Unlike an original film, a remake is asked to justify its place. Why make it when the original already exists for anyone to watch? Language gap can be bridged with dubbing or subtitles. But what about the filmmaking style? Every film has its own language that has nothing to do with words. Not everyone likes to think about a film as much as they like to just watch it. Films that are re-tailored for an audience who do not have the time, or means, or patience, to go home and google 'What did the ending mean?,' or any variations of that question, are never going to surpass their predecessors; they are not supposed to. But they also have their place and relevance.
Maestro never pretends to be anything but a tamed version of its original, Sriram Raghavan's blockbuster Hindi thriller Andhadhun (2018). Merlapaka Gandhi, the filmmaker, wanted to make a film that is easily accessible, and as such he mostly succeeds. Arun (Nithiin) is a blind piano player who lives in that part of Goa where everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks Telugu. (I understand artistic liberty, but why Goa at all?) He accidentally witnesses a murder one day, and is trying to escape the consequences of that. Simran (Tamannaah) is the young wife of an old film star. She accidentally kills someone, and she too is trying to escape getting caught. Somewhere else, a blind rabbit is trying to run away from an angry farmer with a gun in his hand. Three beings in flight. Will they all manage to escape? Should they all manage to escape?
Sheik Dawood G, the screenplay writer, rearranges, and at places, rewrites the screenplay, and turns it into a puzzle that does not need solving. By the time you leave the film, you will know everything that has happened to Arun and Simran. This is good because of the above mentioned reasons, but what is noir about a film that has no secrets?
Having said that, the film stays true to the its characters and setting. Someone nonchalantly mentions the possibility of Arun being gay, and no one bats an eye. A stereotypical "happy-go-lucky-dream-girl" slaps a kid. Two healthy men struggle to sedate a woman, albeit an evil one. These are easily editable things, if one wanted to, but the filmmaker seems to have his priorities set.
Speaking of which, Gandhi does try to make the film his own. Even if the beats are similar, he chooses not to make a shot-to-shot copy. With the help of his cinematographer J Yuvaraj, he goes for a much more saturated look, rather than the moody and immersive one we see in the original. That's it, though. The best thing I can say about his direction is that it's his own.
A scene in the film involves a piano that suddenly starts playing, when no one is supposed to be in the house. If executed perfectly, a tense moment is supposed to be followed by a gradual reveal. But the background music is so misplaced and distracting that before you even realise the sound is diegetic, and not the BGM that has been playing, the reveal already happens. Simplistic choices are understandable, but nothing excuses shoddy execution. And by the way, if a light turns on before the actor could pretend to reach for the switch, please go for a retake. It is disrespectful to the viewer and betrays the filmmaker's conviction.
The performances too are undependable. Nithiin tires his best, and mostly comes through, but something feels amiss. The same goes for Tamannaah's Simran. If it is interesting, it is because of the writing. Lending her own voice does not help much either. It is admirable that she is trying to challenge herself, but whether she is up for it or not is an entirely different matter. Mangali is effective as the shady akka who has her own character arc and agenda, and so is Harshavardhan's doctor. I know I am not supposed to compare, but this is why it is so important to choose your actors correctly. Even in the original, the girlfriend character is not prominent. Despite that, Radhika Apte makes sure that she is memorable. Naba Natesh is not there yet. Sumuki's disgruntled wife and Jisshu Sengupta's cheating husband are both examples of this as well. This dynamic, a wife unwittingly solving a case where the husband is the culprit, is comedic gold in the original, but here, it falls flat.
It is a tricky job, reviewing a remake. The expectation is that the new film is supposed to be looked/judged as an individual entity. But the reality, at least my reality, is that I find it impossible to not draw parallels. It is that much more harder when the original is as memorable as Andhadhun, and the central performance is as inappropriately charming as that of Tabu's Simi. So I can only imagine the task Merlapaka Gandhi had on his hands with Maestro. But like most remakes, all that is good in Maestro comes from the source material and all that isn't, is its own doing.
Maestro will release on Disney+ Hotstar Multiplex on 17 September.