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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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12 Responses to “Dasavatharam”

  1. # Anonymous Vidya

    A very neat and compact review as usual Prasad! Ummm... Now am all set to watch the movie. Can we dare to ignore Kamal?:-)  

  2. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Agreed! Guys like Kamal & Maniratnam have bodies of works that just forces us to their latest movies. 'Dasavatharam' is enjoyable on a few planes, just not memorable.  

  3. # Blogger ohmsdeeps

    Nice write up.
    I remember you mentioning in one of your earlier blogs that people might think of retiring from being a Maniratnam fan.I guess the same line applies to Kamal as well.
    After watching the movie, my Dad told me that he pity Kamal for his enormous efforts going in vain because of not choosing a proper story and screenplay.I think so too.  

  4. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Actor Kamal is like Sachin - even if he continues to score ducks for the rest of his career, I'll be a fan because of how he's enraptured me in his previous innings. I may lose hope and lower expectations but I'll always be a fan. I can't say the same about the writer Kamal.  

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  6. # Blogger Prabhu S

    Your comment on Kamal equally applies to IR as well, isn't? Atleast as far as IR is concerned I dont expect any breathtaking compositions from him but his past gems are just enough to cherish for a long time..  

  7. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Absolutely. And the sad thing is there are no prospects on the horizon stepping into fill the void created by Kamal & Raja.  

  8. # Anonymous shreeja

    Very late, sorry.

    Make-up was ludicrous. That Japanese bloke looked like an alien. Maybe they actually thought the Japanese looked like that? Make-up could be least of your concerns, but for a movie that prided itself on kamal's 10 different "get-ups", how could they settle for such a mediocre job?!

    It's one of those movies you just don't want to talk (and think) about when you're out of the cinema. Amazing how you wrote a review.  

  9. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Many aspects of the production are mediocre - the visual effects & costumes in particular. There will always be a defender who's going to say that with the budget & technology Tamil movies can afford... but then why attempt it if you can't be the best, especially if your name is Kamal Haasan?

    There are many sparks of his acting genius in movies like Panchathanthiram & Pammal K Sambandham - movies that serious film-goers dismiss as Kamal's light ventures. Disappointingly, there's only Balram Naidu here. The other nine are just walking ghosts of a retired actor.

    Why I wrote a review you ask? Read the first comment.  

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