‘Thank You Brother’ movie review: A mediocre thriller, but a watchable drama

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Express News Service

Thank You Brother embodies every claustrophobic’s worst nightmare — getting trapped in an elevator — but the consequential terror is minimal, and its punches, barely effective.

A remake of the Nigerian thriller, Elevator Baby, it doesn’t take much to figure out why the makers chose to remake it in Telugu. The original managed to strike the right proportion of exhilaration, humour, and most importantly, melodrama, deemed as the essential ingredient in the recipe of a Telugu film.

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The Nigerian thriller has the DNA of a quintessential Telugu film, and Ramesh Raparthi’s Thank You Brother succeeds in replicating the soul for most of the running time, and as a result, also ends up inheriting the tonal issues of the original.

The plot brings together two distinctive individuals from different walks of life going through a distressing phase; Abhi (Viraj Aswin) is the brutish failson who spends his days and night roistering, unresponsive to accountabilities. In a lengthy dialogue, his mother (Archana Ananth), a token character in every way, shares with her current spouse (Anish Kuruvilla), the highs and lows of Abhi’s childhood that could have shaped his personality.

She explains how the death of Abhi’s father, and the subsequent parental failures from her side, culminated in Abhi’s insolence. Mouthed by a mother, the said dialogue is the mother of expositions. Unlike the hasty original, the Telugu film takes its time to make the arrogant Abhi disdainful in every sense.

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Thanks to the screenplay’s commitment to painting Abhi in all his immodesty, the young man’s momentary reformation from being boorish to compassionate in the climax works beautifully, despite the fact that some of his early histrionics come across as stubs of lazy and stereotypical writing

The second character, a recently widowed, pregnant Priya (Anasuya Bharadwaj) hails from the other end of the social and emotional spectrums. Unlike Abhi, from the relatively short backstory she gets, we can comprehend that she is a kind person who certainly isn’t well off, especially after the death of her husband in undisclosed circumstances.

Early in the film, when Priya runs into Abhi in an elevator of a residential tower, she spills water over him and Abhi, being the snob he is, retorts with, “why would anyone have water in an elevator?” and Priya does not hold back either, and quickly retaliates by underlining his arrogance, before stepping out. There begins this clash of personalities which neatly sets the foundation for the drama to follow.

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A 40-minute flashback later, when they both yet again find themselves in the elevator, fate and the screenwriter seem to have other plans. 

A power failure leaves both of them trapped in the elevator and things worsen when Priya goes into labour. The film places drama over logic and to be honest, this strategy works in favour of the story. For instance, you may question how difficult it can be to rescue two people from a trapped elevator in an occupied apartment, under the modern-day 24X7 surveillance systems.

But it’s this human absurdity that makes this otherwise traumatic story, a light-hearted commentary on human behaviour in the Nigerian original. In the Telugu film too, the friend who mistakes Abhi’s pleas for a prank call, the live feed from the elevator that’s cast across social media and television networks, and the useless spectators, can all be perceived as fragments of society.

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These ideas sound far-fetched and incessantly keep questioning the logic. Almost every single rescue MO is rendered so inept and feeble that you start suspecting Abhi’s mother for meticulously designing a social experiment to educate her son about the importance of human connection. Spoiler alert: no, this is serious business, although the film does become a comedy the moment it steps out of the grim elevator.

The little tweaks that Ramesh Raparthi does to the usual survival-drama cliches come off as refreshing. For instance, Abigail in the original reveals that she slept with the husband of the woman she worked for, after he promised her a house in exchange for a baby boy, but was cheated after the scan reports reveal a girl.

While it’s understandable that Telugu film compromises on this angle to make the character more sympathetic and morally virtuous, they retained the discourse pertaining to the gender of the child.

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When a triad of transgender women pay a visit to Priya’s house, they initially bless her with a healthy boy child, a notion which Priya’s mother-in-law (the ever-reliable Annapurna) immediately rejects and instead, wishes for a healthy child, regardless of the gender. This scene finds a beautiful closure towards the end. It’s these tiny, carefully written moments that make the film a better drama than a thriller. 

One significant deflection from the original that works against the film is that it seems to focus on the minutiae of  Abhi’s character arc, and how this uneventful chance encounter changes HIM as a person, making it more of a coming-of-age story than a social drama-thriller, which the original was, in its intent to put two contrasting personalities in an uneasy situation. Priya, unlike Abigail in the original, is reduced to a middle-aged damsel in distress, deprived of the character’s strong and self-made vibes.

On the brighter side, the sense of familiarity towards the end between the protagonists of the original comes across as odd, which the remake fixes to an extent. In the final act, Abhi’s step-father, who also happens to be a doctor, asks Abhi to place his hand in Priya’s cervix, as a part of his virtual instructions to assist Priya’s normal delivery, for checking her degree of dilatation.

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And before doing so, he mandates him to clean his hands with a sanitizer. Had it been a couple of years back, finding a sanitizer in a trapped elevator would have been as difficult as finding a Mahesh Babu film devoid of a social message, but thanks to the film’s strategic pandemic setting, Abhi finds a sanitizer in Priya’s handbag.

This is the farthest the film goes in terms of logical reasoning. Thank You Brother is a better drama than a thriller. It does fall for a few cinematic traps such as the melodramatic mother-son-relationship, a lady who judges her boyfriend based on his interaction with his mother, and most importantly, one of the most annoying cliches of Indian cinema to establish mood and context— reaction shots of random strangers watching the proceedings live on their electronic devices. Nevertheless, the 94-minute runtime, although it cannot recompense its impeded potential, makes it an easy watch.

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