Bala's modern Tamil classic, Pithamagan, is probably not the first film you'd choose to remake. It's a dark and grim tale of a man who barely knows how to communicate via speech, and its other protagonist is a scam artist - the film only operates in shades of grey when it comes to morality. It's also a film packed with powerhouse performances; not only did the film put Vikram on top of the list when it came to versatility in Tamil cinema, it's also remembered for Surya's portrayal of the lovable con artist, and the female leads (Laila and Sangeetha) were solid as well. (My Pithamagan review, for further reading.)
To my great surprise, however, Anathaaru, the 2007 Kannada remake of Pithamagan, does not fall that much behind its original counterpart. Perhaps what happened with Nanban, the vivacious Tamil remake of 3 Idiots - I love the original so much I cannot help but also love the same story and characters in the remake.
So much rested on Upendra's shoulders. Could he match Vikram's original dialogue-free performance in any way, shape or form? I was impressed that he more or less did. He doesn't copy his acting cue's from Vikram, but makes the character his own. The performances do not feel identical, though they clearly share the same roots in the story. I've been of two minds when it comes to Upendra as a film maker (see my reviews of Super and A) but I'm definitely of one mind when it comes to the man as an actor: he's talented.
Darshan plays Sathya the conman, and has the same infectious likability as Surya's performance in the original film. The character is still a horrible human being, and never changes for the better precisely; the romance he has with the young girl Parvathi (Sanghavi) after scamming her is still one of the more questionable romances I've witnessed on screen. And yet, I like both of them, and more astonishingly, I root for them to be together.
And naturally his scenes are hilarious to watch as well.
Sanghavi portrays Parvathi with the same kind of petulant, yet sympathetic pluckiness as Laila did in the original. I'm sure some people find this character grating; I don't, and will like her in every version of the story.
The low-grade DVD (with English subtitles, thankfully) does not show a strong directorial hand, however, and I find myself wondering if it's just the DVD or perhaps the remake is simply not as well directed as Bala's original. The cinematography is fairly dull, and the colours even more dull - if I didn't already love the story, I'm not sure if I'd be that impressed with it this time around. It's a good film, but perhaps because it's not original, it's not a great film.
Still, for the performances and the ability to bring life to this story a second time, I have to give the Kannada film makers props. It's a challenging film to remake, and they did a decent job of it. I would recommend it for Upendra's strong performance, but for those who've not seen the original - do not see this one before you've witnessed Pithamagan.