99 rests on Ganesh's shoulders

99

Film: 99 

Director: Preetham Gubbi 

Cast: Ganesh, Bhavana, Ravishankar Gowda

Stars: 3 

Vijay Sethupathi is a gifted actor in the sense that he brings an edge to every role he plays. It’s not easy for other actors to replicate these characters. So the announcement of 99, remake of Sethupathi-Trisha starrer 96, triggered widespread cynicism on social media. The grouse was understandable. If history has taught us anything, it's that we do not touch classics.

While C Prem Kumar's 96 is far from a classic, but it was a special film. But certain remakes do strike a chord because the director understands the point of the original. Preetham Gubbi, with 99, does that to a large extent.

Gubbi is smart not to follow that false mantra "make changes to suit the concerned audience". A good film's story is universal. It doesn't require alterations barring rare cases like Apthamithra (Chandramukhi in Tamil) that tasted huge success. These films, remake of Manichitrathazhu, changed the story at the expense of logic to suit its stars' image.

Gubbi retells the story of nostalgia, love and heart-break of Ramachandra (Ganesh) and Jaanu (Bhavana) well.

The minor tweaking done by Gubbi works well for the film. The original's problem was its long flashbacks that showed school life. In an attempt to portray an innocent and cute love story, Prem Kumar went too far and ended up testing one's patience.

Gubbi keeps that portion crisp without losing the story's essence. The Kannada version is more sentimental but has the same arresting impact of 96, which had a more practical core.

Santosh Rai Pathaje is now a trusted cinematographer for big directors and you can see his talent in 99. Arjun Janya, in his 100th film, delivers something fresh.

But Bhavana's performance is painfully one dimensional. To forge a strong chemistry, she had to be superbly restrained as Trisha was in 96. Gubbi also fails to translate the intensity in some places. In a film depicting the sting of separation, Gubbi's direction falls flat in scenes inside the hotel, which were memorable in original. These are the reasons staunch loyalists of the original will have an objection to 99.     

Romance is a stroll in the park for Ganesh. But this was a tricky character. As a man self-destructed in love, Sethupathi made us respect and admire him. Ram in 96 was at peace with himself. But Ganesh brilliantly pulls off the familiar pang of heartache. Be it his tone, body language or expressions, Ganesh is in complete control.  

Kannada cinema should churn out more well-written romantic dramas. It's sad that Ganesh, currently our cinema's effortless romantic hero, has to find form in remakes. It’s time the actor gets his due. He has been waging a lone battle for a while.

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