It isn't that easy to remake a film that was made a good thirty two years earlier, and that too which tells the story of a teenager exploring his sexuality, and in the process falling in love with an older woman next door. Even trickier the task turns out to be, when the film in question is looked upon almost like a cult classic.
The year is 2011, and teenage isn't what it used to be. Perhaps realizing this grave truth, T K Rajeev Kumar sets his story in 1978, in a small village somewhere in Central Kerala, where Pappu (Sreejith) waiting for his pre-degree results, gets ready to become an engineer. He is awestruck by the sensational charms of Rathi chechi (Swetha Menon), his neighbor, and for the first time in his life falls hopelessly in love.
No alterations have been made in the story or the sequence of events, but one can't help noticing how both Pappu and Rathi chechi have changed. The innocence has gone missing from both of them, and while Pappu seems quite sure of his moves; almost scheming at times, Rathi chechi for some strange reason looks less cheerful and more aggressive.
The perfect blend of emotions and eroticism that characterized the original film is absent here. The lengthy climax that throws in Rathi chechi and Pappu together on the Kaavu, making love like two serpents, and the rain battering down on them, is one such instance when everything appears make-believe. There is also Rathi chechi's wardrobe that often looks distinctly artificial. This isn't any fantasy, and how many Rathi chechis do we know in real life, who wander around with a twenty five sovereign waist chain on display?
Times have changed, and I wonder how the feminists would look upon the male gaze issue in a film like 'Rathinirvedam'. We could speak of the film as the coming-of-age story of a teenager or as an exploration into womanhood, but stripped down to its basics, we find a young man who is craving to have sex with a beautiful elder woman. Notably, the film doesn't take sides here, and offers neither Pappu's version nor Rathi's, and this is probably why, the male gaze becomes too apparent. However, it definitely slants towards the male ego, and the woman in no time becomes the object of the gaze.
Comparisons between Jayabarathi and Swetha Menon are inevitable, and it would be difficult to gauge whether Swetha makes an equal to Jayabharathi. In fact, she never makes a conscious effort to go the Jayabharathi way, which is indeed laudable. The voluptuousness that made Jayabharathi's Rathi chechi endearing has disappeared in a toned down Swetha Menon, but the sensuality has been retained per se.
Swetha self-assuredly pumps in oodles of believability into her portrayal of Rathi and never once makes us think of another actor who could have done the role even better. And what a commendable companion she has in Sreejith! The young actor does an outstanding job of being Pappu, and together they see to it that the lead performances in Rathinirvedam are top-notch.
Love, they say, is the word used to describe the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old. The new 'Rathinirvedam' has ample skin and flesh, but little heart.