Friday, October 21, 2011

The Perilous Journey of Kamal Fans.

Kamal, not looking at his fans.

Back in the 80s, a regional Indian movie magazine, imaginatively titled, Indian Movie News, featured an interview with actor Kamal Haasan. The headline, “Kamal: I want to be a director”, and the pix have the dashing handsome actor peering painfully through a view finder. No prizes for guessing what image they would have included if the headline screamed “Kamal: I want to be a dishwasher”. It was a simpler time.

As a fan, I waited and waited, and what we got was an assortment of films that continued with what he felt he needed to contribute to the 80s beside dry-blown hair and Tom Selleck moustache. It was not until the late 90s, and after making accusation that he ghost directed some of the fine films followed, that we actually saw him helm the megaphone and directed the hirsute epic, Hey Ram – a brilliant film technically with fantastic script featuring a protagonist who is as interesting as a shoe rack.

Then, it was back to actor and scriptwriter for hire routine, until the equally brilliant Virumandi that he directed with gutso and features an awesomely grounded protagonist, and it will not be until next year that we will finally see another film he directed. The 80s promise he delivered in three instalment in three decades. He could have been the greatest director even in the industry if he had decided to also be behind the camera and take the credit for it, goddamit. Instead, the title supposedly went to a Bollywood pleaser.

Speaking of which, he could have made Tamizh films so awesome that it would have grabbed Hollywood by its collar, bitch-slapped it and made it bow to the master. Instead, of Oscars for Kamal the actor and filmmaker, we see him receiving Vijay awards, a function so insipid that they’d tailor make awards every year for the brilliant start (Suggestion to Vijay TV award committee next year: “Best actor to not star in the best film category”).

Furthermore, if his recent bomb, Manmadha Ambu is of any example, then fans’ expectation is the least of his concern. In fact, it seems that Kamal who declared that he was his own number one fan and critic, decided to listen to the man in the mirror.

Well, that’s telling so much for Kamal fans. The point is, life as a Kamal fan, it seems, is about as smooth as riding down a T-Rex’s tail naked.

But fans should understand something, he was his own man. He does whatever he damn well pleases. And he started early, very early dammit that he is not going to shed tears behind the keyboard because some fanboys were disappointed.

Making his debut as a child artist in 1959, Steadily, he appeared alongside giants like Sivaji Ganesan and MGR (first film was with Gemini Ganesan and Savithiri, if those two are not top profile enough), and there was no room for the kid to take to any of the camps.

Immediately, his love for multiple roles and stunts were implanted in his preteen brains when in Parthal Pasitheerum (Sivaji and Gemini), he did double role and in climax had to hang on to his dear life over a bridge. Take that, Jackie Chan.

He evolved slowly, sucking in the environment and picking up things from his seniors (acting from Sivaji, and showing off dance/stunts from MGR). Disappearing for awhile, though not from stage literally as he joined TKS Brother’s stage troupe, he appeared momentarily in a Jai Shankar movie, Manavan, in a song sequence, lip-synching, guitar strumming, and step dancing fresh faced boy and disappeared again….

…only to reappear as Sivaji’s pair of feet for a complex tap dancing sequence (PattikAdA PattanamA), and Kamal was the assistant choreographer that time, as well as assistant to some directors. Career behind the camera looked prominent, until he, now a handsome young man, appeared in K. Balachander’s Aranggetram as one of the supporting characters. Folks were pleasantly surprised. “Is that the boy who appeared with MGR in Anandha Jodhi?” “Is that the boy who sang, Ammavum Neeye?” “What’s up with showing your body off, dude?”

And whaddya know, Kamal abandoned clipboards, and dancing shoes, and embraced the might of movie star as strings of K. Balachander films showcased his acting chops. In the 70s Kamal was de Niro to Scorcese’s K.B, and the comparison does not stop there

Aside: In an early movie, a supporting cast remarks, “Wow, who’s the good looking man? Looks like Robert De Niro”, and I am sure it was Kamal, who’s absorbing the world of Hollywood at that time,  who fed the line to the actress. I mean, I can understand if it the good look at that time was compared to Robert Redford or even Paul Newman of the 70s. Bobby De Niro? Travis Bickle? End of aside.

And he went on to do what a growing young actor would, grab any offers coming along the way, creating the Romance Prince (Kathal Ilavarasan) persona with that smoldering good looks, with the kind of intimacy the censorship (or the involved actress) would allow at that time. He was alternating between making films for so-called auters like K.B, Bharathiraja and Balu Mahendran, and going for broke making entertainers for the likes of G. Renggarajan, and later S.P. Muthuraman.

Then, suddenly the inevitable happened; he was given the National Award for best actor in 1983 for Mundram Pirai. The National Award Committee, which turned the blind eye on Sivaji Ganesan, finally recognised a Tamil actor, though they could have easily picked Kamal as the candidate for his roles in Pathinaru Vayathinile, Uyarnthavargal, Maroo Charithira and the fantastic Sigappu Rojakkal, where the industry was seeing their first psychotic women serial rapist/killer, a total reversal of his Prince of Romance image. National Award committee, of course, is synonym for selected amnesia.

As a followup he did Sagar Sanggamam, playing a washed up drunk cultural critic who was once an aspiring Bharatha Natyam dancer. National Award committee was nowhere to be seen as they would for the next few years. What happened here onwards proves that for once, Kamal is deciding for himself, not fans expectation having won the so-called prestigious awards.

Let’s not even talk about Hindi films where he had started venturing few years ago (and roasted his co-stars, that’s a different story), he went haywire with 13 films in 1982 alone, with genres as varying as current Pizza Hut menu. There were hits and misses, but one humongous hit called Sakalakala Vallavan, a total entertainer would trap him in stardom forever. It was basically an MGR film (in fact, a remake of an Old MGR flick Periya Idattu Penn)

No matter which artist colonies he haunts, no matter which classy joints he frequents, no matter which maestros he hangs out with, the stench of heroism entertainers would pull him back, no thanks to the MGR ghosts that haunts him till today (find me a total negative, bad to the bone Kamal character since then, then I’ll give you the other unutilised 55% Kamal Haasan the actor).

Witness the Tamil films he did afterwards; Toonggathey Thambi Toonggathey, a giddy better remake of his earlier Kalyanaraman which was remake of MGR’s Engga Veettu Pillai. More MGResque multiple role (the second role back for revenge) Enakkul Oruvan, a Hindi remake that was not quite up to mark, but displayed Kamal’s fascination with make-up (he was as much Nepali as John Wayne was as a  Monggol); Kakkichattai was a cop movie produced by MGR’s company, and there was no shortage of MGR posters in the film, and Kamal even prays to a still of a cop character played by MGR.

Then, there were a slew of movies that the seed it grew from didn’t fall far from MGR’s mould, like Andha Oru Nimidham a majestic screen fart from Major Sunderajan; Manggama Sabatham (double roles, one good another an idiot); Jappanil Kalyanaraman, a travel show sequel (homage to MGR’s Japan from Ulagam Sutrum Valiban), and Vikram, a low-rent James Bond movie, a high tech version of MGR’s Ragasiya Police 115.

And only a few years ago he won the National Award.

But Kamal was in a show-off mode, not so much on the acting part. If there was any show-off in the Tamizh film industry, after MGR, it has to be him. Dance? What dance you want, he showed them all except, maybe, breakdance. But that belongs to douchebags. Martial Arts? Whatever Jackie Chan has done, well, he tried to do the same, including the stunts which he did himself mostly (I heard there are more metal parts in him than the Terminator).

But something happened in 1987, that Kamal shed off his MGR suit. That was the year when Nayagan blew our minds away. It was time for Kamal to relish his own fanhood, with his performance picking up from all the Corleones (Marlon, Bob and Al), though all three can never do romance as only Kamal can with his scenes with Saranya. The film won him a National Award for acting again. Remember National Award? Yeah, back from vacation.

It was probably here where Kamal stopped looked back and thought, “Andha Oru Nimidham? I might as well doubled for Vijayakanth’s legs”. And steered his career away and did three “serious” films, Sathya, Soorasamharam and Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, all which were miserable flops. All these adds to the baffling his career in 80s. Earlier he even produced a Malayalam remake, this time casting flavour of the season, Sathyaraj as prostitute visiting, drinking tough cop in Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupadu. Verdict: flop. Though the film packed an interesting punch.

But 1989 was going to change all that, both Apoorva Sahotharargal and Vetri Vizha were success, and they were as different as day and light. What followed is an amazing switch of genres, brilliantly created characters, that further stamped Kamal as a talent to be reckoned with.  Brilliant double role in Indiran Chandran, four roles in Michael Madana Kamaraj, the celestial Guna, rollicking fun Singaravelan, and the epic Thevar Magan where he turned young punks attention to the grace of Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan. Intentional or not, there was passing of baton from Sivaji to Kamal.

But I disagree that Kamal is the next Sivaji. Bullshit. Kamal is Kamal. There can be only one Sivaji, and the proper heir is supposed to be Kamal’s buddy/rival Rajini if he had not decided to please ten year olds and the ten year olds in us. Kamal may have Sivaji’s influence, but there are more to him than Sivaji. There’s Chaplin, Sellers, the Corleone bunch mentioned earlier, and the whole host of screenwriters, novelists, great directors as we will soon after he astounded us with the brilliant script for Thevar Magan.

And what a followup when Mahanadhi, an epic journey that continued to question humanity and our moral values, was followed by a remake from Hindi, Kuruthi Punal, which the original director himself said was better than his. Totally devoid of songs, the thriller further explored Kamal’s interest in makeup when during the final scene, the brutalised Kamal looked like sexually assaulted water melon.

The same make-up men worked for him in Shankar’s fascist Indian, where he looked like white Californian dried prune and I assure you no more fruty wisecracks. The make-up was a disservice to Kamal’s own talent as it totally blocked his face, giving only the eyes a little room to act. The National Award Committee of course, after having multiple-orgasm, handed out another Best Actor award for probably the first to an actor who spent entire film behind mask. National Award committee. Sigh.

Its make-up time again for Kamal, though it was properly used this time in Avvai Shanmugam, and it will not be twelve years before Kamal and his make-up pals work together. A routine comedy schtick with Kadhala Kadhala was followed by the highly anticipated Hey Ram (he made noises threatening to unleash Marudhanayagam on us, but compromised with this instead).

The film was such a fantastic critical success that most Kamal fans collars resembled erection. Perpetual. Alas, whatever he touched next was underwhelming. A bumbling Tenali, mistreated Alavandhan, effective but not great comedies Pammal K. Sambandhan and Panchatanthiram (great on their own, but pales to his earlier better works), perking up a little bit with Anbe Sivam and second stint as director in Virumandi.

Then, down the escalator with pedestrian remake, Vasool Raja M.B.B.S, so and so heist caper, Mumbai Xpress, and decent thriller Vettaiyadu Vilayadu, though detractors cry remake seeing the plot similarity with the director, Gautham’s, earlier film Kaaka Kaaka. Confusing genre with storyline, it’s like both films are like Orange and Apple, and they say “hey, both are fruits. Copycat!”

The he probably woke up one day and realised that, “damn, I was supposed to be a damned good actor. And how many roles did the worlds greatest actor did? Nine? I’ll top that,” and wrote himself ten roles for the movie Dasavatharam, an excess with continued horrible use of prostethic make-up and poor CGI, benefiting largely from fast-paced funny script.

Back as producer and actor for hire in entertaining, but supposedly inferior remake of a Hindi film, Unnaipol Oruvan where he just sat around and scratched his beard while Mohanlal does lots of sneering. And early this year he joined force with K.S. Ravi Kumar in Manmadha Ambu where, for the first time after Ninaittale Inikkum, I liked the supporting star than the man himself.

Few years time he’d be pushing the big 6-0. How do we look back at his career. His body of work that seemed to be mostly overshadowed by Crazy Mohan comedies. But don’t let that fool us, the ones that stand out far overshadows the best of current crop of best actors have contributed. He stands tall. He outstands the best of them all.

But back in some corner, awaits his fans. Cowering, shivering, not sure what to expect of their idol, most of the time they live in frustration. Where’s the Oscar? Where’s the putting of Tamizh film industry in the world map as the place for awesomeness? The truth is, Kamal never promised all that, his talent did. And if his talent says it wants to joint force with Crazy Mohan and Prabhu again, we might as well shut up and enjoy it. Kamal can do any damn thing that pleases him. That’s why, I suppose, we still adore him.


Anonymous said...

Well I guess you are right. As an ardent fan myself, I tend to wonder at times off his focus. Confident of himself 200%. Good directors too find it difficlt to work with this genius.PK

Rakesh Kumar said...

Machan, there are good directors out there now, not like last time. He's just sticking with his comfort zone like K.S. Ravi Kumar. The best person to direct him now is himself. Thanks for reading.

Dr Chandrasekar said...

Tears in my eyes after reading this. If you ask me why, I can't explain. But as a person following Kamal from 1981 - 82 ( I was 4 yrs old then ), I can tell this is the best piece of writing concerning Kamal, I have ever come across in any medium. Hats off.

Dr Chandrasekar

Rakesh Kumar said...

Thanks for reading, Dr. Chandrasekhar. That's my feeling about old timers. Oh wait, I am older than you. Glad the article touched you.

Aakarsh said...

You forgot once landmark film that ties Brilliant performance with amazing comedy (non crazy mohansque) - the one of its kind - Pushpak! It deserves more mention in this post than certain films quoted.

Well written post!

I think the best person to direct him now, is someone who can destroy his self-indulgence - If you want to see a 'Performance' that is. Even Kamal himself cant do that (as proved by Hey Ram). He needs a director who doesnt bend but makes him bend.

Mani Ratnam? RGV (bcoz RGV is equally egoistic)? Who is there in India who can use Kamal the actor (minus makeups) instead of Kamal, the star?

Rakesh Kumar said...

Aakarsh, Thanks for reading. You said, "self-indulgence" that will riffle many fans' feathers.

Mani is out of my book, RGV not familiar with his works.

If Virumandi and some of his ghost-directed films would hint, he is his own best director. Thanks again.

Vijay said...

A great read.

Btw, I am one of those who don't think the makeup in Indian was so bad he looked like a Californian dried prune. Maybe, it is because I saw the film as a young boy that I got sucked into the movie and didn't care to question anything.

I saw Indian recently. And, it stood up very well including the make up. But, I couldn't wrap my head around one thing.

Somebody tell me how this works. Please. How the hell does his skin turn brown after he becomes a Thatha and not the fair guy he was in his Pre-Independence youth ? He looked charred like he was caught in the gobar gas fire along with Kasthuri.

Rakesh Kumar said...

Thanks for reading, Vijay. You are not alone in appreciating the make up then, and in retrospect. As for the turning dark, I attribute to him spending more time in the farm and doing the horse dance thingy with his kids. Also, he never subscribed the Fair and Lovely products.