I haven’t yet watched Dasaavathaaram; but I’m simply dying to… the reviews have more than whetted my curiosity. Then there’s one scene that I am very eager to watch. Apparently Kamal Haasan in one of his many roles (for the uninitiated, he plays ten roles in the movie, and no two of them are related by blood, let alone be twins, and they aren’t even doppelgangers. Why then, should one do the work of ten, you ask? Because he can… remember “yeh kitne ka baraabar hai?“?), has throat cancer, and when someone fires a gun at him, the bullet goes through his throat taking the cancer away with it. I want to see for myself how such a scene is handled with style. And if not, I would like to think about what Kamal was thinking right from conceptualizing this shot to actually filming it and canning it, KS Ravikumar notwithstanding.
Now I’m not one of those who dismiss these gimmicks; I don’t mind them too much. Quite unlike most of the general populace who do dismiss these actions for being too populist and reaching out to the lowest common denominator of the audience.
And who send email forwards saying Newton got a heart attack watching a Rajnikanth movie.
In some versions, it is Mithun-da. And there are also endless Chuck Norris facts turned into facts about Superstar. In fact, it is these forwards that make Thalaivar larger than life than his on-screen persona.
And for the veracity behind these claims… I am yet to find a YouTube video showing Rajnikanth or Mithun with two guns and an enemy on the other side of a high wall, when they throw one gun up and shoot it so that it goes off and the enemy is killed. You would imagine when folks can be jobless enough to clip videos of Gaptain Vijaykanth shock the electricity out of a generator, they would atleast upload these legendary videos which everyone talks about in disparaging, superior tones, but no one has viewed.
And these superior, cynical tones from the supposed elite… that’s the reason I’m really surprised as to why Kamal Haasan put in that bit. Because Kamal starting from the ’90s has packaged himself to be sold to the urban elite. He makes ‘thinking’ movies, or so they say, and lives his characters, and you need a classy mind to really appreciate his films, or so it is publicized. Rajnikanth on the other hand, is projected as appealing to the masses (mainly by virtue of the aforementioned gimmicks), not take pains in getting into character, plays the same roles again and again, and delivers hits mainly due to the profusion of his fan clubs.
But when you rewind to fifteen years back or more, you’ll find this is just not the case.
In the initial decades of their careers, you’ll find Rajni did a larger variety of roles, while Kamal simply played the same loverboy character over and over again. Now getting into a debate over who is better is futile, as I’ve seen in the past; but I’ll say this generalization to “actor” and “superstar” are too generic to be taken at face value.
When you take a closer look at Kamal’s recent classy movies, you’ll find that the ones that were hits were mostly comedies, and penned by Crazy Mohan (whose absurdist comedy that was the main feature of his multilayered scripts that appeal at different levels to different people, and who deserves a whole post to himself). Whenever he deviated, his films have been commercial as well as critical failures – Aalavandhan, Hey Ram are examples. A notable exception is Anbe Sivam.. though I would say the story gets predictable, the characters of Kamal and Madhavan are exceedingly endearing, and along with the situations portrayed and simple dialogues, make it worth more than a watch.
But I guess selling Rajni-saar as the darling of the masses is a money-minting exercise, because that packaging chooses not to alienate the masses while not really turning away the ‘classes’, most of who have grown up watching Thalaivar in myriad roles right from their childhood, be it the rip-roaring Thillu Mullu (remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal, with a guest appearance by Kamal), Billa, Johnny, Gayathri or Netrikan. Ask these same people to name earlier films of Kamal that stand out, I’m sure you won’t get much beyond Kalathur Kannama, 16 Vayadhinile (with Rajni playing villain), Sigappu Rojakkal, Moondram Pirai (Sadma), or Raja Paarvai. Rajni sells for this nostagia, as well as for his movies (They really aren’t as bad as they are made out to be… entertainers, yes, but not lame ones). Kamal on the other hand sells for his current repertoire, as well as for his air of being a ‘thinking’ man’s filmmaker/actor, of which the latter has been tried successfully by Aamir Khan (who however is the non-thinking, non-critical, pseud (wo)man’s favorite filmmaker).
Habitual Rajni-bashers choose to ignore his large repertoire of good work, and choose to highlight only his cigarette-flicking (of late, coin-flicking), villain-thrashing ways, all of which have only that much importance in his career as “Aati Kya Khandala” or the train scene in Ghulam had for Aamir Khan.
And these people who scoff at the sheer unbelievability of his plots and scenes are the same people who wouldn’t mind a whirlwind tour of three countries in a 24-hour period from Dan Brown who churns out the same crap book after book, or Chetan Bhagat for who much of the same can be said. Or for that matter, Sidney Sheldon or Jeffrey Archer who can write about Czechs with nubbins and bracelets and get away with it.
Or watch SRK with his little mannerisms, RGV’s implausible plotlines, and applaud.
Or for that matter, even Tarantino and Disney flicks.
One of the main reasons why Rajni films succeed so well is because they are made for a family audience (like the movies Crazy Mohan pens for Kamal). When his scriptwriters lack the finesse of Crazy Mohan in tackling complex issues in such a way that it wouldn’t alienate any age-group, they would rather compromise on the issue. Unlike Kamal, who comes up with an Aalavandhan, about a psycho killer, or a Hey Ram (Which had viewers going Aiyo Rama). Rajnikanth takes great care to portray qualities that are valued in society – respect for elders, honesty, hard work and the like. His films, of course, are well-known for misogyny, but that isn’t his sole preserve.
I, like the average Tamil moviegoer choose to have it both ways – I’ll watch a Thalaivar movie with all the usual ingredients, whistle at the punch-dialogues, and tolerate the few references to him/his character being the superstar/perfectMan. I would enjoy a good Kamal movie by paying attention to his plot, characterization and script, apart from his makeovers, and choose to ignore those forced scenes of intimacy, over-the-top accents, and his general overdoing everything.
For they are doing it all just to entertain us. It is not everyday that they make movies, and their little idiosyncrasies are worth tolerating for the entertainment value of the finished product, and heck, their swelling with self-importance is what makes them larger than life.
PS: I intended to make this a post that doesn’t take itself very seriously… but somewhere down the line, it turned into a biased Doordarshan newsreader’s report, with none of the associated feeling of well-researchedness or newness about it. I suppose the bottomline would be that at the end of the day, Kamal and Rajni both are actors, out to make money and fulfill the expectations of the audience… and everything they do would be better understood if it was viewed first in the light of that.