Choreographer-director Brinda had mentioned in an interaction with us that she wanted her sophomore film Thugs to be as racy as a trailer. Having seen her film, I can say she has delivered exactly that with this remake of Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil (2018). Unlike the original which begins with the events that lead the protagonist into a prison, Thugs takes us into the prison right away and drops an engrossing slow-mo action scene set in the rain. There’s no time to breathe, and we are planted directly into the claustrophobic world of a prison. The film then goes on to reveal the back story using a non-linear narrative, and this helps pile on the suspense factor.

Cast: Hridhu Haroon, Simha, RK Suresh, Munishkanth, Anaswara Rajan

Director: Brinda

Despite largely being loyal to the original film, this remake can be said to be less complex. Some ideas from the original are knocked off here, including the lawyer character played by Lijo Jose Pellissery, the heroine getting trapped in an asylum, and the murder of an SI. This means that this film is entirely focused on the prison break. Thugs also spell out a few scenes, as opposed to the more subtle and ambiguous take in the original Malayalam film. Where a character, Sethu (Hridhu Haroon), stops short of escaping the prison at an earlier stage, in this film, he holds the rope, climbs it, and then, decides otherwise. The question then is, with cops monitoring him in close proximity, how does he get away with it? But these are minor inconveniences in a remake that retains the soul of the original.

The escape plan isn't exactly perfect or inventive. Sethu and the boys seem inspired by Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption and dig their way to freedom using a tool that’s smuggled into the cell. But unlike in the Frank Darabont film, where the plan of the protagonist is one of the greatest reveals of all time, here we travel along with the lead characters from the beginning and know what they are up to. Though new obstacles keep popping up, they get resolved by Sethu quite easily. When problems are beyond his capacity, the screenplay steps in to resolve things for him. For instance, Durai (Bobby) the biggest aid of Sethu, gets framed and is moved to the district jail, but in weeks, he returns, with a rather silly excuse masquerading as a twist.

The technical excellence in Thugs makes up for such convenient writing though. The loudness of Sam CS's background music might feel overdone, but they help lift the high moments. Praveen Antony’s editing manages to stop the film from feeling rushed and brings in some much-needed balance.

Though Thugs doesn't offer great scope for actors to flex their prowess, the invested performance of Hridhu keeps the film going with a committed performance as an astute prisoner; he is great with the action too. Bobby Simha delivers a restrained performance and is an asset too. Actors Munishkanth and RK Suresh shine too, as the naive yet wily inmate and a brutish jailor, respectively.

For a prison break film to be effective, it’s important that we empathise with the protagonist and root for him. Here though, he is a perpetrator and there’s no urgent reason why he should get out immediately. That his girlfriend is safe in the outside world only dilutes the urgency of his escape. Largely though, the remake—bereft of any writing credits—does justice to the original, even if you are not exactly cheering on the escaping prisoners.