Neelathamara, probably the first remake ever made in Malayalam movie history lives to prove it. It is 'the' consummate Malayalam movie I've ever seen and I've seen some movies including the1979 original which was actress Ambika's debut vehicle.
Considering the kind of flicks preferred by Malluwood audience these days it comes as a surprise that movies such as Neelathamara can be made, but what's more it also became a success at the box-office! If only more film-makers will create such blue lotuses, they seem to be as rare as blue moons these days in Malayalam film industry.
Neelathamara, I read, was a dream project of Lal Jose. Here's a link to Lal Jose's own blog where the film-maker has noted down bits of creative process which went into the making of themovie. The story is real simple, penned by M.T.Vasudevan Nair, one of the stalwarts of Malayalam literature, the script was adapted to fit the nuances of modern times although it is a period piece and the events take place in a pre-eighties period.
It has been a long time since a good female oriented film hit Kerala's screens, this movie puts an end to that drought. There is the maid servant, the mother, the newly-wed bride and the son - all these characters inhabit a flash-back which forms the core material.The movie begins in the present where all or some of these characters have matured / aged in life and are looking back at a past that was.
The flashback portion is the adaptation M.T and Lal Jose has interjected to make the movie fit for consumption for a newer audience. There is a character of a grand-daughter added, maybe to give some more depth to the story, to visualize the passage of time perhaps. It is also a nice touch that it is a grand-daughter, not a grand-son. After all, the story is all about women.
If you compare the new version and the original, although I do think it is a crime to compare because they were products of different eras and different circumstances, you realize that except for the story and the characters the two movies are a world apart. So I'll just limit my comparison to the characters / actors.
Archana Jose Kavi plays the main role, played by Ambika, cannot tell who is better. Archana could've used less kajal, because kajal was not something a rural girl, esp. a maid servant puts on every day, it was a part of her make-up which she reserved for special occasions like while going to the temple festival. Kailash, the new hero vs Ravi Kumar. Kailash is such a natural, less filmy and the new script makes the character less of a feudal scion and more of a mischievous rich kid fooling around. Thank God Ravi Kumar is not acting. Sathar vs Suresh Nair, the script has toned down the villainy of this character, today's character is more suave and matter of fact-ly which suits Suresh Nair's acting.
The mother Sreedevi Unni(2010) vs Kozhikode Santha Devi(1979), Santha Devi was/is a veteran actress who has excelled in mother roles whereas Sreedevi Unni doesn't have much in the experience column to write home about, still she holds the fort just fine. The one character that I thought was better in the old movie, not because of acting per se, but because of the director's choice in casting was that of Ammini. Reema Kallingal was good as Ammini in the new version, but somehow the older Ammini felt more like a real character. Samvruta Sunil, is getting better as an actress with every new film of hers that I see. She is not usually the main character, but she is morphing into a kind of character actress, some one the director feels okay to entrust strong characters with. She plays the new bride in the 2010 Neelathamara.
In the seventies, Kerala was coming out of a feudal set up. The under class of society still felt exposed, was wronged often and more importantly mobile phones were not rampant. Cut to 2010, there is not a clear-cut section of society which can be branded as underclass anymore, it has been replaced by the emerging middle class, sporting mobile phones. The playing field is more level than it was thirty years ago. That explains the flash back element added by the writer and director. The maid servant is now placed in a better rung of society, the down-trodden hapless girl is not there any more. She is looking back from a comfortable present to a forgettable folly of the past.
The mood of the film(the new one) is therefore less stifling, the characters are less villainous, the emphasis is more on perfecting the locale, the camera(the camera work is brilliant, hats off to Vijay Ulaganath), the costume and the casting. A near-perfect Malayalam film after a long time. May the tribe of Lal Jose and directors like him prosper.