(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
It doesn’t even roll out of your tongue right. Forget the phrase Ok Jaanu for an instant and look at what comes before it – “Shaad Ali’s.” It is Shaad Ali’s remake of Mani Ratnam’s 2015 hit Ok Kanmani, just like he did with Ratnam’s Alaipayuthe that became Saathiya. It’s probably only fair to say well ahead that my views on this film are colored by having watched the Tamil one. It is a nagging feeling hard to dismiss when you are watching a film’s remake, having seen the original, and trying to gauge a more cerebral reaction than emotional. I had liked Ok Kanmani. It was Ratnam’s idea of a sabbatical from that period, where he let himself go and worked outside of his comfort zone in films like Raavan and Kadal. It’s like he wasn’t gunning for grand metaphors but only went on a vacation and hit upon a product idea. He was free. That’s probably how Ok Kanmani was born or at least felt like that’s what transpired. It was also received in such a manner – here is Ratnam back to delineating young city-bred relationships. People even wanted to read it as a story where Chandrakumar (Mohan) and Divya (Revathi) of Ratnam’s Mouna Raagam (1986) take in a live-in couple as PGs at their home in 2015. Ok Jaanu also proves why a film belongs to its director. Shaad Ali may have done a faithful job (a euphemism to say he hasn’t changed anything and this is all cut and paste) but there is something missing.
Shaad Ali’s scenes don’t breathe. A large part of it is also due to the lead actors’ utter lack of chemistry. While Aditya Roy Kapur prefers to amble along with no visible effort, Shraddha Kapoor at least tries. A big reason why Ok Kanmani worked the way it did was the lead pair of Dulquer Salman and Nitya Menen. Salman’s goofy charm (something that screamed at you that he could be a video game crazy man-child) and Menen’s sparkling exterior and complex interior went a long way in granting legitimacy to the proceedings. Here it seems like only Naseeruddin Shah and Leela Samson (the only actor retained from the original) are trying and that too is by design.
The other reason why the scenes don’t breathe and needed something more than a copy paste job is Ok Jaanu’s place in Bollywood’s romantic canon. Some of the themes Ok Jaanu deals with are things taken for granted over the years by Imtiaz Alis of the world (not in the bad sense). Live-in relationships have been dealt with in a matter of fact way in ubiquitous multiplex Hindi films and these films have provided both the cynical and romantic explorations of the problems that come after. There was an aesthetic aspect for Ratnam to set Ok Kanmani in a bustling city like Mumbai where the leads could be anonymous and yet be able to capture them in close quarters living in premises they wouldn’t be able to afford in their lifetime, let alone find it (a style adopted uniformly throughout the film – even in Ahmadabad they get a huge fully furnished room, with a swing, for one night). It makes the viewer sort of a voyeur who knows the couple better than they know themselves. Ok Jaanu exists in those things left unsaid by the past films that took some themes for granted choosing to deal with others. Therefore the lines needed to be stronger, the staging and direction needed to be stronger, the performances needed to be stronger. A little unfortunate to be cynical about one of the most anti-cynical romantic films in recent times.
But that’s what you get when you let Badshah do a remix of Humma with liberal helpings of rap. If that wasn’t enough – if I caught it right – there is even a 5-10 seconds dubstep of Annamacharya’s bhavamulona (used in Ok Kanmani), only the lyrics here are in Hindi. The whole amalgamation is worse than Shah Rukh Khan’s favorite dinner – noodles with curd. And we wonder why Ok Jaanu doesn’t roll off the tongue the way Ok Kanmani does. Because it came from someone’s head when he or she put pen to paper and thought very hard what could replace Kanmani. Not from years of tripping to a song tuned by Ilaiyaraja and sung by Kamal Haasan.