Of flicking cigarettes and flying bullets


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.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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9 Responses to Of flicking cigarettes and flying bullets

  1. sudarshna kalyanraman says:

    nice post. the reason why rajni gave a wider variety of roles at the beginning of his career was because he was frst introduced as a villain and then made the transition to hero. infact he was the first unconventional tamil screen hero.this gave directors a geater freedom to cast him in a variety of roles.Kamal was trained to become a hero and he looked the part, fair and sharp featured the kind that tamil audiences then loved.Directors thought it better to stick to the tried and tested routine when it came to him. however kamal did feature in some offbeat movies like guna, salangai olli. you havent mentioned moondru mudichu, one of my favourites with brilliant performances from sri devi and rajni kanth.the diffrence lies in the fact that rajni chose to remain a superstar trapped in conventionalities. He has no choice infact. while kamal worked hard to not to be trapped.

    kamal if you notice vacillates between commercial films and offbeat ones. thus he made hey ram, alavandhan, kurudhipunal,anbe sivam and followed it up with tenali, panchatahanthiram,PMKS
    or an avvai shanmughi or even vasool raja .in all probability his next will be a comercial commedy. Kamal understands that to survive in a box office driven industry you need to make entertainers as he often says in his interviews.

    the combination of kamal, crazy mohan, mouli, ramesh arvind is special. these guys gel very well as they know each other from quite a young age they all hail from the same tanjavoor district of tamil nadu. its a chemistry that translates brilliantly on to the screen.

  2. ish says:

    I like Kamal Hassan actually. I haven’t watched Dasaavathaaram but I thought it was gonna be good. Multicharacter movies are fun because you want to see how an actor can bring his variety in. I couldn’t watch Hey Ram, it was boring. My favorite Kamal Hassan movie has to be Hindustani. I thought it was very brilliant. And hey, wait, Chachi 420! That was excellent. I even liked Abhay, I thought he acted well in that. It was an interesting concept.

    And you’ve made an interesting point, even I’ve never come across the actual video of Rajni splitting a bullet into two. Once however, I did see him riding a horse and then suddenly he made the horse tilt and slide on the road on its side and go from under a truck and then stand up again. That one was hilarious. 😛

    And it’s not only Rajnikanth who does it. When Sunny Deol removes a tubewell, people love it. When Akshay Kumar kills 20 people with one single pole in Tashan, people don’t mind it. Then why Rajni? Or Kamal Hassan.

  3. sudarshna kalyanraman says:

    @priya, regards rajni

    if rajni’s movies do not have punch dialogues no one will watch them. he is a demigod if this guy chooses to enter tamil nadu politics today he will definitely win. this is a fact that he, his producers, directors, scriptwriter every one is acutely aware of.and that is he screen image he lies trapped in.he tried baba and it was a resounding flop.

  4. Vikas says:

    Nice blog you have running here.

  5. wanderlust says:

    @sudarshna:
    you couldn’t be more correct about kamal’s and rajni’s choice of roles.
    i didn’t know ramesh arvind was from thanjavur.. i’ve always thought he was a kannadiga, though i felt his diction in tamil was commendable, when compared to other non-tamilian actors, like arjun sarja and rajnikanth.
    as for baba being a flop… i think it was more because a large section of the audience couldn’t relate to it, coz the theme was about belief in god, atheism and the story wasn’t told in such a good, engaging way either. the people who generally like such themes loved the movie.
    i guess it’s only rajnikanth whose movies can flop and still make a handsome profit.
    @ish:
    true, that about multicharacter movies.
    while abhay’s concept is interesting, i think it would have been a better novel than a movie (it was based on a novel called daayam)… the gore was simply too much to take.
    @vikas:
    welcome here.

  6. Jayanth says:

    I have seen the mithunda movie with the whole bullet brain cancer thing. It was hilarious. But nevertheless, it all comes down to the viewer. Cinema, like relegion can be very personal. I have no clue as to why but one of my all time favourite hindi movies has to be honeymoon travels. If you look at it, technically, it was a load of crap what with the whole superman thing! The fascinating thing about all cinema is the work that goes into it at all levels. Hell, even K serials have target audiences! I think those who ridicule all this should know that Rajni/Kamal/Mithunda, have huge fan followings abroad as well. To quote Ekta kapoor “If you like it good for you, if you dont-simple don’t watch it!”

  7. wanderlust says:

    @jayanth:
    While liking or disliking a film can be personal, im sure you can have a few rules about good and bad filmmaking.
    and similar to the way people have double standards about religion and being secular, people are having double standards w.r.t movies.
    my favorite recent movie is jhankaar beats, which, again, is utter nonsense apart from the dialogues.
    you’ve raised another important point… Tamil movies have larger overseas audiences than SRK or any Chopra or Johar can even dream of. all that talk of building bridges through bollywood.. kollywood has done all that ages ago, esp in the far east.
    it’s not about liking or disliking.. coz these likes and dislikes seem to be largely dictated by popular perceptions. All i’m saying is, hate rajinikanth all you want, but do so after you know of his repertoire and wide variety of roles he’s done, do so after you’ve watched all scenes in his movie, not just the one where he flicks a one rupee coin from his pocket, this hand, that hand, and finally back into the pocket.

  8. Not A Witty Nick says:

    Those jokes involving High Wall and Newton’s laws are actually Chuck Norris jokes made by a stand up comedian. Some “creative” guy has done a find-replace to that. 🙂

  9. Dinesh Babu says:

    Well said. This is a very good reasoning of what Kamal and Rajini is/was. Good post!

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