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Kamal A2Z: Apoorva Raagangal

Apoorva Raagangal (more commonly pronounced as ‘Aboorva Raagangal’) was part of the second innings of K Balachander, one among the ’shock-and-shake-up-the-audience’ series of movies (the others being Arangetram, Aval Oru Thodarkathai and Avargal). Kamal featured in all of those, but got possibly his first opportunity as leading man in Tamil with this movie released in 1975.

Barely in his twenties, he stuns the audience with his fearless and mature performance. When one thinks back now, it seems like Balachander actually tapped the rebellious streak and raw energy in Kamal for the role of Prasanna. The intelligence, interest in arts and indifference to societal rules all seem to match with his real-life self. In that sense, Balachander and Kamal were working off each other.

This movie is also known for the debut of Rajnikanth. In the few scenes they have together, Kamal and Rajni are in a way pitted against each other, both being interested in the same woman. Again looking back, the slowly maturing relationship between the two seems to reflect their personal equation in the future superstar era.

But the image of the movie really is from the popular “Adhisaya raagam…” song — Kamal singing away and Srividya looking at him in wonder. Yesudas’s classical voice and Kannadasan’s simple yet meaning-laden lyrics add beauty.

Get more details about the movie from the entries on IMDb and Wikipedia. Kamal reprised this role 9 years later in the Hindi remake, Ek Nai Paheli, with Hema Malini and Raaj Kumar.

Kamal A2Z: Avargal

Editor’s Note:
Another reader joins the series! Just about a week more left for ‘A’. C’mon folks!

by Mahesh

I confess that this is not the first movie that would come to mind when you think Kamal Haasan, but for me it does. As Janardhanan, Kamal did not impress me much, but as Junior he did. I became a fan then and continue to be one. I do not recall much about the movie as I last watched it about 15 years ago, but a few things stand out till date:

  1. Kamal acts as a third hero (if you can call it that) in the movie! Talks a ton of the man who is used to care more about the role than his presence.
  2. As a Malayalee accountant Janardhanan, Kamal impressed with his ability to converse in a Malayalam-tinged Tamil.
  3. But the most impressive thing about Kamal in Avargal is his role as Junior. Kamal appears as a ventriloquist in the movie and from what I gather, really learnt the art. I still recall the first scene as Junior when one can see Kamal’s throat muscles move as Junior speaks! Kudos to the man, the actor and the artist.

In my opinion, Avargal sums up Kamal’s performance in many a movie. Caring more about the role than his presence or appearance - illustrated in Apoorva Raagangal, Guna, Swathi Muthyam (Sippikkul Muthu), 16 Vayadhinile, Kalyanaraman, Anbe Sivam, etc. His versatility with languages / accents - MMKR, Tenali, Maharasan, Sathi Leelavathi, Chanakyan, Panchathanthiram, Rama Bhama Shyama, Ek Duuje Ke Liye, etc. His dedication in learning the art to become the character depicted — Sagara Sangamam (Salangai Oli), Punnagai Mannan, Apoorva Sagodarargal etc.

The man really deserves A++.

Panchathanthiram-time interview

Considering the current discussion going on in the Comments sections, now is a good time to look back at one of Kamal’s interviews on Rediff.com, done just after the release of Panchathanthiram. The setback of Aalavandhaan (aka Abhay) wasn’t too far behind. A lot was going on in Kamal’s personal life too at that time. So, there are peeks into all that. Excerpts:

The mahurat of Abhay was a huge, unmanageable affair, unlike anything we had seen before. But he could not maintain that grand momentum.

It is so ridiculous. There should be a law as to who should cut the film and for what purpose.

Now I am working towards settling my debts. Instead of one film, I will probably do two or three films per year at the same fee that I got one doing one film per year.

You know directors who have treated me as a comrade instead of just an actor, have always got the best out of me. Even great filmmakers like K Balachander, Mani Ratnam and Balu Mahendra have treated me like an ally. That helped the entire project….I am sure Mani doesn’t take all his actors into confidence. But he would discuss the screenplay during Nayakan. That was really reassuring for me. My chest heaves with pride when my directors take me into confidence.

My comedies have always done well. I am grateful for that.

We all worked like lunatics to complete the film in three months. While director K Ravi Kumar was cutting editing and mixing, I got busy writing Anbesivam.

Despite the turmoil in my personal life, the film will always brought a smile to my face. It was just the balm I needed to keep me calm.

Read the whole interview.

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 A2Z: Ananda Jothi

Natural performance. An expression that is used at the drop of a hat by our critics, that it ought to be taken out of the English language for servicing. Anyway it is a curious expression to use with regard to the art of acting. As a sage once put it, “from the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type (of all art)“.

Child actors, one would naturally suppose, are the best candidates for such performances. Such a supposer would have obviously not been acquainted with Tamil film children, particularly those of the yesteryears. These little pieces of heaven can be spotted swaying their head from side-to-side during song sequences and talking lengthy dialogues with righteousness oozing from their ears. All this of course if they are not tugging at the heartstrings with polio stricken legs or polishing boots to support their co-orphan younger brothers. Unless of course, the child in question happens to be Kamal Haasan.

After a National Award winning debut in KaLathoor KannammA and a dual role in PaarthAl Pasi Theerum, Kamal played the role of the heroine’s kid brother in the MGR-Devika starrer Ananda Jothi. The movie is as routine as it gets: a dispossessed rich man MGR, an epitome of simplicity and rectitude, goes about righting wrongs and finally living happily ever after. Notable here is the performance of the child Kamal Haasan. For anyone who may think this is just some retroactive praise, the movie is highly recommended, and a feeble description of a scene is attempted below.

MGR is an upright teacher Anandan, in a school run by Devika’s family and has an image of not bowing to authority. What Devika doesn’t know is that MGR is also writes poems (don’t even ask!) by the name Maniyarasan, whom she adores. Devika’s brother Kamal, studies in the school and can’t stop admiring his teacher.

In an ensuing exchange where she passes messages through Kamal that his teacher is an idiot while Maniyarasar is a genius. The message itself is triggered by a comment from Kamal: “unga maNiyarasar periya ivarO?” (roughly translates to a sarcastic: “your Maniyarasar is a great chap, eh?”). The twang and intonation are to be heard to be believed.

MGR translates the English word ‘idiot’ for Kamal. The child is outraged that his sister could have chosen such a word to describe his teacher and is angrier still that he was made to carry the message. His reaction is spontaneous and enchanting. He carries back MGR’s barb to his sister and closes the sequence with a witty smile: “pEchchu vittA pEchchu vaangikka vENdiyadhu thAn” (if you dish it out, be prepared to take them too!). And all this, with impressive expression and intonation. Natural talent, is what comes to mind, just that it isn’t compliment enough.

Of course this cannot be compared with Kalathur Kannamma. He literally drove the second half of that movie, performing with unbelievable ease. Ananda Jothi on the other hand, is yet another case of Kamal showing his mettle in an ordinary film. He would do it for a while later too.

Editor’s Note:

Prabhu Ram has picked a not-so-familiar movie and given a good start to the series. Readers, you are encouraged to send in your entries — immediately for the letter ‘A’ and not so urgently for other letters. ‘A’ itself has a whole lot of movies — Arangetram, Apoorva Sagodharargal and Avvai Shanmughi to name a few. Or can you enlighten readers about ‘B’ for Benkiyalli Aralida Hoovu, next fortnight? All your entries, with the subject-line as “Kamal A2Z Submission”, are awaited at randramble AT gmail DOT com. An even simpler way to contribute is to just comment on such posts, adding more info and thoughts about the movie covered. More info on the series is here.

Vishnuvardhan on Kamal

Many South Indian actors have friendships that date back a long time. We come to hear about it after ever so many years. One such instance that I came across recently is Vishnuvardhan and Kamal. In an interview where he talks about various things, the Kannada movie superstar mentions Kamal a couple of times. He also comes up with the hitherto-unknown fact (atleast to me!) that he featured in Marudhanayagam! Excerpts:

It was the era of Bruce Lee. The only two artistes who learnt martial arts were Kamal Hasan and myself. The stunt masters utilised our talent. The audiences lapped it up.

You did do a cameo in the shelved “Marudhanayakam” directed by Kamal.
I played Wajid Khan. It was a pleasure because we entered the industry together. He respects me and his passion for cinema is amazing.

Check out the wonderful interview by S Shivakumar.

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!]

Chennai 600028 celebrations

Kamal was there to encourage the young brigade yet again. This time, it was on the 100th day celebrations of Chennai 600028. It was earlier reported that Kamal would be attending; but later, to everyone’s surprise, Rajni too joined in. Now, it’s becoming all too common to see both of them together! For a change, we had old friends SPB and Gangai Amaran too.

Behindwoods has a lot more photos. IndiaGlitz has a horde along with a video too.

[Picture courtesy: BehindWoods]

MGR, Nagesh on Kamal

On hearing Nagesh glorify Kamal recently, thoughts went back to MGR. Kamal and he are believed to shared a great rapport spanning several years. It started from Anandha Jothi in the early 60s and lasted till Kamal’s peak with Nayagan in 1987, shortly after which MGR passed away. In a piece (in Tamil) by ‘AVM’ Saravanan (who himself has a long association with Kamal), he recollects MGR’s thoughts about Kamal in the early 80s.

MGR had inquired about Kamal’s ‘market’. He praised Kamal saying that he was the greatest actor in India after Sivaji Ganesan. He lamented that Kamal had not yet achieved a place commensurate with his talent and wished that he reach greater heights. Kamal, of course, shares a passion with MGR — that of maintaining one’s body. In fact, the latter is an inspiration. Read more.

Back to Nagesh in The Hindu:

Who does he rate as the best actor? He raises his finger solemnly and exclaims, “There’s only one artiste in the whole Universe (!). It’s Kamal Hassan. Without him there’s no cinema. Have you watched ‘Anbe Sivam’?” Nagesh will next be seen in ‘Dasavatharam’ with Kamal. The admiration is mutual. Kamal never misses a chance to use Nagesh in his projects.

Completing the line-up for this post is Kovai Sarala. Though she can’t be compared with the above two stalwarts, she memorably paired with Kamal in Sathi Leelavathi. She had this to say:

Acting alongside Kamal Haasan in “Sathileelavathi” was an unforgettable experience. I was jittery on the sets before Kamal put me at ease. He is gifted artist with a wonderful sense of timing.

Today, they are remaking and recycling material of yesteryear. Look at films like “Nan Avanillai” and “Billa”. I wonder for a moment who would play the lead role if “Thillana Mohanambal” were to be remade. I cannot think of anyone else but Kamal Haasan in the role of Sivaji Ganesan.

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