by a mob of his own people. Not only does it encapsulate the virtue of this character, but it is also a remarkable ‘heroic’ moment.
The writing, however, never intends to explore the intricacies of male ego and caste politics that were touched in the original. Instead, it compensates for the lack of, say, ‘meaningfulness’ with several glorious mass moments for which we signed up in the first place. I found the idea to extend Bheemla’s backstory — superbly shot like a western — surprisingly resourceful, considering it’s not another showreel for Pawan, but there’s a thought to later utilise it to resolve the feud between the two men.
The performances too reflect the variation in the story’s treatment. Unlike the restrained and nonchalant Biju Menon, Pawan is unhinged; his anger and kindness are more pronounced. When he learns that he has been betrayed by Daniel, he fumes in anger and the performance is entirely physical. Rana does his best with the material he is offered with, but I wish we had seen him more closely as a human and less like a stand-in for self-pride that he is relegated to. Nithya Menen’s Suguna, surprisingly gets a few memorable moments, and she brings a certain level of warmness to Bheemla. An adorable exchange between the husband and wife towards the end is perhaps one of the few lighter moments in the film.
Although Bheemla Nayak trades depth for whistles, it’s a choice that does this film more good than harm. These moments, wonderfully crafted with Ravi K Chandran’s sunny frames and S Thaman’s rousing background score, once again prove why Telugu cinema is still the best on the masala filmmaking front. They are straightforward, yes. Do they have the backing of writing like the sequences in Ayyapanum Koshiyum did? Not really. Yet, the punches — both physical and vocal — land every time; Thaman is truly in his prime and continues his golden streak. Be it the aforementioned interval sequence or the La la Bheemla song that follows, or the much-hyped action sequence set in a lodge or the climax, Thaman pumps oxygen into these scenes.
Even the rather straightforward climax or the generic build-up towards it are augmented by the background score. All said and done, the umpteen number of enjoyable masala moments overpower the flaws and you are likely to walk out humming La la Bheemla, like I did.
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Rana Daggubati, Nithya Menen, Samyuktha Menon
Director: Saagar K Chandra