Posts Tagged ‘Kamal Hassan’

Now showing at a theatre of the absurd near you

30 January 2013


So, young Indians cannot tell their friends what they ‘like’ on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle can be subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will not be screened in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

What Rajni missed when he went out to smoke

12 December 2012

Photo Caption

On his 60th birthday, school children in Bangalore hold up notebooks of the City’s most famous cinematic export: Shivaji Rao Gaekwad also known as Rajnikanth.

The books were supplied by the Rajniji Seva Samithi (RSS).


The website First Post has published excerpts from a new biography of Rajnikanth by the film scholar Naman Ramachandran, with this passage of his relationship with Kamal Haasan.

“In the beginning, in 1975, just how big a star Kamal Haasan was, today’s generation does not know,’ says Rajinikanth. ‘He was an even bigger star in 1975 than he is now. Old or young, a new artiste had never shaken all of India like he did. I had just entered the cinema industry then.

Apoorva Raagangal, Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, these were all my guru K. Balachander’s films—I became a hero with these three films. After that the films that came, big films like 16 Vayathinile, Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu, Aadu Puli Attam, Aval Appadithan—these were all hit films.

“For those films, if Kamal had said, ‘Don’t cast Rajini,’ nobody would have taken me. I got Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu solely on Kamal’s recommendation.

“So I acted in all these films and then, after I became a big actor, one day Kamal called me and said, ‘Rajini, only if you act alone will you get your own space. If you say no, the cinema world will use us, and you won’t be able to grow.’

“I listened to all that he said. After that I worked on my own.

“Then, after I became a big man, Kamal called me again one day and said, ‘Rajini, you have to be cautious in Tamil cinema. I have seen from a young age—MGR and Sivaji, though they had no rivalry between them, the cinema industry separated them. And because the industry separated them, their fans also separated. That shouldn’t happen with us. The producers and directors I work with, you should work with them too.’

“I don’t know how to thank him.”

Rajinikanth adds, ‘In other industries, people like Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Venkatesh, Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan and even Dilip Kumar look at me and are amazed how I managed to make a name for myself as an actor in an industry where Kamal Haasan exists. The reason is simple. I grew as an actor just by watching Kamal Haasan acting. I had the good fortune of being able to observe Kamal Haasan from close quarters.

During the shooting of Avargal I was sitting outside when K. Balachander noticed this and got angry. He sent word for me to return to the set and asked me, ‘Did you go outside to smoke? Kamal is acting; observe him. Only then will your acting get even better.’

“From that time, when Kamal acted I wouldn’t go anywhere; I would just sit there and watch. This is the honest truth.”

Buy the book here: Infi Beam

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: A stylish lesson in humility from namma Rajni

11 similarities between Rajni and the iPod

A hit, yes, but why does Rajni have such a hold?

The most testing day in the life of Rajnikanth

Don’t tell us you didn’t know this one about Rajni

How Rajnikanth caught the lion

A real viral is when even Hitler & Mr Bean sneeze

3 December 2011



Hi mama… yes, it is a catchy song mama. 1, 2, 3, 4

The lyrics are stupid-du, stupid-du

But the tune is good-du, good-du

Now it’s stuck in my head-du, head-du

And now I’m having a kolaveri, kolaveri, kolaveri, Headache-u dey.

Since the last two weeks Kolaveri di, the song from the upcoming Tamil movie titled 3 (moonu which in Tamil means three) has been all the rage. Kolaveri di (Kolaveri–uncontrollable rage or murderous rage and di–colloquial reference to a girl), is all the ‘kolaveri’ in India and among Indians abroad.

The media says that the song has traversed the language barrier mostly due to its ‘tamglish’ lyrics. But we all know that for music, language is no barrier. It just needs to please the ears. And this song, Kolaveri di, sure pleases the ears, but it also mocks our intellect. But then what can one expect, the song was penned in under 20 minutes as confessed by its lyricist and singer Dhanush himself.

This song will remind many of their college days when such songs were constantly made up and sung.

In college I, too, after a couple of pegs of whisky and high intensity discussion on human relationships, would become McDowell’s Muthanna, the bard, and along with my friends would indulge in our own kolaveri compositions, although ours were a little more risqué, entertaining and creative.

But we all can agree that anyone with even the slightest inclination towards rhyming has had his or her 20 minutes of banal lyrical outpouring like Dhanush.

The only difference is, he got paid for his ‘Tamglish’ 20-minute banal-spontaneity and it was recorded in a professional studio, which now has over 10 million YouTube hits. We, on the other hand, had a stool for drums and got paid in peg measures and our audiences were a few friends, some amused waiters and a security guard.

The only hits we got were from angry landlords and the occasional police patrol cops. All the same, these songs were fun. They were our stress busters and made life livable, and laughable.

That is why in India, where there is a constant sense of insecurity and heartache, music and songs are at our very core as they make — just for a moment — life tolerable. And so we wake up to music (suprabhatha), greet people musically, watch musicals and go to bed with retro lullabies.

No wonder we are a sing-song kind of people. We even speak in a sing-song manner, from the Hindi greeting, “kaisey hoooooo…” to the Kannada greeting, “hey-gidiee-raaaaa” to the Tamil greeting “nallaa erking laaaaa…,” we shake our heads, move our fingers, modulate our voices and come up with one hell of a musical greeting.

We are attached to music, so much so that even today it is almost unthinkable to have an Indian movie without songs. In fact music can decide the fate of a movie. But over the years the power of lyrical romance has taken a slight backseat.

From the mid-1990s, music was composed to match the atrocious lyrics instead of it being a homogenous creative process. And so romantic poets took a back seat and fly-by-night 20 minute-lyricists were born. And they gave us chicken fry and mobile numbers!

We are talking about the times of  Govinda and Bappi Lahiri when they gave us, “You are my chicken fry, you are my fish fry…” in the movie Rock Dancer. Then there was, “What is your mobile number, what is your smile number…?” in Haseena Maan Jayegi.

Even in Kannada films, the songs used to be so romantic, so poetic, while also being pleasing to the ear. Now we have lyrics like “Nim appa loosaa, nim amma loosa, naanoo loosa….” (is your father nuts, is your mother nuts, am I nuts?).

Now Vidya Balan’s song “Oo la la…” may be a hit. No surprise, it is a Bappi Lahiri composition, but back then Bappi got us hooked on to a ridiculous song titled, “Guttur guttur…” Yes, the chorus of the song was a bird sound! Guttur….guttur… a weird species only Bappi Lahiri could have discovered—or invented.

These songs may have terrible lyrical value, but they are catchy. They easily get stuck in one’s head and take a long time to leave. Such songs are called “awesomely bad songs”; songs that are lyrically terrible, but have a very high recall value, as you can’t stop humming them.

It was during this time that Hollywood made its entry into Bollywood in the form of the sexy Samantha Fox, once again thanks to Bappi Lahiri. Since then, we have had singers like Snoop Dogg, who wore a turban and sang “Singh is King, “Chiggy-Wiggy” by Kylie Minogue and more recen-tly, Akon singing “Chhammak Chhallo” in Ra.One.

Indeed artists like Akon can sing, but couldn’t Shaan or Himesh Reshammiya have done a better job with Chhammak Chhallo? May be, but they could not have generated the amount of publicity or hype that Akon did.

Today’s market is not talent driven but like all markets, it is driven by return on investment. And people like Akon generate publicity that indirectly helps in the movies’ box office collection. It also increased distributor confidence.

That is why Kolaveri di, though not a great musical work, is highly marketable. And so the first spark of marketing blitz was lit for the movie 3 with the news headlines “Dhanush’s new song leaked on the net!” (We have to wonder how, and who, “leaked” it).

This is called generating a buzz. The buzz turned to curiosity and people rushed to see what was so special about this song that it had to be leaked. To add to this, members of the whole team doing the movie are little-shots of the big-shots from the Tamil film industry.

The music director, 19-year-old Anirudh is the nephew of Rajinikanth. The director of the movie is Aishwarya, the daughter of Rajinikanth. The lead actor of the movie Dhanush, is the son-in-law of Rajinikanth. The lead actress of the movie is Shruthi Hassan, the daughter of Tamil star Kamal Hassan.

Need we say more?

And immediately after the “leak” there was an official release and an official video with these famous star children looking humble and intensely working at making a banal song. It is a perfectly executed publicity stunt.

The song is catchy; but what made it such a mega hit is the curiosity factor. After all, there have been better songs with much better tunes and lyrics composed by another Tamilian, A.R. Rehman. But his songs did not generate 10 million hits and end up becoming front-page news in national dailies!

In today’s digital world, curiosity is king. In today’s networked world there is a very thin line between voyeurism and curiosity and we very often go back and forth. And that is why Dhanush’s ‘Soup song’ was first a ‘leaked song,’ which inevitably then became a ‘hit song.’ But just because a song has millions of ‘hits,’ does not necessarily mean it’s the best or that good.

Soon Kolaveri di will be the new, cool Tamil word to use, like ‘macha’ was, a few years back. But for now I’ve had enough of Kolaveri di. People around me are constantly singing it and it makes me scream, “stop!” but then they don’t. So I’ve started singing my own irritating Kolaveri di back at them.

It goes like this mama….

If you don’t stop-u, stop-u,

I’ll give you a tight-eh slap-u, slap-u!

It’ll make your eyes pop-u, pop-u,

It may even make you poop-u, poop-u.

So please don’t test my kolaveri, kolaveri dey!

Well, this didn’t even take me 30 seconds to compose. Maybe I too can get a few hits, well, physical ones may be, from Dhanush fans.

* Speaking of slap-u…, if you liked the Soup song, you will love the Sharad Pawar slap song.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: When Kolaveri Di meet Sharad Pawar ji

Does art imitate life or is it the other way round?

16 November 2009


22 students of a teachers’ training institute in Tamil Nadu get caught cheating in an exam using mobile phones. The incident happens shortly after the Kamal Hassan starrer Vasool Raja, MBBS, the Tamil rip-off of the Sanjay Dutt film Munnabhai MBBS, is released.

So life imitates art?

Far from it, says the thespian, currently celebrating 50 years in cinema. Kamal defending the film fraternity in the Madras High Court:

“We only borrow what we see in society as we have a dearth of stories. So don’t blame us…. We’re a happening society and we only look to society for such ideas.”

So art imitates life?

Photograph: courtesy sulekha

Also read: When life imitates art

Kamal Hassan: Conceited, egotistical, narcissistic. The greatest?

Why Pokiri (Telugu) is better than Wanted (Hindi)

22 September 2009


ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: As a shameless fan of the new breed of slick South Indian flicks, with their cheap tricks and sexy chicks, please permit me one more attempt at silly alliteration: Puri Jagganath‘s Pokiri was total paisa-vasool for the hicks in the cattle-class, unless, of course, they had deposited their you-know-what in the gold class at PVR.

With a frantic plot immersed in testosterone and coated with impossible machismo, fast action, groovy music, a sexy heroine, voluptuous vamps, good chases, not-so-bad humour and endless violence, only those who dream in sepia tone of Akira Kurosawa and Louis Malle, would find it difficult to admit that the tapori stuff was not ‘bombaat time-pass’.

In both Telugu and Tamil.

In Telugu more than Tamil.

So, it was with no small expectation that I went to see Wanted, the Hindi version of Pokiri starring Salman Khan. And it gives me great joy to report that like masala dosa and mathematics, this new breed of slick South Indian flicks will remain a South Indian speciality. And this despite the director of the Tamil Pokiri (Prabhu Deva) having made the Hindi Pokiri.


#1: Mahesh Babu is better than Vijay is better than Salman Khan

Pokkiri5-1OK, his father Krishna couldn’t act, speak, dance or fight to save his life but yet went on to become a star. Mahesh Babu can do a bit of all that and even has a screen presence to match—and is a star. In Tamil, too, Vijay (left) brought younger legs. The ageing but finely chiseled Salman Khan looks like he’s dancing with a Jaipur foot. And surely Pandu sounds more endearing than Radhe any day? I saw Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN write “Watch Wanted for Salman”. Our fullest sympathies with those who have to.

#2: Ileana is better than Asin is better than Ayesha Takia

sexy_ayesha_takia235There’s no way of knowing, of course, for us earthlings, but one presumes that 30-26-29 are the first six digits of Ileana’s phone number. Or 32-28-34 of Asin’s. But Ayesha Takia (who was apparently originally slotted for the role of Shruti in the Telugu Pokiri) is clearly from Silicon Valley judging from the 42-27-30 area code. Ileana brought a certain lightness; Asin a certain effervescence. Takia is too top-heavy, much too much in your face, especially with her whole body looking like a surgical appendage of her defining organ. Why, you sometimes fear the poor thing might just topple over.

#3:  Mani Sharma (Telugu) is better than Mani Sharma (Tamil) is better than Sajid-Wajid

ManisharmaIn both the South Indian versions, the music was a defining feature of the film, like Ghajini, meaningless maybe but still a very important part of the movie. Each of the six numbers in Telugu were foottappingly good, and at least a couple of them (Deva devuda, Jagadame, Vasantha mulai) were memorable in the context of a “mass” movie. But in the Hindi remake, the music sticks out like a sore thumb. Why, even the names Sajid-Wajid sounds like the director is playing a small joke on the audience.

#4: Bramhanandam and Ali are better than Vadivelu is better than whoever it is who is playing Bramhanandam or Vadivelu

comedian-brahmanandam-28The humour in the Telugu Pokiri, especially the beggar sequence, is done well and with great novelty. It is even decent by the rapidly plumetting standards of South Indian humour. It gets loud in Tamil, of course, but in Hindi it positively plumbs the depths, often bordering on the execrable. When “Teri maa ki bleep”, “Teri maa ki bleep” gets a lot of shouts even from those who have paid Rs 250 per ticket, you have to send a silent prayer to the censor board members—and their mothers.

#5:  Upma is better than thayir sadam is better than pasta

Seriously, what is this pasta fixation for a fatherless girl working in a call centre in Wanted? Some kind of status symbol on the Virar Slow? Doesn’t maaji dig roti or parantha or phulka? Think outside the lunch box, Prabhuji. See how funny “Nee yenna periya pasta va?” sounds as compared to the original “Nee yenna periya pista va?” If there is one shot which exposes the pretentiousness of Bollywood, the disconnect with the masses it serves, it is the pasta.

#6 Mummaith Khan is better than whoever it is who is trying to play Mummaith Khan

918695_f520Mmmm. Don’t just take my word for it. Click here for the full evidence: Ippatininka naa vayasu inka padahare or En chella peru apple. Like a good villain, Alibhai (Prakash Raj) has the right molls around him in Telugu and Tamil. He is even in the right business, running night clubs and such like. But Ghanibhai (Prakash Raj) screws up bigtime in the kind of item girls he employs in Hindi. He should pay dearly for this unpardonable sin.


You could go on and on.

That Alibhai sounds better than Ghanibhai, even if they are both played by the same national award winning actor.

That the Telugu or Tamil versions didn’t have to accommodate Govinda or Anil Kapoor. Etcetera.

If there are two areas that the Hindi Pokiri stands shoulder to shoulder with the South Indian ones, it is in the casting of Vinod Khanna as Salman’s father (as against Nasser in Telugu and Tamil).

And the cops.  Mahesh Manjrekar fares better than the overacting Ashish Vidyarthi as the lecherous sub-inspector, bringing back memories of Tinnu Anand. And Govind Namdeo scores over the even more overacting (and overdubbing) Sayaji Shinde as the honest police officer.

Prabhudeva showed enormous promise with his Tamil adaptation of the Telugu Pokiri. But in the Hindi remake, he totally blows it. But having seen the Tamil Pokiri, too, you have to wonder like the great bard did, if the fault lies in him— or that of his stars.

Also read: Why Tamil Ghajini is better than Hindi Ghajini

11 similarities between the iPhone and Rajnikant

Thank god, at least one critic thinks Kaminey is crap

Bollywood’s a scam, and Farah Khan is a big, fat con

Conceited, egotistical, nacissistic but the greatest?

Kaminey is dead, but long live Vishal Bharadwaj

29 August 2009

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes from Bangalore: Sparks of cinematic brilliance crackle in isolated bursts all through Vishal Bharadwaj’s  densely textured film Kaminey. Unfortunately, a rather dysfunctional script makes it stutter and stammer, much like its protagonist Guddu, and is ultimately unable to convey anything coherent to a bewildered audience.

The entire string of good and bad people in the film are after a guitar case, which carries a Rs 10 crore haul of cocaine. This includes two estranged brothers, Charlie and Guddu, superbly enacted by Shahid Kapoor.

Emotionally devastated by their father’s suicide as kids, the brothers embrace different paths. While the unscrupulous Charlie pulls his stunts in the race course, Guddu, who works for an NGO, fantasizes a corporate life, even as he constantly rummages his hovel in search of a condom to make love to his  randy girlfriend Sweety Bhope, played to perfection by Priyanka Chopra.

Guddu’s ambitions come to a grinding halt, when he realizes that a pregnant Sweety is the sister of a fanatical thug, who loathes the non-Maratha interlopers who have come into Bombay and appropriated what rightfully belongs to locals like him. That Guddu originally hails from Uttar Pradesh doesn’t help him either. Bhope’s sole aim is to get this upstart out of his sister’s life.

Charlie’s villainous propensities lead him to a hotel room where he subjects a double-crossing jockey to third degree methods to retrieve the lakh that he has lost in a bet.

A chain of events in the hotel room lead to Charlie escaping with the cocaine stash in the guitar box. From somewhere here,  Bhardwaj loses his grip, and like a severed plastic-kite buffeted by unruly winds, the film goes awry, until the gun-fire smothered climax decisively tears it asunder .

Like the famed Langdaa Tyaagi in Omkaara, Bhardwaj crafts his characters masterfully, endowing commonplace quirks and attributes that make them stand out in the unimpressive pantheon of Bollywood caricatures. But the rich characterization alone fails to hold sway and save the disastrous film.

Reinforcing Bharadwaj’s creative sensibilities is the film’s musical score. Exceptional and completely unusual, it pounds into you, drawing you into the vortex of a searing, pulsating rhythm. Gulzar’s colloquial lyrics add to the magic.

However, Bhardwaj cannot  be brushed away as a “faltering filmmaker” or “as the most overrated director of the nineties”. His stylistic embellishments and ability to inject novelty and anticipation into the most  humdrum of scenes is a talent that is rare: almost reminiscent in grandeur of the legendary Gabbar scene in Sholay. There is evidence of this in certain sequences in Kaminey.

Bhardwaj, like Anurag Kashyap, belongs to that radical new crop of filmmakers who specialize in what I would call the ‘shock & awe’  genre.  The audience is instinctively repulsed by the many stark facets of this brand of intelligent, layered film-making , but eventually relates to it. The trappings of commercial cinema actually making them more palatable than the contrived arty-types.

Probably, there is an element of self-obsession in these films, but which piece of creative work isn’t? Distinctiveness is the hallmark of all great works.  But Kaminey by no means is a great work. Moreover, the non-linear, kaleidoscopic narrative, at times swathed in dull, fading monochrome, makes Kaminey a difficult film to watch.

Kaminey falls flat on its face but Vishal Bharadwaj needn’t worry: his credentials are intact.

Also read: Thank god, one critic thinks Kaminey is crap

Kamal Hassan: Conceited, egotistical, narcissistic. The greatest?

A hit, yes, but why does Rajnikanth have such a hold?

Bonus read: 9+1 ways of identifying a US-returned techie

Namma Nafisa owes it all to Nanjangud hallu pudi

6 August 2009

love kichdi

We could offer several pretentious reasons why this poster for the upcoming romantic-comedy Love Khichdi appears here out of the blue.

1) Because writer-director Srinivas Bhashyam is namma huduga, a Bangalorean, who has worked with Mani Ratnam and Kamal Hassan, and has written a piece or three for churumuri.

2) Because, with seven ravishing heroines in his second Hindi film, paapa, namma huduga must have had to work so hard, that he needs all the moral support he can get ahead of the movie’s release.

3) Because T.B. Srinivas, as the world knew him before he became Srinivas Bhashyam, has written the story and screenplay with namma huduga Manu Joseph, the former Outlook magazine journalist.

But the real reason we are using this poster here is because it gives us a pretext to talk of the lady on the left of the frame, kneeling on the ground, in the black suit.

In Love Khichdi, she answers to the name of Nafisa Khan.

In life khichdi, she answers to the name of Kalpana Pandit.

Kalpana Pandit is daughter of Dr B.V. Rajagopal, the Mysore cardiologist who belongs to the B.V. Pandit family of Nanjangud hallu pudi fame. Her uncle B.V. Sreekantan is “a distinguished high energy astrophysicist.

Kalpana, who studied at Marimallappa’s School and College, and did her medicine at the Mysore Medical College (MMC) is a doctor, too, as is her brother Sandeep Raj Pandit and sister Lakshmi Pandit.

But Kalpana’s career is eerily, freakily different from the average doctor’s.

# The ravishing beauty from 1st main road, Yadavagiri, won the “Miss USA” contest among NRIs.

# She took a break as an emergency medicine physician in Arizona to star in M.F. Husain‘s Gajagamini.

# She did a bikini item song in Padmashree Laloo Yadav.

# She rubs shoulders with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez.

# She wows the paparazzi at the premiere of Quantum of Solace with assets disproportionate to her known sources of income.

# And, on her website, she shames classmates by posing next to Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine and Danny de Vito.

Our unimpeachable Bollywood correspondent writes:

“With her large frame and fair complexion, and the Pandit surname, she is predictably mistaken for a North Indian everywhere. But she’s a proud Kannadiga and we used to banter in Kannada during the shoot much to the puzzlement of all around here.”

And she puts up pictures like these on her website for the salivating masses. There’s a hint of desperation, of course, but kee farak painda when there’s an MD after your name?



Love Khichdi Poster: courtesy Srinivas Bhashyam (clockwise from bottom left, Kalpana Pandit, Divya Datta, Rituparna Sengupta, Jessy Randhawa, Sada, Riya Sen, and Sonali Kulkarni, with Randeep Hooda)

Photo mosaic: courtesy Ashish Bagchi


Also read: Once upon a time, eating Nanjangud hallu pudi

21st century spectacle at 17th century structure

Who killed our divine Nanjangud rasa baale

Aamir or Shah Rukh, Khan it get better than dish?

26 August 2008

Scores of actors have done double roles and triple roles and quadruple roles, even ten roles at one time. However, most of those have largely been prosthetic ventures, the protagonist dressed up in a different costume for a different role. But has anyone carried off two roles on the same frame at the same time in the same shot as adeptly as Aamir Khan does in the latest Tata Sky TV commercial?

Surely more convincing than Shah Rukh Khan exhorting us to “wish karo, dish karo“?

Also read: Isko laga dala tho life jhinga-la-la

Kamal Hassan: Conceited, egotistical, narcissistic? The greatest?

Aamir Khan or Vikram: Who’s better?

Conceited, egotistical, narcissistic. The greatest?

18 June 2008

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: Brush it aside as a narcissist’s mindless natter on celluloid or a fading star’s exaggerated attempt to reaffirm his talent. Dismiss it as an egotist’s eulogy of himself or as another crass exercise in self-indulgence.

Bury the film, like sundry other critics have, in reams of cynicism if you may, but Dasavatharam, the maestro’s latest work, is a grand spectacle and Kamal Haasan is a goddamn genius.

And nobody can take that away from him.

The attraction is certainly not the script, which jiggles about as uncontrollably as Mallika Sherwat, who happens to be the villian’s moll in the film.

The film revolves around a US-based scientist Govind Ramaswamy, the primary protagonist among the ten. The upright scientist’s one-point obsession is to safeguard and retrieve a deadly virus vial from the many recesses it finds itself in.

From the safe vault of a lab in the US, the ‘vile vial’ traverses the globe to the southern Indian temple town of Chidambaram, frantically pursued by the scientist and an evil ex-CIA man Christian Fletcher—played by Kamal with a ferocity, that gets you in the gut and quite bloodily at that.

Even as the killer and hero blaze a trail across rural Tamil Nadu, punctuating the landscape with their Tom & Jerry escapades, the plot off-tracks into side lanes throwing up a bewildering array of characters, most of them enacted almost effortlessly by the doyen.

The heavy and layered prosthetic make-up, a tad overdone on occasions, does not subdue Kamal’s intensity in any manner.

The cantankerous Iyengar paatti (grandma) with a penchant to lock herself in cupboards; the activist Vincent Poovaraghan who spouts fiery Malbari-Tamil; President George Bush; the Telugu-loving, safari suit-clad RAW officer Balram Naidu; the gauche seven-foot-tall Kalifulla Khan, the revenge-seeking Japanese kung fu expert Shingen Narahasi; the cancer-suffering Punjabi pop singer Avtaar Singh…

With convincing and bold flourishes, Kamal builds the texture and nuance of each of these characters. The accent, inflection and intonation cutting across these characters are delivered with his trademark ease and felicity.

My personal favourite of the 10 avatars is the character of the 12th century Vaishnavite devotee Rangaraja Nambi. The film opens with Nambi who displays a pulsating brahaminical zeal, defiantly reciting the Vishnu Sahasranamam, even as the Chola king tortures him for not surrendering to the greatness of Shiva.

Nambi is tied to the stone deity of Narayana and ruthlessly consigned to the depths of the ocean. Asin Thottumkal, who plays Nambi’s devastated wife and later the role of the scientist’s accomplice in another birth, does a superlative job as a Brahamin belle. She is pretty but could have been less shrill in a few scenes.

Mallika Sherawat’s pole dance is most unsavory: I say this not because of a suddenly acquired refined sensibility, but for the simple reason that my seven-year-old son sitting next to me was gawking at her much more than I. The quick glances that I kept throwing his way did not seem to faze him one bit. My fatherly instincts revolted instantly.

Himesh Reshammiya‘s music plays somewhere but fails to resonate. Jaya Prada as Avtaar Singh’s wife is still beautiful. The other bit that deserves mention is Dasavatharam‘s special effects. The tsunami tearing into civilization and the havoc that it brings about is masterfully orchestrated.

Kamal also uses the movie to drive home some of his beliefs: When the delusional paatti clutches the dead body of activist Vincent mistaking him to be her son, the Brahmins trailing her are repulsed and attempt to convince her but she does not listen. Kamal who has written the story, screenplay and dialogues, for a brief, very brief moment makes a lofty caste statement through this scene.

In the end, disillusioned to see the heaps of corpses caused by tsunami-scientist Govind, raises the question of whether there is God at all. This could well be Kamal himself. A self-confessed rationalist and atheist.

His spiritual and social ideologies apart; Kamal will continue to dwarf his peers through his towering histrionics in Indian cinema. Dasavatharam is an act of arrogance, a creation of conceit, a maverick’s attempt to tell the world that he is the greatest.

And Kamal gets away with it.

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Desh ke police kaise ho? Moral police jaise ho!

2 May 2008

How would we manage to sneak in sleazy pictures if it weren’t for our uptight moral gendarmes?

First Shriya Saran‘s outfit at a function to mark the 100th day of Sivaji was deemed “provocative” and “offensive” by the Hindu Makkal Katchi.

Now, this dress worn by Mallika Sherawat, with a see-through back, has been deemed by functionaries of the aforesaid Katchi as causing “mental agony to the people of Tamil Nadu“.

The fact that she sat cross-legged in chief minister Thiru Karunanidhi‘s presence at a function to release the audio tape of Kamal Hassan‘s Dasavatharam has also not gone down well with the Hindu folk.

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