Writing a post about Kamal Haasan on his birthday, I dont know where to start and where to end. Everybody knows everything about him. So I do not wish to write about his life history and the great work he has done. I am writing about what made him and his movies appealing to me, in this post, which is also a tribute to that one-man institution.
He has been my favourite actor (after Mohanlal, though), favourite writer, favourite singer and so much more for all these days. I have to admit that I became a fan of his only around 10-12 years ago, just because I wasnt exposed to many Tamil movies being in Kerala at that point of time. And he had stopped working in Malayalam by the time I was born. So in between watching loads of Mohanlal flicks, I heard about this movie called Avvai Shanmukhi where he played a man who dresses up as an old lady and both me and my parents were excited to see it. So we went to see in an almost full Ernakulam Kavitha theatre sometime in 1997 and I saw my very first Kamal Haasan movie in theatre then. I didnt understand Tamil very well then, but I still remember laughing my head out during that movie.
Then I happened to see some of his old Malayalam movies on TV, like Aanandam Paramanandam and Alavuddinum Albhutha Vilakkum. I dont remember those movies now, but I remember that I loved them during that point of time. Years later, I saw Thenali on a video cassette and became addicted to Kamal Haasan's comedy. Thenali also had Malayalam actor Jayaram playing an equally important role, so the whole family sat and watched that movie and enjoyed it thoroughly. I began understanding Tamil much better in those days and even started learning to read and write the language myself. But again, I wasnt a huge fan of his even during those days. He was just one among the various actors I liked and yea, maybe the best among the Tamil actors according to me, at that point of time.
After Surya TV came into being, one of their favourite movies was Chankyan, which they kept playing quite often. And during one of those telecasts, I watched that movie, when I was in some 8th or 9th. I was hooked by that thriller and Kamal Haasan's mysterious and scary character in it. It still remains one of my favourite movies. That movie was so ahead of its time and I still remember that Kamal crawled through the ceiling of All India Radio and used high-tech machinery to pick up a file from the office years before Ethan Hunt did the same thing in a much more sophisticated way in Mission Impossible. :P
In the meanwhile, I also watched the Hindi versions of Hey Ram and Aalavandhaan and didnt quite like them because I didnt understand them then. And on another day, when my mother had gone to her house, my father, brother and me went to the theatre to watch Panchathanthiram on my insistence. I cant tell you how much fun I had watching that movie. Though my Tamil was still weak, the movie had a lot of Malayalam lines also to make us laugh. I dont know how many times I have seen the movie after that, and each time I see it, I find something new to laugh about. It is certainly one of the best comedies ever made in Indian Cinema. It is Panchathanthiram that made me realize that I should check out more of Kamal Haasan's work. And during one of those days, Indian was coming on TV for the first time. I sat and watched it fully and was blown away by both the movie and Kamal's national award winning performance as Senapathy or Indian Thaatha, as the character is popularly known as.
Soon after that, video Cds became more popular, and I had got myself a vcd player after my 10th standard exams. It was during those holidays that I saw many more Kamal Haasan movies. The first one being Nayakan, which is rated as one of the best movies ever made in the world. After watching Nayakan, I was in awe of this man. Then Anbe Sivam followed and he was right up there among my all time favourites almost at par with Mohanlal, whose films I have been watching non-stop from childhood. But I didnt get many of his old movies on VCDs then and could get hold of only Kuruthippunal, which is perhaps the best action flick made in Tamil so far.
I saw Virumaandi when I was in 11th at a theatre in Kollam, where I was the only person in the balcony for that particular show of the movie. And since my Tamil was still not very strong, I did not understand one bit of what was spoken in Madurai Tamil in that movie. So, I ended up hating it. But when I watched it again during my college days, I wondered whether if it was the same movie I hated once.
During my 12th came Vasoolraja MBBS, a remake of a film that had instantly become the favourite of people all over India, Munnabhai MBBS. Kamal's version was far more funnier than the original, but it didnt have the emotional sensibilities that Rajkumar Hirani gave in the original. And for that reason, I would rate Vasoolraja below Munnabhai. But if you treat it as a different film, then the comedy, especially the dialogues by Crazy Mohan are fantastic. My love for this movie also grew along by watching it again and again on Cds and TV. I loved the movie he wrote for Madhavan, called Nala Damayanthi as well, which had trademark Kamal Haasan humour performed effectively by Madhavan. Kamal pitched in a cameo towards the end to make things more interesting too.
After my schooling, I joined Loyola College in Chennai for my graduation in Visual Communication. And it would be a shame if a vis comm student in Chennai hadnt watched the old movies of Kamal Haasan. So I started collecting DVDs and VCDs of his old movies and started watching them one by one. I watched Guna, Mahanadhi, Sathi Leelavathi, Chachi 420, Pushpak, Thevar Magan, Apoorva Sahodarargal, Sathyaa, all during this time period. If Guna made me think and empathize with the character, Mahanadhi left me disturbed for days. If Chachi 420, Sathi Leelavathi and Pushpak made me laugh uncontrollably, Thevar Magan left me in awe. Apoorva Sahodarargal was fascinating and Sathyaa was exciting. And while watching Anbe Sivam again and again, it inspired me to believe in love more than God. Now, if a film can do that to a person, you can guess what a great film it must be. During the same time period, I watched Hey Ram, Aalavandhaan and Virumaandi, some movies which I hated earlier, again and understood the true meaning of them all. Especially, Hey Ram which is a masterpiece by all means. I also loved Kamal's super-flop Mumbai Xpress when Tamil Nadu was celebrating the success of Rajnikanth's Chandramukhi.
But then, I learned that I hadnt seen Kamal's best comedy yet. Me being a huge fan of comedy movies more than anything else, had to see that one as soon as possible. So I began my search for a cd or dvd of Michael Madhana Kama Rajan. Weeks later, I found a copy in one of the Music World outlets and grabbed it then and there. I have never laughed more watching a movie than how much I laughed for this one. When I showed it to my mother during one of my trips back home, she had trouble breathing for some time because of laughing non-stop. Who can play 4 drastically different roles, each one funnier than the other, all in a single movie? Eddy Murphy might have done it, but never as effectively as Kamal Haasan, at least for me and the thousands of other fans of Kamal.
And then came, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, my first Kamal movie in Chennai. That movie was getting postponed indefinitely for a long time, and it finally released on August 2006. I couldnt get tickets for the first 2 days, and ended up watching it on the third day. And because of one of my stupid friends, we got in for the movie late, but correctly in time for Kamal's intro. The 'Karka Karka' song followed and the theatre went wild. But my friend was quite upset while watching the movie and that spoilt the experience for me then, even though I loved the movie. No problem, I decided and watched the movie again the very next day at Abirami, buying the ticket in black. And I think I've watched VV in every possible theatre in Chennai, including Sathyam, Abirami, the horrible Rohini and even a C class theatre Muralikrishna close to our hostel. The Gautham Menon-Kamal Haasan combination was lethal and Kamal played the suave and sophisticated, but deadly cop DCP Raghavan to perfection. It is perhaps the most stylish movie of Kamal Haasan. VV was one of those rare movies where Kamal wasnt in charge of the writing department. So it was completely Gautham's way of presenting Kamal Haasan, the superstar and the actor, both together.
Then he made me wait 2 years with bated breath for Dasavathaaram, his ambitious magnum opus, in which he played 10 roles. In the meanwhile, I watched some more movies like Kaadhala Kaadhala, Magalir Mattum, etc. I had become very fluent in Tamil by this time and had understood the culture and setting of the place and the people. So I had started enjoying these movies more then. And I kept watching all those above mentioned movies again and again, loving them more each time I watched them. And I started observing his style in writing, acting and directing much more carefully. I always loved the singer in him and 'Anbe Sivam' is my all time favourite among the tracks he has sung, which include so many other gems like 'Thempandi Cheemayile', 'Inji Iduppazhagi' and many many more. He had also sung a deadly song for a movie other than his, in Pudhuppettai, called 'Neruppu Vaayinil' composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja for the Dhanush starrer.
And for the first time in my life, I saw Kamal Haasan in flesh & blood, during a stage show directed by Mani Ratnam, Netru Indru Naalai, in Chennai. At exactly half time of the show, he walked into an empty stage, dressed in an elegant black suit and started singing, 'Thempaandi Cheemayile'. I got goosebumps immediately and couldnt stop clapping once he finished the song. I was sitting at a position where I could see the stage very well, right in front. And I was seeing that performance with my mouth wide open. But he left soon after finishing that song, disappointing all the people who wanted more from him.
It was my final year in college and I was supposed to make a short film as my final project. I got a storyline about a struggling, but terrible actor who tries hard to make it big in the industry. So for my opening scene, I wrote a sequence where that fellow sees the most iconic scene from Nayakan, and tries to act like Kamal. It was the scene where Velu Naicker's grandchild asks him, 'Neenga nallavaraa, kettavaraa??' and Kamal responds to him. I asked my friend who was acting as my hero, to completely ruin that great scene and he did just that. I chose Nayakan because only when you spoof or make fun of an iconic film or performance, people would identify it and laugh at it. And it happened like that and the people at the screening loved that scene in particular, even though the short film was nothing great. ;)
I didnt do it to make fun of Kamal, but I did it to show that nobody else can act like him, ever.
I had completed my college and was back home in Cochin when the much hyped Dasavathaaram released. I was too excited about that movie and managed to watch it First Day First Show also in Ernakulam Shenoys. I was completely thrilled watching that movie, which most of my friends and critics around the country hated. But I still loved it and watched the movie 4 more times in theatre. I loved the way he interconnected all those events and characters in his screenplay. Though the make-up wasnt great, his performance as each of those characters was distinct and unique.
One more year of watching and re-watching Kamal's films went by. Till then, my favourite Kamal Haasan movie had been Anbe Sivam, followed by Nayakan. But during this period, I watched Thevar Magan yet again, and realized that there can be no movie which is better than that one. Directed by one of Malayalam Cinema's most reputed directors Bharathan and produced & written by Kamal Haasan, that movie had both the legendary actors Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Haasan coming together for the first and last time. I hadnt seen many of Sivaji Ganesan's other movies except for Padaiyappa, and that wasnt exactly a Sivaji Ganesan movie. But with this movie alone, he amazed me. What an actor!! People say Kamal Haasan is a true waaris of Sivaji Ganesan. You cant help but agree to that point while watching Thevar Magan. There is one particular scene where both of them talk to each other after a tragic incident. That scene is what you can call legendary. And to add to these two, there were amazing performances by Nasser, Revathy and Gauthami and an extraordinary musical score by Ilaiyaraaja and magical frames by PC Sreeram. So Anbe Sivam had to move to the 2nd spot and this one became my all time favourite Tamil movie.
In March 2009, Kamal Haasan announced that he is going to remake the movie A Wednesday into Tamil and it would star him along with Mohanlal for the first time. Well, what more could I have asked for!!! Both my favourite actors together in one movie, that too with such a great script ready.
In May 2009, Kamal Haasan announced a screenwriting workshop for cinema enthusiasts. People interested had to write a synopsis of their favourite film and send it to them to get selected for the workshop. I wrote about Thevar Magan putting all my heart into it and by end of May, came the final list and I was selected for the workshop!! You can imagine my thrill then. I was going to be taught about writing by none other than Kamal Haasan. And in June, the workshop of one week kick-started at IIT Chennai. One the first day, Kamal's Toyota Prado zipped past me and my friend when we were just reaching the venue. When we reached there, we saw the man, in his Unnaipol Oruvan get-up of a thick and shaped beard standing along with the other hosts of the workshop. The workshop was a great experience and Kamal insisted that it was always his dream to host such a workshop. We had one entire session where Kamal spoke about his directorial venture Hey Ram and also gave some tips about writing. During one of the coffee breaks, I gathered the courage to go and ask him a silly doubt from Hey Ram. He was surrounded by other enthusiastic students who were fans too, and I managed to barge into that and ask him my question. He was clearing every doubt patiently and he answered my question too. I was totally thrilled when he talked back to me and I couldnt believe it actually happened. The workshop went on for a week and started getting more and more interesting. The final day was spectacular with so many stalwarts of the industry being present there. Kamal's current family of Gauthami, Shruthi, Akshara and Subbulakshmi were also present there. I got an autograph from Kamal Haasan then and I have it safely on my notepad now. When all the events got over, we were allowed to take group photos with Kamal and the other lecturers of the workshop. And I got clicked with Kamal Haasan, even though it was in a group. Before leaving I shook hands with him and he said 'All The Best', like he did with everyone else. But for me, it'll always be worth remembering.
On September 18, 2009, the Kamal Haasan-Mohanlal starrer Unnaipol Oruvan hit the screens, and I went mad as you can see in my review on this blog itself. Lol. I watched that movie 3 times in the first week itself and watched it again when I went to Chennai this time.
And 2009, is apparently Kamal's 50th year in Cinema. He started out as a child artiste in Kalathoor Kannamma in 1959, and won a National Award for his very first appearance in a movie. 50 years, 3 National awards and 18 Filmfare awards later, Kamal Haasan is still reinventing himself. His daughter Shruthi has also started her film career as both an actress and a composer this year. A grand event was organized by Vijay TV to celebrate this special occasion and the whole South Indian film fraternity was present for it. The words spoken by each and every person during that function show the love and admiration for this one-man institution. And his arch-rival and best friend Rajnikanth went all out with his speech to declare his love and respect for Kamal through his speech. It was certainly one of the best stage shows I have ever seen.
I am still covering his vast list of brilliant films. I watched Moondram Pirai, Punnagai Mannan and Salangai Oli recently. He lets Sridevi shine in Moondram Pirai throughout the movie, till the climax. And his performance in the climax alone won him a National award. Need I say anything more? I didnt quite like Punnagai Mannan, but Kamal was still amazing in that romantic movie. His Charlie Chaplin act was really endearing. And finally, Salangai Oli (Tamil version of Sagara Sangamam), what a movie!! You have to see it to believe it. I doubt if there is anything that man cannot do.
And his association with music director Ilaiyaraaja and singer SP Balasubramaniam is famous. Ilaiyaraja has given some of his best songs for Kamal's films and nobody can lip-sync SPB's songs better than Kamal. He has loads of other friends and seniors whom he shares a great relationship with both professionally and personally, right from his mentor K Balachander, friend and colleague Rajnikanth, dialogue writer Crazy Mohan, director KS Ravikumar, actor Jayaram, cameraman PC Sreeram, the late actor Nagesh, composer AR Rahman and many others. He created history by brining Queen Elizabeth for the pooja of his dream project Marudhanayakam, which got stalled later on and also bringing Jackie Chan, Amitabh Bachchan, Mammootty and himself together one one stage during the audio release of Dasavathaaram.
He is getting ready to direct a film soon starring himself and his guru K Balachander and will also be seen in a film to be directed by the promising young director Mysskin. Unnaipol Oruvan is his 3rd superhit in a row and he is going through a great phase now. And each time he gives something extraordinary, his fans expect much more out of him the next time.
And he delivers that too. So lets hope for more and more innovations and experiments from this man, who has made Indian Cinema much better in his 50 year long career. I havent explained the details of his performances in all his iconic movies in this post, because if I do so, this post would never get over. This post may seem as the over-indulgence of a fan, but just imagine, 50 years dedicated to Cinema in his 55 year long life, this man is something else!!!
And his latest release Unnaipol Oruvan has completed 50 days of its theatrical run now too.
So its all the more reason to celebrate.
So its all the more reason to celebrate.
We all love you Kamal Sir. Happy Birthday!! :) :)
(Leaving you with the breathtaking trailer of Kamal Haasan's dream project Marudhanayakam, which never got completed).