London Babulu, the Telugu remake of Manikandan’s critically acclaimed Aandavan Kattalai, follows the lives of two friends — Gandhi and Pandu — who hail from Antarvedi, in the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh, and how their desperation to earn money by working abroad leads them to make a series of wrong choices. The film, directed by B Chinnikrishna, is filled with surprises, not just in terms of its characters and incidents in their journey, but also how closely the film sticks to its original essence.
At this point, I must add that I had not seen Aandavan Kattalai, which had Vijay Sethupathi and Ritika Singh in lead roles. And considering that the remake has been directed by a filmmaker whose previous films include comedies like Brother Of Bommali and Veedu Theda, I was skeptical about how the remake of Aandavan Kettalai was going to be handled. Thankfully, the film is a pleasant surprise on multiple levels — 1) It does not go overboard in its portrayal of comedy 2) The actors make you believe in them 3) The plot is so interesting that you are forced to overlook a lot of things which could have been better.
Every time a Tamil or a Malayalam film is remade in Telugu, it is forced to undergo a litmus test to check if it is entertaining enough or if it will resonate with the local populace. As a result, a comedy track is written or scenes changed to suit the sensibilities of Telugu audience. However, there is a major difference between Aandavan Kattalai and London Babulu, so to speak.
Several critics praised the former for being quite nuanced in terms of how it draws similarities between Indian immigrants in UK, USA, and Sri Lankan migrants living in Tamil Nadu. However, in its remake, this entire subtext is removed and what we get in the end is the tale of a young man, who makes a mistake, and then, he is forced to face its consequences until he realises the cost of his lies and how it changes him as a person. In a way, you cannot compare the two films on the same level, but, in spite of all this, London Babulu still works as a film.
In the film, Gandhi (Rakshith) is forced to leave his village to repay a loan so that his sister’s marriage is saved, and when he arrives in Hyderabad, he is misled by an agent Kumar (Jeeva), who promises him that he will make all the arrangements to go to London and also find a job once he goes there. Soon, Gandhi is told that the British Consulate will approve his visa easily if he mentions that he is already married. Gandhi ends up writing a random name — Suryakantham — as his wife’s name, and this, in turn, leads to several complications in his life once his UK visa gets rejected. The rest of the story is about what all Gandhi is forced to do to fulfill his dream of going to London.
Newcomer Rakshith is no Vijay Sethupathi; however, he does a fine job in his portrayal of a young man who is pushed to the extreme. Like the character’s name suggests, Rakshith is sincere and honest, and the fact that he has to lie to get his work done kills him from inside. His conscience refuses to accept everything that is going on in his life and he feels particularly bad about pulling Suryakantham, played by Swathi, into this quagmire.
On the other hand, Dhanraj, who plays Rakshith’s friend, and Satya are wonderful in their respective roles. For all the comic touch in their characters, there is a surprising amount of emotion hidden behind their eyes, and we are reduced to tears when they end up on the wrong side of the law in the end. In the end, it is Swathi who walks away with all the limelight. She plays a TV journalist who empathises with Gandhi’s situation and agrees to co-operate with him in his endeavour to go abroad.
The film also works as a wake up call to the public in general to not fall for false promises made by middlemen. In one particular scene, when Gandhi approaches a government official, the latter lambastes him saying, “You seem well-educated and yet you fall for false promises made by strangers despite several warnings from the government. We are here to serve you.” And then, he tells him that the cost of securing a passport is just a fraction of what Gandhi had to spend on getting it through illegal means. And when the story shifts to a court, there is a wonderful comment on why couples seek divorce for a variety of reasons. Rakshith’s interactions with Ali, who plays a lawyer, are hilarious and the entire court sequence is wonderfully written.
At a run time of just over two hours, London Babulu delivers plenty of laughs and also makes you think why people are so desperate to go abroad through illegal means. And that is where it triumphs as a story. It has its heart in the right place. Go watch it.