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Ghilli vs Okkadu – Same same but different

Both versions are fine examples to understand how effectively can a mass film be reimagined for different audiences, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

Tamil cinema had a shockingly morose start to 2024 with the Pongal season not exactly setting the box office on fire. Adding insult to injury, major stars distanced themselves from action in the first quarter. Several single screens on the brink of extinction, left its owners no choice but to bank on Malayalam films (like Bhramayugam, Premalu, Manjummel Boys) and re-releases for survival.

A ray of hope in a drought-like scenario has now emerged through the re-release of Ghilli, the remake of Okkadu starring Vijay and Trisha, commemorating its two-decade anniversary. The film has raked in over Rs 17 crore in less than a week, serving as a testimony to its recall value. Theatres across TN exude a celebratory aura with the remastered version running to packed houses.

The writer of this piece has cautiously distanced himself from the Ghilli vs Okkadu debate for many years and hasn’t watched the Tamil version for his loyalty towards the original. However, he couldn’t resist not being a part of the Ghilli re-release frenzy this week. With the magnificence of Okkadu still fresh in memory, he was prepared to be disappointed and boy, he was pleasantly surprised.

While being objective about remakes is tough, Ghilli manages to be an Okkadu on steroids. If Okkadu took pride in being a mass film made with a touch of class, Ghilli liberates itself from the boundaries of the original and masala-fies it unabashedly. The tone is louder and more energetic, playing to the galleries and Vijay’s histrionic strengths.

Ghilli retains the key moments of Okkadu but director Dharani makes significant changes to its ambience. In times when it feels impossible to watch the good-ol’ boy-next-door side of Vijay in his bloated commercial entertainers, Ghilli is a warm reminder of days when he was hungrier as a star on the rise. He has a whale of a time, unburdened by any isms or starry baggage.

The emotions and humour in Ghilli are pronounced, on-the-face and the dialogues leave little to your imagination. It’s still gratifying that the film offers something new to those familiar with Gunasekhar’s universe in Telugu. Prakash Raj gets more license to push the eccentricity meter as the creepy antagonist while Ashish Vidyarthi-Janaki Sabesh’s playful banters are a joy to watch.

Vidyasagar’s energetic album – with songs like Appidi Podu, Kokkarako to Sha La La – aligns itself perfectly with the film’s racy treatment and livens up the momentum in critical junctures. The key differentiator between Ghilli and Okkadu is sensibility. While Okkadu underplays its ‘mass film’ vibe, Ghilli is its unpretentious cousin that cares two hoots about subtlety.

It would’ve taken a secure director to reimagine a successful Telugu film in the pre-OTT era without losing its spirit. Dharani does it with a pitch-perfect understanding of his core audience. Ghilli may be a remake, but it is unapologetic in its treatment. The script is a commercial khichdi with a purpose and a dose of family drama, humour, action, romance and redemption in the right measure.

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