With new touches to the remake of the Telugu original and great performances from the cast, 'Ghilli' still remains a top-notch entertainer.

15 years of Ghilli Why Vijays action thriller still remains chellam for fans
Flix Flix Flashback Saturday, April 20, 2019 - 11:31

Velu(Vijay) is on the run with Dhanalakshmi (Trisha) after he has saved her from the clutches of the ruthless Muthupandi (Prakash Raj). He is driving Muthupandi’s Gypsy when the police is checking every vehicle at the check-post. The police also has the Gypsy's registration number with them. Just as you wonder how Velu will escape from this situation, he drives the Gypsy forward, gets out and walks in style to the police. He now starts to shout at the police, convinces them that he is one of Muthupandi’s guys who is searching for Dhanalakshmi and that all of Muthupandi’s vehicles have the same registration number. The police falls for this and lets him go.

Ghilli, which released 15 years ago on 17 April 2004, was the official remake of the 2003 Telugu movie Okkadu, starring Mahesh Babu. But the scene described above where Velu outwits the police was not in the Telugu original.

At the time of its release, Ghilli went on to earn the tag of the Tamil industry’s biggest blockbuster because it was such a superior remake, usually a hard feat to achieve. Ghilli stayed true to its original for the most part. But then, Tamil writer-director Dharani cleverly improvised and brought in small but important changes that made a big difference in the final output.

Dharani brought with him his experience in writing his two previous hits Dhill and Dhool and that helped immensely. Today, Ghilli has a special place among Tamil cinema's finest action entertainers and for that, it definitely has Okkadu’s base screenplay to thank.

What perhaps made the viewers relate easily to the story was that its lead character (Velu) is not larger than life. He is not fighting against the system. Neither is he on a mission to save the society. Throughout the movie, he is on the run to save a woman from the bad guy and to ensure that she leaves the country safely.

Velu is great at kabaddi, but lags behind in academics. He shares a special bond with his sister and fears his father. He is your normal ‘guy next door’ except that he excels in stunts, a skill which is established in the movie’s opening scene. Unlike most superstar films, the idea of giving the hero high voltage action sequences, but less dialogues and confrontations with the villain also did wonders. Vijay and Prakash Raj share screen space only in three to four scenes in the entire movie.

Ghilli’s biggest strength and which is a must in any classic action thriller, is its ability to think ahead of the viewers and surprise them. The best scene in Ghilli (which is also in Okkadu) is the one where Velu and Dhanalakshmi are surrounded by Muthupandi and his hundreds of men, making it near impossible for them to get away. At this point, Velu takes a knife, holds it to Dhanalakshmi’s neck and tells Muthupandi –“I don’t know who she is. But now I realise that she is your life. My life is more important to me than yours to you." Velu just earned himself a “get out” card without fighting all the men. This is the kind of writing that produces the most memorable scenes in cinema.

Even the romance is beautifully etched out. Velu does everything in his capacity to make sure Dhanalakshmi safely boards the plane and leaves the country, far away from Muthupandi. He brings her to his house, hides her in his cabinet, steals puris from the dining table and even pushes his father and runs away (another superbly executed scene) just to make sure the police or Muthupandi’s men don’t get hold of her. But it is after he finally drops her at the airport, and starts his bike and says-“ Sit down Dhanalakshmi”, that he realises that he misses her already.

Now if Ghilli got its action and romance segments straight from Okkadu, it is the comedy thread where both Dharani and Vijay step up their game in Ghilli. Dharani rewrote a few portions keeping in mind Vijay’s comic timing and it reaped great rewards.

In Okkadu, the hero’s father approves of his son’s interest in kabaddi and is aware of every match his son attends. But in Ghilli, Sivasubramanian (Ashish Vidyarthi) is a far more authoritarian father, which means Velu has to step out for his kabaddi matches without his father’s knowledge. This paves way for a number of hilarious situations. The one where Velu flees from a pooja ceremony (which also involves actor Brahmanandam) is a riot. So are the sequences where he first tricks his father to go for the kabaddi semi finals, in the guise of going to a wedding in Madurai and then returns, explaining how he couldn’t attend the wedding and how he'd lost the Rs.8000 worth silver pot.

Dharani also packaged the climax portions of Ghilli smartly and crisply. Okkadu slightly loses track from the point when the hero drops the heroine at the airport. There is another kidnap, another stunt, another song, a few other unwanted scenes before the plot reaches the final kabaddi match and the climax stunt.

In Ghilli, the scene is shifted to the kabaddi match right from the airport. The fact that Velu spots Dhanalakshmi among the spectators to regain his focus in the kabaddi match is a smart variance from the original. Vijay would go on to successfully remake another Mahesh Babu blockbuster Pokkiri in 2007. But it can be said that both Mahesh Babu and the Telugu version stayed ahead, mainly because Mahesh Babu’s screen presence and deadpan dialogue delivery style suited Pokkiri’s screenplay better. But if you are to compare Okkadu and Ghilli, Vijay and the Tamil version emerge winners.

A lot has to do with how brilliantly Vijay handled all the hilarious scenes in Ghilli. The entire cast of Ghilli is, in fact, brilliant. Baby Jennifer and Janaki Sabesh who played the sister and mother respectively in Ghilli were better actors in comedy. Jennifer is especially terrific in the pre-climax where she shows her father the trophies Velu had hidden from him all those years. Trisha did a great job portraying Dhanalakshmi. Who could forget her “Oru Coffee Kodunge”( Give me a coffee) act in the climax?! Vijay and Trisha made such a great pair that they would go on to do three more movies together in the next four years.

Dharani though decided to stick with one actor from Okkadu, perhaps realisng that no one else could do justice to the character better – Prakash Raj. Prakash Raj carried forward the same energy and viciousness from Okkadu to Ghilli, making you wonder how an actor could go through all the same series of emotions once again just in the gap of a year. Now that comedy was Ghilli’s USP, Prakash Raj brought in the needed nuances to make Muthupandi both funny and despicable at the same time. The result is one of Tamil cinema’s greatest villains ever. What an actor!

It goes without saying that Vidayasagar’s music and background score gave a tremendous boost to Ghilli. The “Kabaddi” theme gives you goosebumps at the movie’s pivotal points. All the songs were blockbusters. “Appadi Podu” became an anthem. For a year or more, you couldn’t help but hear the song wherever you went.

It was five years after Padayappa that Tamil cinema got a whopping entertainer which satisfied all groups alike and the cinegoers embraced the film wholeheartedly. Ghilli broke Padayappa’s box-office records, in the process also becoming the first Tamil film to make Rs 50 crores. Even in its neighbouring state, Kerala, it became the most earning non-Malayalam movie.

After a series of flops in his career, it was Thirumalai in 2003 which gave Vijay the much needed hit. He followed it up with Ghilli in 2004 and the actor has never really turned back since. Ghilli is where Vijay raised his stakes up very high as an action superstar in the industry. Vijay did give high quality thrillers again in Thuppakki and Kaththi, but perhaps no other character of his turned out to be as endearing as Ghilli’s Velu.

There is one other thing that was different in Ghilli from Okkadu. This idea to attach “Chellam”(Darling) whenever Muthupandi addresses Dhanalakshmi did not exist in the original version. Add to that, Prakash Raj’s inimitable style of delivering it on screen in Ghilli, and the phrase became such a huge hit. Like its iconic phrase, 15 years later, Ghilli still remains a “Chellam” with movie lovers. A grand action entertainer with immense repeat value even today, everything about Ghilli was just perfect.

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