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Kamal A2Z: Anbe Sivam

Editor’s Note: Here’s a reader who has just now turned author on this blog, with this wonderful post. Please welcome, Deepauk! Who’s next? How about taking up Aasheerwaadam or Anthuleni Katha or Aval Appadithaan?

To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, a stupid man’s report of what a clever man intends to portray on screen may never be accurate. Nevertheless I shall attempt an interpretation. The movie has been alternately hailed and dismissed from different sections for various reasons. I will touch on the screenplay and the characterizations, two items that are sometimes knocked.

A frequent criticism leveled against the movie is the script, especially the flashback sequence. A simple exercise to determine if a scene is superfluous to a screenplay is to remove that scene or sequence and see if the movie still holds together. Anbe Sivam stands up to this test very well. Apart from 2 songs (an occupational hazard in the Indian Film Industry), the removal of any scene would rip through the entire fabric of the movie. Some sequences while clichéd from a birds eye view are less so when examined. The minor banalities in structure are acknowledged by the writer through Madhavan’s “Puratchi Kathaanayagan Thimiru pudicha Kadhaanayagi” (dashing hero, arrogant heroine) dialogue.The entire sequence in Bala’s house serves to emphasize the romance, Kandaswami Padaiyaachi’s opportunistic theism and finally the reason for Bala’s continued involvement with Nalla. The action sequence sets up the scene afterward in the police station (the actor playing the inspector is a riot). It forces Nalla to come to terms with the consequences of his dalliance with the daughter of the man whose policies he resents.

I would like to mention 2 specific scenes that contrast the range of anecdotes that were drawn upon to deliver exposition in the movie. First, the portentous scene about the Tsunami that plays out in the Bhubaneshwar Hotel; the description of the photography-enthusiast consumed by the seas is supposedly based on a tragedy that befell a close friend (source: Kamal the writer himself in an interview to Sun TV). The scenes at the mural unveiling in Kandaswami Padaiyachi’s office are based on, I presume, Diego Rivera’s mural for the Rockefeller Center (a point to note here is Nalla’s allegiance, much like Russell, lies more with Marx than with Lenin). Referencing an intensely personal experience as well as global pop culture in the same movie should be a stretch, but it is pulled off with consummate ease.

The obvious strengths in the Nalla role apart, what is really meant to step out of the movie and slap the average yuppie viewer’s face is the Anbarasu character. Madhavan delivers the wake up call well, combining socially accepted selfishness and naivete’ with aplomb. Even small characters like the members of the Koothupattarai (street play troupe in Tamil Nadu), Mehrunnisa and Pounkunju in particular, are given a lot of depth. And for the piece-de-resistance we return to Nalla. For nearly 2 hours the man is infallible. He has fought the Indian government and won, waded through floods, chased a train, lost and donated blood and through his generally gregarious nature managed to traverse nearly the entire east coast of the country on a leg and a half. And then suddenly the self-assured “last-word-freak” has all his insecurities laid out in one line. “Manaivingurathu oru karpanai walking stick. Manam Nondaama Irukkanum Ille” (”The concept of wife is an imaginary walking stick. The mind shouldn’t go lame, right?”). Nalla’s imaginary walking stick clearly shows Kamal Haasan’s imagination needs none.

[Picture courtesy: BehindWoods]

Kamal’s epic-based story

“Anaiyaa Neruppu” (Unextinguished / Unextinguishable Fire) is a short story — or is it a fable? — that appeared in Ananda Vikatan more than a year ago. Thanks to HAL2211 again for reminding me about it. UniversalHeroKamal.com has the Tamil original while Chenthil Nathan has a very good English translation, interestingly titled “The Day I Lost My Chastity”. Kamal’s creativity, thinking and knowledge are on display. Enjoy, if you haven’t already!

Kamal in his elements

Watching films written by Kamal is a unique experience. After growing up watching the film one would discover an aesthetic element, an angle of storytelling that was completely hidden till one sudden viewing. Then on it is impossible to not see the movie without feeling that pattern. In fact it could be so weak that one may not find anyone else who would agree with the interpretation. But then, well made films provide for each viewer’s experience to extend beyond the content of the film.

This happens to me on a regular basis with Kamal films. I can never be sure that the way I enjoyed it this time would be the same as it was last time or the next. Kamal written films tend to be highly deliberate: a line of dialogue, a frame of screenspace exists because it was meant to exist that way. This is what propels you to wrestle with questions about why someone said/did something on screen. And it is most often rewarding.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen ThEvar Magan. It is a movie that raises complex questions about the nature of responsibility, heritage and individualism. Right from the very title the movie it puts into focus the simple truth which most Indians find anything but simple, that ‘the individual’ is an artificial construct.

Any social critique in India will be incomplete without the artist’s expressed view on God and religion. One of Kamal’s pet themes of atheism, or atleast the impossibility of celestial relief for human problems, is presented quite centrally in movies like Mahanadhi. In others like Hey Ram and Kurudhippunal, they find direct mention. But in ThEvar Magan the issue is handled very subtly and beautifully.

Elements have always enjoyed a supernatural status in our tradition. But in this film they are cast as spectators and sometimes as part of man’s weapons against his fellows.


All is well on the surface, till Sakthi gets Esakki to break the lock of the temple. A temple that is everybody’s and nobody’s like the sky.

But the heavenly quest ends in the gruesome disaster that sparks things off. Ramu and co. respond by setting fire to the opponents’ huts.

The opponents reply by blowing up the reservoir and letting the water flood in and kill.

When Sakthi gets the better of that challenge (with a highly visual image of being soaked in the wet earth), Mayan is disturbed. The lawyer’s cunning idea is to get back through land. The scene ends with the lawyer’s wink and Mayan’s smile cutting to a shot that is on a hole in the reddish brown earth where the fence is being planted. The plan sees the end of Periya ThEvar.

The last faceoff does not end in a granary — as it could have very easily been. But the fight is broken into two and a chase is inserted — even at the great risk of losing tempo which is why I feel very strongly that the whole thing is highly deliberate. The chase takes Sakthi and Mayan into excessively windy open fields.

The final encounter happens with veshtis fluttering wildly and Sakthi uses a minor God’s weapon (which one may think of as the culmination of the cycle mishaps that began at a temple).

Note that the wind may seem like a really weak link here. But there is more than one shot of it which makes my case slighly stronger.

  1. When Esakki and Kanakku lead a gang to attack Chinna ThEvar’s house, they rise from below in a frame. The crop in the foreground is seen to sway to wildly in the wind.
  2. Similarly when someone passes the news of Mayan’s hideout to his mother, the atmosphere is very windy in the backyard.

This whole attempt to see the story in the backdrop of an elements may seem nebulous but I put the reason why I put it forward is because of this:

In the discussion in Chinna ThEvars house, Chinna ThEvar asks what is the course of action. The possibility giving them a taste of their own medicine by burning their huts in reply, is ruled out. The henchman appears silly by replying: “adhu mudiyaadhungayya, mazhai peyyudhulla, amaththippudum” to which Mayan replies with “neruppukku badhil thaNNi dhaanE”: isn’t water the (fit) response to fire ?

On the surface this looks as if a gem of an idea germinating from the henchman’s stupid remark. But I argue that it is more than that. It was a broad hint of how the elements are pitted against each other in the rest of the film.

This helps connect ThEvar Magan to Kamal’s other films where he puts the onus of social ills, squirely on individuals. Not blaming religion per se, but blind faith. The aesthetic appeal lies in the fact that, the views do not decry the institution of religion itself. For instance Periya ThEvar’s famous dialogues in the rain-scene, seem very much in line with the Gita-vian emphasis on every individual’s duty and is of universal appeal. And it is perhaps hinted, that it is highly compatible with rationality.


PS: Thanks a lot for the pics, Thilak.

[Editor’s Note: A new site is just the beginning. We also need new ideas and fresh blood. Here comes some, in the form of Prabhu Ram!]

On Kamal…

SS Music telecasted a programme on Tamil New Year’s day, about Kamal receiving the Living Legend award, with various people talking about him. I thought that now was a good time to brush up the past a bit, although in a different way.

Sripriya, who co-starred with Kamal in many movies:

My inspiration to learn Tamil came from many persons, such as Vaalee and Kamal Haasan…has not studied much but he writes poetry. So I thought when Kamal Haasan could do it why not I? I have read a lot of Kannadasan’s songs also.

Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are my good friends. I learned a lot from them, particularly Kamal Haasan from whom I learnt dance.

Gautham, who directed in his last movie, Vaettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu:

I conceived the story after Kamal said we’d work together. He rejected my first script and that’s when I thought I’d make him a super cop stalking a serial killer. `Let’s do it,’ he said

I was jittery. Kamal is not only a super actor but also a director. You can’t play the fool with him. If I want an extra take from Kamal, I have to give him the right reason. I just can’t afford to be casual with someone of his stature.

K Balachander, his mentor, of course, has often praised Kamal. Here are a few things he said about Kamal and also Rajni:

Answering the million-dollar question as to if he would direct Kamal and Rajini in a movie, Balachander answered that he is open for the project if the two stars are ready to go for it. Besides, he, as it seems, has a script of sorts for the project as well. “I would not cast them in two opposite roles”. On the contrary, my movie would cast them as brothers who run into occasional prank fights, he replied.

Replying to another question, he stated, “Kamal requested me to open a college to support cinema and stage. However, I have no immediate plans for the same. But if I was asked to head a college I would happily agree for that”.

Finally, we have Santhanabharathi, his long-time friend and associate:

As far as Mahanadhi goes, Kamal has acted very well in this movie. Certain shots that he has given in this movie, I wouldn’t have expected even in my wildest dreams. Particularly the scene where his daughter comes to visit him in jail. He told me to continue to take till he gave the cue. Everybody knew the scene, but nobody knew how he was going to do it. The emotions of a father, his helplessness…. and at the same time the need to hide his feelings from his children was really moving. When the scene got finally over, I had tears in my eyes.

The character in Guna can be played only by Kamal Haasan and no one else.

If I have to talk about Kamal Haasan, I would say he’s an encyclopaedia. He’s a self-made person. I have known him from my school days, infact I have seen the way he has grown, from the time he first came into films. He would take the initiative to learn on his own by reading a lot of books, talking to people and by watching movies. If he speaks about something it wouldn’t be out of the hat, his arguments are supported by a lot of reading and learning. Even though he did not have much of a formal education, his knowledge is immmense.

When it comes to movies, he gets totally involved with his character. Whether he has to put on weight, shed weight, go bald, grow a beard or change his complexion he would do it. For Guna, he dieted and lost a lot of weight and throughout the movie we see a darker version of him. For the last scene in Guna where we show him falling down a steep slope, we could have used a rubber dummy, but he insisted that the dummy should look exactly like himself and we moulded a dummy…we went about moulding the dummy part by part, first the hand, then the head, then the neck and so on. For that, he had to sit through for very long hours. You need a lot of patience for all that. He’s very helpful and cooperative when it comes to that. That’s why Indian was such a great success. Once you put on the make-up, you can’t even eat till it’s taken off. He wouldn’t mind all that, because of the total involvement that he has.

Lots of people ask me…how come he fights with all other directors but not with you. Well the thing is, any product is a result of teamwork. If somebody gives a good suggestion, there is nothing wrong in taking it. Actors like Kamal Haasan will surely bring their inputs to the character and the movie. For them the movie is more important than anything else. You have to take it as teamwork rather than personally, otherwise nothing will get done.

Silent symphony

Some time ago, I came across this lovely mash-up of Pesum Padam aka Pushpaka Vimana aka Pushpak, by Thilak. The video covers most of the important portions of the movie. Beethoven’s symphony score in the background, though a little too sad, adds to the nostalgic value.

After watching the video, you might be interested in reading the creator’s thoughts at PassionForCinema.

Asianet, Sun TV interviews

Recently, Kamal’s interviews appeared on Asianet (Malayalam) and Sun TV (Tamil) channels. Many of us weren’t fortunate to catch them live, but watched portions of it later through other means.

The Asianet interview happens in an informal setting on a houseboat, in Malayalam and English. As the houseboat moves through the lake, Kamal and the interviewer are having lunch. Highlights:

  • Right at the end, Kamal calls actors as “specialised tools” used by the maker of the movie. He uses an analogy to Shakespeare and says that only the filmmaker will be remembered ultimately. It’s a bit of a shock when he declares that he’s not very interested in continuing as an actor.
  • Kamal talks about his time in Malayalam cinema — the simple living, the camaraderie — and mentions Soman, IV Sasi and Jayan. He lauds the friendship shared by the industry folks and says that only the current crop in Bollywood (K Jo and gang) come close.
  • He also talks about upliftment of women and proudly says that India is better than even USA.
  • He even sings a Carnatic song.
  • He laments about the current commercial setup of movies.

The interview on Sun TV was done by Gowthami. It even had some interludes from people who have been associated with Kamal. Highlights:

  • Kamal is very confident of Dasavatharam, talking high of the screenplay and Ravikumar’s enthusiasm on hearing the story. KSR and Kamal talk of their experience of working together on the movie.
  • Kamal and Mani Ratnam talk about how Kamal was involved in all aspects of Nayakan. Mani even displays a shade of jealousy while Kamal is thrilled about appreciation from him.
  • He attributes his growth to the people whom he grew up with — family, mentor, etc.
  • He still expresses confidence in the audience regarding support for experimentation in movies.
  • The interview moves onto things other than movies. An amusing digression is Kamal reciting a shloka and using that to bring out his rationalist views. It continues with Illaiyaraaja’s comments.
  • K Balachander recounts an experience during Punnagai Mannan very emotionally.

Behindwoods carries a report on the same programme.

If you get a chance to catch any of these interviews some time, don’t miss them!

Pot-pourri news

[Picture courtesy: BehindWoods]

Kamal’s letters

Though Discussion Forums can be tedious, ForumHub throws up quite a few gems at times. There was an interesting discussion on letters featured in Kamal’s movies. Here are two (in Tamil). Though there may be some inaccuracies, they are worth reading. The other two movies discussed were Anbe Sivam and Guna; hope to get those too sometime and publish them.

Kurudhippunal:

நான் எனது போலீஸ் அங்கியை கலைத்து வைத்து விட்டு, உணர்வுகளை கலையாமல் எழுதும் கடிதம் இது.

அரசியலும் வன்முறையும் ஒப்பந்தம் செய்து கொண்டு, அக்னி சாட்சியாக ஜோடி சேர்ந்து விட்டன.அந்த ஜோடியின் சந்ததிகள் நாடெங்கிலும் ஊழல் தீ வளர்த்து, அதில் நேர்மையை ஊற்றி யாகம் செய்கின்றனர்.விரைவில் நேர்மையை வழிபடுவோர், தீண்டத்தகாதவராய், பின்தங்கிப்போவர் என்ற பயம் பலரைப் போல எனக்கும் உண்டு.

நீதி கேட்கும் ஆராய்ச்சி மணிகள், நாக்கறுந்து போய் அழகுப்பொருள்களாகி விட்டன.

ஆகையால், அரசாங்கத்தின் கவனம், நியாயத்தின் பக்கம் திரும்ப, துப்பாக்கிகள் வெடித்தன.

தீவிரவாதம் பேசி, துப்பாக்கிகள் ஏந்திய, சில நேர்மையான போராளிகளையும், ஊழல் தீப்பொறிகள் சுட்டு விட்டன.

அத்தகைய தீப்பொறிகளில் ஒருவன் தான் “பத்ரி” எங்கிற “பத்ரிநாதன்”.

அவனால் பெருக்கெடுத்த, ஒரு குருதிப்புனலில் நனைந்த அன்று முதல், என் வாழ்க்கை மொத்தமாய் மாறிப்போனது.

…………………………………………………….

தீவிரவாதிகள் பிறப்பதில்லை, உருவாக்கப்படுகிறார்கள். அவர்களை உருவாக்குவதில் பெரும் பங்கு அரசியலுக்கும் அரசியல்வாதிகளுக்கும் உள்ளது.

நாளைய தலைமுறை வழிபடப்போகும் கடவுளின் வடிவம், துப்பாக்கி வடிவில் இல்லாமல் பாதுகாக்க வேண்டியது, நமது கடமை.

நடந்து முடிந்தவை வெறும் அத்தியாயங்களே, கதை இன்னும் முடியவில்லை. அதை தயவு செய்து முடித்து வையுங்கள்.

அன்புடன்,
ஆதி.

The more famous one from Hey Ram:

ப்ரிய மைதிலி,

கல்யாணம் ஆயிரம் காலத்துப் பயிர் என்றொரு வசனமுண்டு. பயிர் என்றாலே என்றேனும் அறுவடையும் உண்டு.

மைதிலி நீ நல்லவள், அழகானவள். நீ எனக்கு வாய்த்தது நான் செய்த புண்ணியம் என்றும், நான் உனக்கு வாய்த்தது நீ என்றோ செய்த பாவம் என்றும் கொள்வோம்.

என் செயலின் காரணம் கூடிய விரைவில் உனக்குப் புரியும். பாரத மாதாவுக்கு நான் செய்யப் போகும் சேவைக்கு சொந்த
பந்தங்கள் இடையூறு ஆகலாம்.

உனது கருவில் வளரும் குழந்தை மேல், எனது துர்குணங்களின் நிழல் விழாமல் உன் குணப்பிரகாஷம் காப்பாற்றட்டும்.

என் தாயை நான் பார்த்ததில்லை. வசந்தா அக்கா தான் எனக்குத் தாய், இப்போது நீயும்.

மாமா மாமி அனைவரின் சாபமும் எனக்கு உண்டென அறிவேன். அவற்றிலிருந்து மீளும் அருகதையும் எண்ணமும் எனக்கு இல்லை.

அன்பிலா,
சாகேத்ராம்

[Sources: 1, 2]

Kamal’s essays

Kamal dabbling in various art forms is no news. Here’s an article cum review of his first collection of essays, Thaedi(th) Theerppoam Vaa, published quite a while ago. It covers a variety of topics and is addressed to his fans primarily.

Translated excerpts:

Writing is neither my profession nor vocation. I have not yet tried shouting out loud when my defeats suffocate me. I write about them. Hence, my writings are more of an evaluation of my mistakes… I am not fettered by literary rules and regulations. So ignorance of these rigid rules helps me to express myself freely.

I totally disagree with the axiom “Men err”. I try my best not to err. Every time I make a mistake I punish myself. If possible, I try to atone for my mistakes. I bear my cross willingly…

TV antennae will be built on the graveyard of cinema, the way audio cassettes were born out of the ashes of old gramophone records…I am certainly one among those who will shed copious tears on the epitaph of cinema, which is the 20th century’s most brilliant technical achievement.

[Source: Screen / Jagadish’s Kamal site]

Kamal’s poem in Ananda Vikatan

Kamal’s poem recently appeared in the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan — guess it will be available through vikatan.com too. It was reproduced in a couple of places.

The poem seems to have political undertones. If someone has a good explanation, please post it as a comment here.

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