The one name you will never forget after watching Gautham Vasudev Menon's Ek Deewana Tha is Jessie. In an age of increasingly complicated love stories in Hindi cinema - young characters navigating identity crises, career ambitions and specific relationship needs - seeing a character instantly besotted with a girl he sees for all of thirty seconds is already hard to digest. So when the confused fledgling filmmaker Sachin (Prateik) first sees Jessie (Amy Jackson), he is hopelessly smitten, enough to burst into song immediately. And just how often can a lovesick romeo say the name of the woman he loves, you ask? About a minimum of five times in every single scene. Literally. And that's just the least of the problems in Ek Deewana Tha.
Menon's last Hindi film, Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Main, released over a decade ago. He has since then made very successful films in Tamil and Telugu, including the 2010 Tamil blockbuster Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa and its Telugu remake Ye Maaya Chesave. With Ek Deewana Tha, Menon remakes the same film a third time, this time churning out a very sloppy film. The story - of an infatuated guy trying to overcome the various obstacles to get the girl of his dreams - is a done-to-death scenario. With the right treatment it still could have made for enjoyable fare. But Ek Deewana Tha is less about innocent, first love than it is about testing the limits of audience patience.
One of the film's glaring flaws from the outset is its writing, with the story and screenplay both by Menon. Both lead characters - Sachin and Jessie - remain flat throughout. Sachin does absolutely nothing except for being consumed by his love. He follows her around and keeps referring to himself as jobless, even though somehow he keeps getting a convenient leg up in the film industry. Jessie, the beautiful and shy Malayali Christian girl, is virtually impossible to grasp in terms of her motivations. She changes her mind about Sachin every other scene, making her annoyingly indecisive and hard to empathize with. It becomes painfully evident early in the film that neither character has a story arc, no evolution in personality or behavior.
Given the blandness of the characters, the actors get very little scope to breathe life into them. Prateik looks uncomfortable in most scenes, overplaying his awkward behavior and looking even more out of his element during the musical numbers. Amy Jackson masters the act of walking gracefully in slow motion, which she does through much of the film. At times it's hard to decide which of the two is more expressionless and uncomfortable in the setting. The shoddy make-up job done on Jackson doesn't help much either - her skin tone keeps changing from scene to scene.
If in the first half, the film fails to take off due to a flat story arc, in the second half the screenplay starts falling apart completely. Just when Jessie finally decides to give love a chance, she just as easily finds the most banal reason to end the relationship and leave Sachin. It's a forced plot twist that serves no real purpose except for elongating the film even more. The moments of tension and conflict aren't justified. And each time you think the film is about to end, it stretches on even more into a never-ending saga of two confused lovers you just don't care about anymore.
One of the very few saving graces of the film are the rich visuals captured by Director of Photography M.S. Prabhu. As the film meanders through Mumbai, Kerala, Delhi and Agra, Prabhu covers a wide palette of sceneries and settings to make the film at least look good. Costuming for Jackson, by Nalini Sriram, is also worth mentioning for giving her an ethnically beautiful look without overly glamorizing her.
The Tamil and Telugu film industries are undeniable powerhouses of Indian cinema. However, the South Indian cinemas have certain conventions and eccentricities that are designed in their own unique way, to cater to a loyal audience that appreciates them. Such peculiarities don't always translate to other cinemas, especially not to the style of melodrama that works for Hindi cinema. We're all for pan-India spirit and trying to replicate a successful formula across the country. But when certain cinematic styles simply do not translate across regional cinemas, they should best be left in their own element.
Menon tries hard to make Ek Deewana Tha work with Tamil sensibilities but it ends up as a jarring and exhausting experience. The publicity campaign for the film has pegged it as "an A.R.Rahman and Javed Akhtar musical". While it is certainly a musical, neither of the two incredible talents can do much to salvage the film. Rahman's soundtrack is surprisingly weak, while Akhtar's lyrics are very unlike his poetic style. While Menon must be lauded for the energy to make the same film three times, in three different languages, this is one case where it's clear he's remade the film one time too many.