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Kamal A2Z: Chachi 420

Editor’s Note: While it may not be a good idea to have the Hindi re-make follow the Tamil original, we hope that readers will understand that we are handicapped by the limited number of movies available for ‘C’. Anyone ready to do Chanakyan?

Kamal does not really favour re-makes though he has featured in quite a few on either side of the Vindhyas. Unlike many of his other movies, he quickly took Avvai Shanmughi Northwards. After a public spat with the designated director, Shantanu Sheorey, he took over the reins hesitantly, as he had planned a grand launch for himself with Hey Ram. Unlike his other recent ventures, he struck gold with Chachi 420. With back-to-back successes of Hindustani (dubbed from Indian) and this one, “Kamal Hassan” had returned to Bollywood. The movie endured other controversies too including its earlier names “Chikni Chachi” and “Stree 420“.

When I caught the movie on one of the Zee channels, I was a curious Tamilian who wanted to know what Kamal had done with the hit movie when it was ‘translated’ into Hindi. Overall, the movie managed to retain the commercial essence of the original. Crazy Mohan’s witty dialogues were too native and original to emulate though; they came up with stuff much above average. Also, to cater to a wide market, it took on a tinge of vulgarity with a few close-ups of the old lady’s bosom and a bedroom sequence involving the lead pair.

The more obvious difference was the actors. Kamal, of course, reprised his role, now in the avatar of a Marathi brahmin lady, Lakshmi Godbole. He went through his rigorous prosthetic make-up yet again to surprise the new set of audience with his drag act, while managing to do a Bihari with Jaiprakash Paswan. Moving onto other actors, Tabu played the role of Janki — a cake-walk for an actress of her calibre. She provided her own touch to the character, transitioning from a lover to a separated wife. For the key role played by veteran Gemini Ganesan, Kamal went for Amrish Puri. He fared better than he did in Viraasat (re-make of Thevar Magan), but the comic and romantic angle of Gemini was missing. Om Puri played Delhi Ganesh’s role in his own way and came out trumps. Paresh Rawal played the small role of a landlord, showing a glimpse of what he would unleash in several movies in the future. Nasser repeated his role in Hindi and was just okay. A different girl played the kid adequately while Ayesha Jhulka was nothing much to write about. The real piece of brilliance was bringing Johnny Walker out of retirement. He underplayed the role superbly and brought us back old memories.

The hit combination of Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj provided a different kind of music, while maintaining the light nature of the soundtrack. Kamal dared to sing Chachi’s number (”Jaago gori…“)  himself and did well, in the company of Asha Bhonsle. Gulzar also took care of the dialogues.

Looking back, Kamal provided Bollywood a taste of good comedies, which they are still bad at replicating.

Kamal A2Z: Avvai Shanmughi

Editor’s Note:
After giving “outside support” for a very long time, HAL debuts as an author on AllThingsKamal.info. A different kind of post — hope all of you enjoy. In the Kamal A2Z series, we move onto ‘C’ in a couple of days…

Avvai Shanmughi is one of the underrated comedies from Crazy-Kamal combo. K.S. Ravikumar’s first with Kamal. Which was to be followed by Thenali, a more slapstick humour and successful film, then Panchathanthiram with a taut script of events laced with verbal humour, and the much anticipated magnum opus, Dasavatharam.

Avvai Shammughi has an interesting premise, inspired by Mrs. Doubtfire, garnished and served in Indian platter. Not to sound hyperbolic — frankly the narrative is chalk and cheese, and the execution is much better in Tamil version. The film opens with Kamal’s monologue “Avvai T.K. Shanmugham avargal-ku idhu paadhai kaanikai“, the film is dedicated to T.K. Shanmugham (Kappalotiya Thamizhan, Ratha Paasam), Kamal’s mentor who was a famous theatre artist. The film is a tribute to Shamugham’s various female performances on stage.

It would suffice to say that his mentor Shamugham would have been proud with Kamal’s near-perfect portrayal of a pseudo-Maami, Pandian’s disguised act as Avvai Shanmughi - a brahmin granny as a nanny. The body language, the dialect and the expressions here are top-notch, making one wonder how he does it through layers of make-up and get-up where likes of Eddie murphy just fail(ed), or just falls short of perfection like Robin Williams. Kamal treads a fine line of balance as Pandian himself wouldn’t be completely versed on Brahmin etiquettes and behaviour, the ‘caricature’ effect that Pandian brings as Shanmughi is justified and perfect.

While Virumandi deals on the nihilism of marriage in a darker realistic paradigm, Mouli’s Pammal K Sambandham is all about ‘marriage’ in a more banter-like narrative, KSR’s Panchathanthiram is a roller-coaster ride of ‘marriage’ and Sathi Leelavathy is about adultery and a disrupted relationship, with the protagonist giving her best to save the marriage. Here we have two people who love and marry, but then arises the misfit of the classes, the rich Janaki (played by Meena) who could not lead a bourgeois married life with an assistant dance master (as she says, a “koothaadi” — Kamal cuts back with statements like “Natrajar” is a koothadi, the lawyer is a vaayaadi)..

Unlike PKS where Kamal plays an innocent stuntman (his only other role of a direct worker in the industry), tricked by Simran’s scheme for a more selfish purpose and a different reason. It’s quite the opposite here, with Kamal pulling his ‘act’ to be with his daughter, named Bharathi, after the great poet himself. The deceit here arises out of loneliness and love for his family. Then starts the fable.

For its theme, the film maintains the humour with no homosexuality or no sexist remarks. That’s a remarkable achievement in itself.

What’s with a Kamal comedy without Chaplin reference, Deva’s score here heavily lifts from Chaplin’s theme. The memorable piece that we associate with Chaplin certainly lifts the mood of the scenes. With Chaplinesque collage moments, from the daily routine of Pandian to Shanmughi to Pandian again, or the quick snippets of Pandian/Shanmughi dressing or undressing. Kamal’s gestural sequences have always been an indirect tribute to Chaplin.

And assumed identity? Pandian-Shanmughi aside, there’s another inclusion in Pandian’s friend Bhai (played by Nasser), a chef becoming a mute Iyer cook (hence avoiding the ‘accent’ misfit). There is an hilarious moment when when he blabbers, and it’s assumed to be gothra. (Kamal, as always, brings a slight dose of atheism at places, in a more subdued way here, of course.)

Mix-up of characters? Shanmughi has different husbands at different times. She creates a fictional one out of compulsion to escape from Vishwanathan Iyer’s crush (Ungalukku oru Chellamaa illaiya, adhu madhiri ennaku oru Chellappaa irukkaar). That is followed by a spoof of a yesteryear tragic song symbolizing ‘love-failure’ (with black an white transition in video), from an old Gemini Ganesan starrer, Kalyana Parisu. [The song soulfully rendered by A.M.Raaja is Kaadhalile tholviyutraan — there is a female version too.] The once poignant nostalgic lines, “kaadhalilE tholvi yutraan kaaLai oruvan kadantha pinnE amaithi engu peruvaan”, used in a much similar context, offers a comical moment here.

Shanmughi’s husband is cyclic with instinctive lies from Pandian / Shanmughi: For Mudhaliyar (the landlord, played by Manivannan), it’s Sethuraman Iyer (Delhi Ganesh). In a well-conceived funny moment (reminiscent to Ganesh-Kamal-Lakshmi in MMKR), here we see Ganesh-Manivannan-Kamal:

Pandian: Shanmughi oda purushaen Sethuraman Iyer thirumba vandhutaaru...
Mudhaliyar: Ayyo nee anniku Vishwanathan iyer-nu thaane sonna…
Pandian: Oh adhayum sollitaenaa! Rendu pEr..
Mudhaliyar: Two purushanaa?
Pandian: Rendu pEr, Sethurama-Viswanatha Iyer-nu neelama vechutanga…
Mudhaliyar: Adha suruki, Sethuraman…neenga nambula parunga..irunga…(to Sethuraman iyer) Vishwanathan Iyer, Sethuraman Iyer..rendu perayum* ennaku theriyum illa?

* ‘pErayum‘ is cleverly used as a pun here, as this would mean a ‘name’ of person or as the person. In MMKR, Kamal and Delhi both use ‘adhu’, one referring the Bangalore trip, the other about intimate romance — not to forget the hilarious ‘Nadodi Mannan‘ reference.

Sethuraman Iyer: Unakku theriyaadadha Pandia..kalyanathuku appuram pirichu vechadhu thappu thaan. Adhulla enakku udanpaadu kedaiyadhu
Pandian: Podhum podhum…kelvi ketta mattum thaan badhil sollanum…(to Mudhaliyar) Podhuma mudalyar?
[Deva uses the Mudhal Mariyaadhaikuyil’ sound for Manivannan in a hilarious fashion.]

For Sethuraman Iyer, it’s Mudhaliyar, who says, “Chellappaa Iyer thaane sonna?”, for which Pandian cooks up “Chellappaa Iyer thaan manam udanju, Mudhaliyar-a convert aytaaru“.

Then in jewellery shop, the drunkard Joseph (Nagesh) becomes Chellappa Iyer / Mudhaliyar, Shanmughi’s fictional husband to Gemini. The cycle ends with Pandian being Shanmughi’s another interest. Rip-roaring word-play to guide throughout…

Or simple gestural humour…

Or the improvisation when Shanmughi improvises a Tabu song “Ruk ruk ruk” (from Vijaypath), to Carnatic fusion, serving the purpose of the occasion, as well as lightening up his kid. Incidentally, Tabu plays Janaki in the remake, Chachi 420.

Like the famous Apoorva Sagodharargal complicated mechanism, here we have a setup to fool Mudhaliyar and Heera with a pedestal fan, pulley, hook and a mug, to simulate Shanmughi bathing inside the bathroom.

The other characters: Heera’s character, an assistant to Pandian, and in a formulaic way, has a crush on him. However, she isn’t distasteful so to speak of. I guess she is the Madras progressive lady here as against the traditional “iyer aathu ponnu” in Meena, one has to look at her short exchange with Mudhaliyar (”Yov, ‘na?“, LOL). Shanmughi also asks her in his first meet in disguise,

Sholay anybody? There is another shorter character (Kamal’s films often has memorable ones) in studio-worker Subburaj:

Pandian: Enna Subburaj-u, pillayar enga podhu?
Subburaj:Idhu ‘pullayar’* illa, ‘ganpathi’, Ezhaam number floor-la Indi padam sooting…
*(Madras variant of ‘pillayar’)
Pandian: Yaarudhu?
Subburaj: Adhu inna* pEru adhu? Maruti biscuit-a illa discuit-a, avangathaan…
*(not ‘enna’, this is Madras improvisation)
Pandian: Yov! Madhuri Dixit-ya, Maruti, Ambassador-nu..

Then there is a very funny physical fight in the market with Kanal Kannan.

And yeah…

While Kamal also shows the Tamil film industry, where the hero (Ramesh Arvind in a short cameo) romances with the heroine, while the dance masters simulate a step (much like the weak-hero spoof in PKS). Or, the touch-up to an artist by the make-up man. Kamal teaching the heroine to exaggerate her bosoms in a song. A satirical take on Tamil film’s dance-song routine…

Or the play of words (verbose)…

    “Illai-nu sonna, naan sonnadhu nijam ayidum, nee sonnadhu poi ayidumE” — from Shanmughi to Janaki.
    “Vishwanathan ponna kalyana pannadhunaala, yEn ponnu vishwanathan iyer pEthi aydichu, Vishwanathan pEthi, adhoda amma idhu”- - from Pandian to dance master.
    “Avaru vandhu “joot” solvaru, apram thaan adikanum enna? Pechu vartha nadakum bodhu, vanmurai koodadhu…” — Sethuraman Iyer to the mob.

Finally the chase? The film ends with a ‘chase’, like other Kamal comedies. The husband (in disguise) chases the wife. It’s either a symbolic motif to represent the ‘chasing each other’ in a cultural / metaphorical sense, or just a recurrent tribute to The Circus. I would like to believe there is an implication here, from what we know of the filmmaker.

While we await Kamal-KSR’s Dasavatharam, here’s a film from their combo to liven up.

Kamal A2Z: Aadu Puli Aattam

by Krish

Cast: Kamal Haasan as Madan, Rajnikanth as Rajni, ‘Cheapriya’, ‘Coconut’ Srinivasan and ‘Major-Blunder-Rajan’
Director: S.P. Muthuraman

This is a write-up on a not much reviewed multi-starrer. Aadu Puli Aattam is not the first movie that comes up in our mind, when we think of Kamal-Rajni starrers of late 70s. This is the aspect which made me sit and watch the movie (besides being a Kamal starrer) on Vijay TV, a week back. I don’t think the movie was commercially successful or critically acclaimed. It might have been an also-ran movie, as there were no big names involved, apart from the two superstars.

The director S.P. Muthuraman wasn’t really popular at that time. Nevertheless, it is not an avoidable one. I would say that APA is more watchable than Ninaithale Inikkum or Alauddinum Arpudha Vilakkum. The first 20 minutes are pretty interesting but the story takes some bizarre turns later and falters. Some parts of the movie are engaging.

Unlike the other films these two acted together, this one is neither a family drama nor a romantic movie. The story seems like it is tailor-made for MGR & Nambiar as there are quite a few stunts scenes, two-timing and some punch dialogues too.

Aadu Puli Aattam (translated in English, ‘The Goat and Tiger Game’) refers to an old chess-like board game played in Tamil Nadu using pebbles. The movie starts with Kamal and Rajini, close associates, playing this game in a bar. When the game is finished, the couple, along with their gang ransack the bar and loot the money.

In brief, this is the story of a young man who dreams of becoming a policeman, but decides to go against the police due to circumstances and heads a gang of thieves. When he comes to know that his associates are much worser than thieves, he joins the police and nabs the criminals.

There are some notable scenes. A prisoner called ‘Bhai’ who is to be hung soon has a blind son. After Bhai is executed, Kamal who does not want the kid to know the truth & tries to act as Bhai by mimicking his voice. Though not a great scene, it must have been new to Tamil cinema during those days. More recently, a Prabhudeva-Karthik movie was entirely based on this concept. Later Kamal tricking one of Rajni’s associates by ‘capturing’ Major turns out to be a nice scene. I especially liked Kamal’s expression when he comes back to Major and unties him.

The bike-car chase between Kamal and Major is also well-shot. Just note the scene when he is shot in his leg. The way he limps is just too natural. No other actor bothers to display the pain and feelings as much as this man. The Sardarji make-up and North Indian accent is a good attempt too. Similarly the climax stunt scene is a well made one featuring Kamal and Rajni in a long drawn fight on a roof top. It is a well picturised stunt scene with very few camera tricks, thanks to Kamal’s agility. He is extremely quick, energetic and dedicated. I could not spot a single shot in which he uses a double (’dupe’). But the same can not be said about Rajnikanth. This whole fight sequence was shot with Rajnikanth’s double and Kamal Haasan. Yes, even in close-up shots you can see Rajni’s double trying hard to cover his face with his palms.

In the second half of the movie, Kamal gets an opportunity to work for the Crime Branch. Kamal, as usual is at ease in these roles. In the investigation scenes I felt, he could have avoided starting all sentences with a ‘Well…’. [In fact all wannabe-Kamals appearing in mimicry shows, never fail to copy this.] From here on, Kamal’s role becomes more James Bond-like working for the police, two-timing Rajni’s associates and finding his hide-outs. In the end, Kamal pushes Rajni from the top of a building, Rajini falls on a bush and loses his eyesight. As expected, the villian mouths the most common dialogue used in a climax…”Naan thirundhitten” (I have turned a new leaf).

The movie has a good number of cliched scenes. The director follows the age-old practice of placing an odd-looking wig on the hero’s head in the flashback (to show him as an ‘innocent’ man!). The flashback scenes are pretty much avoidable (especially Kamal dreaming of his ex-lover, who chases a train in ’slow-motion’ is funny). Thankfully there are only two songs and there isn’t much romance. I guess the Bhai and his son were straight out of some drama troupe as their acting reminded me of early-80s Doordarshan plays (’naadagams‘).

Major Sunderrajan is asked to wear the khaki uniform yet another time. I can imagine the outrageous response he would have received from the audience when he mouthed his famous two-liner, “Naan kandippa seyyaren. I will certainly do it!”…;-) There are some good one-liners for Rajinikanth. Especially “Idhu Rajni style” is stylish, indeed. But the way he says ‘dost’ everytime he meets Kamal is funny. It sounds more like Sivaji Ganesan’s ‘Thambeeeee‘, ‘Ammaaaaa‘…:-). Thengai Sreenivasan gets introduced in a grand manner, as a pipe-smoking Brahmin CID with a double barrel gun. But his role is disappointing. This movie doesn’t have any comedy track, either.

Kamal Haasan is the heart of Aadu Puli Aattam. The entire story is about him — his early life, his lover, shattered dreams, gang of thugs, enlightenment and revenge. For most part of the film, he appears in the hippie-style, which was hugely popular in the late 70s. He looks dashing in the intro scene where he rides a bullet. This role is a cakewalk for this extremely skilled actor and he doesn’t get a chance to showcase his abundant talents in APA.

The scene in which he goes to Rajni’s den and gets a cold welcome is good. Rajni throws a garland on Kamal and calls him an ‘Aadu‘. In turn, Kamal turns back and throws the same garland on air which falls right on Rajni’s neck, and says, “Idhu nanbanukku poatta malai illa“, implying that he is the tiger and Rajini, the goat. Like this there are few promising sequences, but overall, the movie is just average. Music is disappointing (neither MSV not Illayaraja) but photography was pretty good, especially in the opening scene. By the way, this is a black & white movie.

When I watched it, I could relate it to several other films which came later. Kamal’s own Khaki Chattai, a much bigger success and a better entertainer, can be called a remake of APA. More recently, Kireedom and Pokkiri have some scenes resembling this movie.

Editor’s Note:
Krish does a good job of letting us know about a not-so-familiar movie. We have more of ‘A’ since ‘B’ is pretty much done. Next week, we move onto ‘C’. Very few movies, but a couple of popular ones. Send in your entries!

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++.

MarmaYogi: next movie mystery solved?

Almost all has been quiet on the Kamal front of late. Of course, that means that something is brewing. The mystery was finally resolved through reliable sources. Kamal’s next movie will be Marma Yogi (”mysterious saint”, shall we say?), directed and produced by himself. With a curious title, the surprises are that it’s supposed to be an action thriller — and I thought Kamal would direct only ’serious’ movies (Hey Ram, Virumaandi) — and that the music will be done by AR Rahman. Talks are on to rope in a Bollywood heroine, as the movie will be released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Oscar Ravichandran, UTV and Adlabs are all in talks related to production and distribution. The movie might be launched in January. We can see that the domain name is already registered and it mentions Raaj Kamal Films International, Kamal’s production house.

Marma Yogi is also an old MGR flick, known as the first Tamil movie to receive an ‘A’ certification. Kamal’s penchant for old titles (Apoorva Sagodharargal, Sathi Leelavathi, etc.) continues.

Junior Vikatan, the Tamil weekly and the Chennai edition of Deccan Chronicle too sniffed out portions of this news recently. After several rumours and announcements regarding Kamal’s next movie earlier, let’s hope this is the final one.

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.

Forrest Gump based on Swathi Muthyam?

Kamal has often been criticized for “copying” Hollywood movies, be it Avvai Shanmughi (Bhamane Satyabhamane / Chachi 420) or Tenali. In a rare occasion, he provided his take on the controversy in Singapore. Thinnai (a Tamil Webmag?) covered it.

Kamal feels that it’s not wrong to use stories from other language movies. Defending himself, he says that Forrest Gump could have been based on the lead character in Swathi Muthyam (Sippikkul Muthu). The movie starring Tom Hanks in an Oscar-winning role released in 1994 and was based on a book that came out in 1986. Kamal’s movie was out in 1985 itself. There is a piece on Forrest Gump on a Web-site, said to be based on an Wikipedia article, which mentions the original Telugu movie. Similarly, Sigappu Rojakkal was said to have been plagiarised from Visiting Hours, whereas the Hollywood movie actually released 4 years later! In the end, Kamal calls for having belief in and appreciating the talent of fellow Indians.

The Kamal of My Dreams: Musings on His Many Indias

Editor’s Note: The 200th post — another milestone, as we travel towards new destinations. We have reached this point due to the great support of readers like you and various contributors. Thank you all; but do give us more, to help us give you more! And now, Qalandar is back with a fitting post…

I am ostensibly an odd choice to write a commemorative post on a site dedicated to Kamal Haasan: not only have I not grown up on Nayakan, Thevar Magan or Guna, but I’ve come to Kamal’s films — indeed, Tamil films in general — only relatively recently (and even now am limited to the ones I can find with English subtitles), and indeed often wish he would stop playing the hero (including in one of my favorite Kamal films, Virumaandi).

What gives?

All of the above might, however, make me especially well-positioned to begin a discussion on Kamal’s place in Indian cinema, a discussion, that is, that does not focus on his acting achievements so much as on what he means, the position he occupies, and the difference he has made. That “difference” is not merely a question of saying that Kamal stands for “quality” cinema, or that Kamal goes against the grain of Tamil masala cinema. Rather, a proper appreciation of this difference would also have to engage with the wider context of a Tamil cinema that is simultaneously a “regional” cinema, and one confronted with the hard fact of a dominant “national” industry with far greater resources at hand. For it is this terrain that Kamal’s career has had to negotiate, certainly over the last two decades.

Confronted with that brute fact, the tendency is for India’s “regional” industries to go aggressively “local”, with cinema being viewed as a repository (or even as embattled citadel) of a culture and way of life that is under threat, besieged not necessarily due to any overt political hostility so much as by the dominance of a discourse — in this case Hindi cinema — with nationwide ambitions. At its best, this phenomenon results in films far more attuned to the rhythm of the “little”; to “marginal” voices that are not very likely to register on canvases where images are painted in very broad brushes; to moments as opposed to grand projects; to stories and not mere spectacles. At its worst, however, the “regional” film finds it hard to shed its mantle of insularity, and runs the risk of imagining the “local” past and culture as hermetically sealed and set in stone, and even of falling into the trap of xenophobia. Confronted with a “national” hegemony that would potentially sacrifice the “regional” at the altar of homogeneity, the temptation (not often resisted) is to construct a narrative of the “regional” that itself becomes a countervailing homogenizing hegemony: certain films or subjects are deemed more or less “authentically” Tamil, while others might be criticized for not hewing closely to a “standard” or “authorized” Tamil idiom. The construction of a countervailing sub-national hegemony, in short, risks compromising the very attention to the “local” that animated the “regional” in the first place.

Ever since the man started assuming greater film-making control over his projects, the arc of Kamal’s career has done more to destabilize the above polarity than any other, Mani Ratnam’s excluded (fittingly enough, if one were hardpressed for an inaugural “moment” for the difference I am referring to, one need look no further than the coming together of Ratnam and Kamal in Nayakan). For Kamal and Ratnam have sought to evade the hegemonic “national” by resorting to a global paradigm, one that seeks to tap into the best of “world” cinema in an ambitious attempt to distinguish their Tamil films not merely on account of their Tamil essence but on account of their excellence — where “excellence” is defined not in terms of what would or would not pass muster in mainstream Hindi cinema, but what would make the grade where the world’s cinephiles are concerned. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that of the two, Kamal’s concern for the health — and even more so for the sophistication — of Tamil cinema exceeds that of Ratnam’s. And if the prescription comes at a price — the casting of Kamal himself in the role of messiah — in a historical sense the price is well worth paying.

Kamal’s approach is not simply a question of distinguishing Tamil films by virtue of quality: the films he has directed make clear that he sees the appeal to the trans-national as a way not only to evade the national, but to enable the “regional” to interrogate the national, thereby carving out a cinematic space that is not simply a function of linguistic difference, even as it depends upon and perhaps even acts in the name of that linguistic difference. It is worth stressing that this is in no way an “anti-national” viewpoint, but instead one that resists the dominance of an “official” paradigm. My point is best illustrated by means of Hey Ram and Virumaandi, two of the finest Indian films I have seen this decade, and both directed by Kamal himself.

Hey Ram is ostensibly itself a “national” film, planned and executed as a bi-lingual, and populated with Bollywood stars, to such a degree that non-Tamilians might not even think of it as a Tamil film at all. Yet this is no instance of cultural effacement in the quest for a wider audience. Rather, Kamal uses Hey Ram to literally enact the drama of the “regional” difference (not to mention communal difference) vis-a-vis the symbolic heart of India, Mahatma Gandhi himself. This is about more than just the fact that the film’s protagonist is Tamil Brahmin Saket Ram, out to avenge himself on the nation’s father; rather, one realizes very soon that almost every memorable character in the film is testimony to the “regional”, be it a Pathan Muslim, Saket Ram’s Bengali wife, or his Sindhi friend. In fact, the film’s casting of culturally “authentic” Hema Malini as a Tamilian is itself slyly subversive, inasmuch as it takes a “national” icon and “regionalizes” her in a very direct way. The extremist Abhayankar and the wicked Altaf are far more “mainstream”, of course — not coincidentally, if the film has villains, they undoubtedly fit the bill. Towards the film’s end it is in fact the Pathan’s knowledge of Tamil that enables him and Saket to escape the mob at their heels, a literal staging of the hope that acknowledgment of political difference — here the sub-national — might enable us to sidestep the overarching manias of national projects (problematic not so much because they are manias but because they are overarching projects), including projects like Abhayankar’s.

Perhaps most wondrous of all is the fact that not a trace of anti-Indian sentiment animates Hey Ram, though this isn’t surprising to those who have followed Kamal’s interviews. The film is not embarrassed to embrace India, but equally, is consistent with a view that does not see patriotism as involving any sub-national compromise, and certainly no compromise of a humanity that is shared across communal and other boundaries. Perhaps as a result of its enactment of this conviction on a nationwide scale, Hey Ram might be the grandest “regional” film of them all, free not only to examine the national margins but also liberated from the stultifying restrictions of “mainstream” discourse within which it would be difficult to think the things Hey Ram thinks of. The result is a political film that is bolder than most, and a “regional” film that meditates on issues that resonate nationally, even globally.

Virumaandi illustrates another aspect of the “difference” I started out with. On the face of it, the tale of a violent inter-village conflict in Madurai district sounds like the sort of “local” film any number of directors mindful of making “authentic” Tamil films could have made. Once again (and more clearly here than in Hey Ram) it is Kamal’s recourse to broader aesthetic and political concerns that distinguishes the film, which touches upon Kurosawa’s Rashomon, capital punishment, and the injustice of the justice system. Simultaneously, Virumaandi strives to be a rip-roaring “massy” action film as well as the sort of rural study Bharathiraja was once known for — in short, about as recognizably Tamil a film as one could ask for. The melange is not always seamless, but the parry (of the status quo, here represented by a hopelessly inadequate legal order) and thrust (of the “regional”, in the form of the ultra-Tamil feel of the film) clearly strikes a chord. Virumaandi is consistent with Kamal’s resistance to the homogenizing potential of the “regional” itself, and displays an ear for Tamil voices not often heard in mainstream cinema.

Nor was Virumaandi the first time Kamal had explored the representation of voices that one might characterize as “marginal” to the Tamil cinematic mainstream, as films like Thenali, Nala Damayanti , and Anbe Sivam attest — indeed the first two quite literally focus on characters who speak a Tamil that is lived on the border as it were, between Sinhalese and Tamil in Thenali; and between Tamil and Malayalam in Nala Damayanti. (The third film explores a character beholden to an ideology — communism — that is as marginalized today as it has ever been.) With Kamal, it is clear, the hegemony of the national may not be replaced with the hegemony of an “authorized” regional voice, one which purports to stand for the authentic to the exclusion of others. Moreover, Nala Damayanti is especially relevant in the contemporary “globalized” world, given its doubly disorienting move: not only does the film’s protagonist speak the Palakkad Tamil of the Tamil Nadu-Kerala borderlands, but he is also an illegal immigrant in a strange land, adrift in a sea of English he cannot understand. Nala Damayanti, that is, illustrates yet again the ability of the “regional” film to explore global issues that the “mainstream”, almost by design, finds difficult to engage.

If this essay is about anything, it is about more than the achievements of a single actor/filmmaker (and I have deliberately stressed the “filmmaker” Kamal here, leaving to others better qualified than I the task of thinking about Kamal’s performances and other contributions in light of this piece). Because the likes of Kamal have inspired others in Tamil cinema, not only at the purely superficial (albeit very welcome) level of technical proficiency, but visually and thematically as well. Rather than cite particular examples of filmmakers and actors who have followed Kamal, I will end by paraphrasing a critic I greatly respect, who had once said that prior to the mid-1980s there was no non-culturally specific reason to watch any Tamil films. The “difference” to which Kamal Haasan has helped give concrete form means this is simply not true anymore. How untrue it is in the grand scheme of things is an open question, and will turn (as it must) on those who follow. Kamal has done his part — and, fittingly enough, not just “locally”: while the Kamal “difference” is a different animal from the (overly optimistic) crossover concerns that seem to occupy far too many in the Hindi film industry these days, it has nevertheless left its mark even there, principally by way of the manner in which the likes of Aamir Khan have begun to approach their films — with seriousness, ambition, and the desire to rescue popular cinema from both global blandness and “native” cliche. It is not a question of creative influence so much as it is one of mindset. A mindset that is best situated to result in global critical recognition for India’s popular cinemas, and in a manner such that they do not cease to be voices of our many Indias.

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