Is Shankar’s modern-day adaptation of ‘Anniyan’ what we deserve in 2022?

Is Shankar’s modern-day adaptation of ‘Anniyan’ what we deserve in 2022?
Director Shankar, a couple of weeks ago, announced that his next film would be the Hindi adaptation of his 2005 psychological-thriller Anniyan starring Ranveer Singh. While Ranveer may not be new to growing his hair long, the Brahmin vigilante with a multiple-personality disorder and fixation for different hairstyles is a story that will almost be old enough to vote (18 years) by the time it is released. This announcement of a “modern-day adaptation” has led to a bitter fight between the film’s producer Aascar Ravichandran and director Shankar on rights to the story. The producer called the adaptation illegal and claimed to have bought the story from late writer Sujatha. Shankar, on his part, responded that it was he who had written the story while writer Sujatha had penned the dialogues. And therefore, Shankar added, he needed no one’s permission to remake/adapt his own story. Meanwhile, we went through the trouble of rewatching this 2005 action-romance-thriller to see if a transformed, modified or adapted version of the story would be worthy of our time in the year 2022, especially when (optimistically, hopefully) the world would have saved itself from a deadly pandemic. Director Shankar’s biggest dream is to rid this country of corruption, malpractices and turn it into a sparkling utopia, slightly better or on par with Singapore. To this, he has returned again and again and again, starting with his debut film Gentleman. Anniyan is no different. The hero of this story is extremely innocent and pure by heart. He is someone who just cannot stand disarray both in his house and outside. If you’re rushing to find a seat in the bus during peak hour, he’s the kind of person who’d prevent you from getting in and instead offer his two-paise on entering in an orderly fashion. Meanwhile, you just missed your ride to the college/office. According to this lawyer, it is indecent to write a love letter to a woman, let alone talk to her without her parents’ permission. He also says, “It is wrong to gift something to a woman with love in one’s heart!” He’d rather go around weirdly fixating on her (Nandini, played by Sadha), giving her the creepy looks.  At court, he’s the only representation that the poor and the downtrodden get, the voice of the voiceless. Ambi, as he’s called by people close to him, is the embodiment of all that’s right and pure. Also, he’s a Brahmin who lives in an agraharam, singing bhajans in the morning. To put it in simpler terms, the hero is the kind of person you’d rather avoid running into.  Among the many stereotypes that director Shankar popularised is the one that Brahmins are inherently righteous. In Anniyan, this idea forms the premise, when the first five minutes of the hero’s introduction shows just how rule-abiding and justice-loving he is. In an interview with The Hindu around the time of Anniyan’s release, director Shankar had said that the film was his way of motivating a “lazy country.”  “I have travelled to many parts of the globe, especially the developed countries, and I am fascinated by the rapid strides that they have made in all fields. But back home, I am upset to see the neglect, poverty and the laidback approach of our youngsters. I often think that we are a lazy country. Why haven't we produced one gold medallist in the Olympics? My story is about a person who tries to bring (about) a change within our society. The issue that I am trying to solve is inherent weakness within our society and some motivation to move forward like other nations,” Shankar had said. The story of Anniyan is quite simple. The hero is a Mr Complains-a-lot. One day, unable to keep it all in, a bizarre personality emerges, unbeknown to him. This personality calls itself Anniyan (the stranger) and goes on a killing spree. Another day, the hero, unable to face rejection from a woman he’s been in love with for over eight years, decides to take his life. Here, like a horcrux, another personality emerges and calls himself Remo, ramp-walk model. All three personalities are distinguished by the hairstyles (hence the long hair that’s more versatile).  In 2005, the concept of multiple-personality disorder was mind-boggling to the Tamil audience. Just like how Chandramukhi’s (also 2005) split-personality disorder, as explained by Dr Saravanan, was new to us. Until then, the idea was known only to a few who had read Sydney Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dreams or watched the 2003 Hollywood thriller Identity in which actor John Cusack played 10 characters. To top it all, there was the added mystery of the Garuda Puranam, a big clue to finding the killer. Save Vivek’s pronto un-jumbling of the Sanskrit terms (kabeem-kubaam, beemka-kumba…), at every murder site, this track is a bit of a bore. One of the reasons why Anniyan became successful can be attributed to actor Vikram’s performance (and Harris Jayaraj's music). In fact, the film itself tips its hat to the actor during the climax scene. The scenes with actor Vivek in it are bitter-sweet to watch today. Apart from the visual grandeur, typical to a Shankar film, and fight sequences, the film has very less to offer today. While Anniyan has led to several memes and gags, nothing else in the film stands the test of time, including the dialogues. Take for example Anniyan’s first killing. With his victim begging his forgiveness, Anniyan with his hair down is about to deliver a punchline -- “You find such justice strange? Well, that’s me.” (and just missed the punch). There are many things wrong with the film's politics. Especially in the way it portrayed persons coming from other caste locations. In the film, Ambi’s very first interaction with the outside world shows a person riding a bicycle and spitting on his face. This character (played by Charle) is shown to be a lazy person, a good for nothing in the society. He’s later killed in the film. All of Anniyan’s victims except one Sabha manager (who is not killed in the film) are persons coming from different caste backgrounds. They are shown to be corrupt, indecent and persons without humanity. But we’d say the biggest scam Shankar has pulled on his audience is the packaging of corruption as the biggest evil that this country faces. Almost all of his films return to this idea of weeding out corruption, from Gentleman to Indian, Mudhalvan, Anniyan and Sivaji. All of them blame corruption as India’s only reason for failing to develop on par with other countries. Meanwhile, his righteous hero has no trouble exhibiting caste pride and singing songs like 'Iyengaru veetu azhage'. There is no attempt to examine systemic injustice in his films, and all we get is a lazy rehash of 'corruption' as the reason for India lagging behind. This idea has since been made extremely popular, amplified by the grandeur and palatability of Shankar’s films. So much so that even today, we are lured in by promises of “weeding out black money” when it comes to selecting our government and our leaders. All said and done, it is ironic that Joji, a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, has managed to find resonance with the audience today, but we have to really wonder if a film made merely 15 years ago on a serial killer with a multiple personality disorder has any relevance at all beyond its grandeur. 

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