Movie Reviews, Commentary & More


When the set-up precedes storyline one can only appreciate the decoration, not savor the meal. Kamal Hassan's idea of challenge is this: tall, short, muscular, paunchy, intelligent, mediocre, American, Japanese, theist, atheist, hindu, muslim, hero, villain, comedian... Of course, realizing these characters on screen is painful, but in this case, watching them too is. This is Picasso painting for calendar - two more roles and you're set for the year. If an actor playing ten roles in a movie is considered an achievement, then Kamal becomes a lesser actor than he is in 'Dasavatharam'.

I'm not going to dwell much on the story, which is a confused rendering of themes like destiny vs chance, divine intervention vs coincidence, godliness vs godlessness, blind faith vs scientific temperament. The movie starts with its best segment: a stand-off between Vasihnavites & Saivites in 12th century resulting in Rangarajan, an ardent devotee of Narayana, shackled to the statue and thrown into the sea. Cut to the present day: a vial containing a dangerous drug escapes a high security zone and is hotly pursued by the good & bad guys. There are many sub-plots and they all cut into each other (because of Tamil cinema grammar's compulsion) by strands thin as hair. The climax is not typical masala, but not far away from the typical.

What frustrates me the most is the number of junk roles (played by Kamal) floating around in the movie. What's so freaking sacred about 10 that he had to do this? His performance in Mahanadhi would have washed all these ten like a tsunami. Let me sample: a Punjabi pop singer is diagnosed with throat cancer. You'll have to see how bad this performance is to believe it. He coughs up blood and his wife runs to him. The expressions & lines of the husband & wife remind me of the 1980s Saturday evening Hindi movies. It's as if the actors had taken a oath to never act naturally. Either that or Kamal is subtly taking a dig at Punjabi movies & their actors with his non-descript lines for Avatar Singh (there's a bland reason for that name!).

Then there's Kalif Ullah - the good muslim son of a good muslim father. You get it, right? They're here to symbolize the goodness of the community in spite of viewed through terrorist filters. The funny thing about this guy is that everybody in the family speaks perfect Tamil and he speaks as if he's imported from Persia the day before. Then there's a Japanese martial arts guru who is in Chennai to settle an account. Two needless roles were squeezed in so that this Japanese guy has a purpose. But the WTF award goes to Kamal's role as George Bush. The guy has a dozen lines in the whole movie and the editor should have excised them to keep the material less fatty. The rest of the roles aren't necessarily strong, but at least they move the story forward.­­­

It's not all that bad - because the above mentioned players have less screen time. Vincent Poovaragan, a Dalit social reformer has some good lines, good make-up, a performance fitting Kamal's stature and his end fitting Bollywood. Balram Naidu is a cracker of a personality - the dim-witted head of RAW interrogating & chasing an alleged terrorist is memorable mostly because of his impeccable accent. I'm sure that purists may find a tone or two inappropriate here & there. But for the general public, the variety in terms of accents he's brought over the years is delightful. Kamal's mastery of langauge is breathtaking - he's not just being a linguist absorbing words and their meanings but a supreme actor-linguist carefully weighing the pauses, whispers, overlapping-dialogues and related mannerisms that go with the culture.

Although Kamal is enjoyable in a few avatars here, the story & direction don’t help to hold attention. A stone hitting Rangaraja Nambi, the 12th century Vaishnavite results in blood trickling down his forehead symbolizing the 'divine namam' followed by, you guessed it, a song. The wisdom of a biotech scientist acceding to play by the rules of a beautiful girl in the face of impending but avoidable danger is not only illogical but also annoying. There's the accidental exchange of boxes resulting in dramedy. Then there's a timeline tag that keeps the viewer informed of what is happening when, which allows the hero to go on and on without sleep for 2 days. Kamal ties a lot of loose ends but not all; this is difficult because there are too many events & outcomes to tie them all. There's too much happening for the audience to connect to someone and care for them. The sum is very less than the parts - some of which are extremely fulfilling and some of which are disemboweling.

I've been wondering who'll cement the foundations of independent cinema movement in south India. Low budget no-name actors, directors & technicians coming together to create good movies. If artistes like Kamal don't promote them by writing & producing, there's no point in complaining about the standards in his next interview. Let Rajini speak for 55+ heroes who want to run around with 20+ girls & do the impossible stunts. Kamal has done that for almost 30 years now and it's high time to move on. Dasavatharam is more like a 3-hour make-up costume fiesta scoring heavy points to Kamal's repertoire of made-up faces. This is a movie Vijay or Ajith or Surya can be proud of.

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'Dasavatharam' is hugely disappointing in spite of not being a bad movie. It has more to do with the direction Kamal is walking towards. More on the movie and Kamal this weekend.

To all those who hung on to this blog: thanks for your patience. I'll try to be regular.

I think I'm in love with Stanley Kauffman (TNR). He makes erudition a sexy quality.