NARAPPA (2021)

Venkatesh in a still from Narappa

Remaking Asuran was a bad idea and Narappa proves it with its mediocrity

— Ambar Chatterjee

I previously reviewed Vetrimaaran’s Asuran of which Narappa is a remake. I believe that Asuran was thoroughly deserving of the accolades and appreciations that it had received owing to its unabashed portrayal of issues pertaining to caste-related abuse and hyper-violence. The film vividly documented how an innocent man is battered and bruised to such an extent that he is forced to shun all inhibitions and turns into a sharp and potent weapon. A weapon that can tear away anything on its path. Everything about the film was perfect. I wouldn’t change even a frame in the film. Dhanush immortalized the character of Sivasaami and the arc that his character experiences through the film. He shared the National Award for Best Actor with Manoj Bajpayee for his searing portrayal of a man who wants to live peacefully but is forced to take up arms to defend his family. He made the character so much his own that it becomes impossible to accept any other actor in that same avatar. This lore that Dhanush successfully created around the protagonist of the story lies at the core of the issues that I had with the remake.

It is pointless to go over the story, strengths, and weaknesses of the film. For that, you can just refer to my review of Asuran. It is safe to say that everything good about Asuran also holds true about Narappa. The film faithfully recreates every frame of the original and in doing that it injects the same sense of urgency, shock, and drama that characterized the original. However, this is true only for those who haven’t seen the original. Venkatesh Daggubati reprises the character of Sivasaami that was immortalized by Dhanush but is re-christened Narappa here. He brings the same gullible charm and beast-like intensity to the character and has a similar grip on the audience in terms of his rendition of the character. Having said that, I would still pick Dhanush’s rendition of the character ahead of Venkatesh on any given day purely because he did a much better job.

Venkatesh looks a tad bit more well-fed, clean, and lacks some of the intensity that made Sivasaami such a heart-breaking character. Even in the rendition of the action sequences, one can notice a clear difference of proficiency as Dhanush’s rendering of the action sequences felt more organic, physical and had a lot more gusto to it. One scene that shows a clear difference between the rendition of the two actors is the one where the family discovers the headless body of their son. Both the actors do a great job in this scene but Dhanush’s portrayal was of a whole new level. Even the climactic battle wherein it seemed as if the antagonists would finally kill the remaining son of the protagonist, Dhanush’s rendering felt more on the edge and extracted a lot more tension than what Venkatesh was able to extract. It might have also been because I knew which way the story was headed and hence the tension was drained from the film. This brings me to my next big issue with the film.

I have always believed that a remake should not be a frame-to-frame copy of the original. Whenever that is the case, the film generally loses appeal for the ones who have seen the original. An ideal remake should be like the Telugu blockbuster Evaru that was a remake of Contratiempo. The film followed the original faithfully but tweaked the story and the characters in such an innovative manner that it felt like an entirely different film. Badla, the Bollywood remake of Contratiempo followed the copy-pate method and hence turned out to be a bore for the ones who had seen the original even though it had great performances from Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu.  

Narappa is plagued by the same problem that characterized Badla. There is nothing in it for the ones who have seen Asuran before. The fact that Asuran is a better film in every aspect of the craft also makes matters gloomy for Narappa. The burning question for me was why Srikanth Addala would work on a script with Vetrimaaran and make an exact replica of his original with nothing to surprise or shock repeat viewers. Where is the sense in that? If he did make an exact replica, he should have at least tried to make the performances outshine the performances of the actors of the original. That is also not the case. Thus, the repeat viewers of the film are left with nothing to cherish in this film.

There might be questions as to why I am comparing Narappa with the original and why can’t I review it as a standalone film. The answer to that is simple. Asuran was a widely popular film and it is now available on YouTube for free viewing. It is enshrined in the popular culture of the country and has ever since its release become a benchmark for how earthen revenge thrillers are envisioned and executed. It was released in 2019 and is fresh in the memory of the audience. Hence Narappa is bound to be compared with it and when it fails to live up to what Asuran was, it will be undermined. Thus, it is safe to say that, Asuran was a film that was perfect as it was and should not have been remade.

Rating: 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)


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