Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Dasavathaaram, Veg B, Sivaji on Kamal…

If 2007 belonged to Tamil superstar Rajnikanth with his “Sivaji – The Boss”, 2008 was another Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan’s. His “Dasavathaaram” (Ten Avatars) opened worldwide on June 13 with 1000 prints, and reportedly cost one billion rupees! Kamal’s fans were jubilant that their hero’s film was out after so many hurdles, which included court cases and protests by a segment of the Hindus. The followers of Vishnu felt that the movie was unfair to them. I could not see how.

However, the 166 minutes I sat inside the cinema watching “Dasavathaaram” seemed wasted to me. It has a plotline skimpier than Mallika Sherawat’s costumes, and the film takes us on a roller-coaster ride from the 12th century Tamil Nadu to the 2004 America and then on to India. Kamal dons 10 avatars that range from an ancient priest (where he is brilliant) to a scientist to a former CIA agent to an Indian intelligence officer. If this is not enough, he is also a Punjabi pop singer, a Dalit leader, and a 95-year-old grandmother. Mercifully, he was not Kothai and Andal, essayed by Asin!

Kamal the scientist discovers a deadly germ capable of wiping out a large population, but his boss tries selling it to an enemy. Kamal would not let that happen, but of course. So he escapes with the vial of toxin to India, hotly pursued by a hired CIA agent. A cat-and-mouse chase begins and ends most unbelievably.

Kamal is one of the better Indian actors and directors. Why must he stoop to this kind of low?

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Big B is a vegetarian, and a sexy one at that. Voted as the sexiest Asian male by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Bachchan at 60-plus is in great shape, thanks to his veggan diet. Madhavan comes second. Hong Kong’s singer-actress Faye Wong is the sexiest female Asian vegetarian. B has been of late riding a wave of success: his “Sarkar Raj” may have done poorly at the box, but his performance has been lauded. Maybe, but the only problem is Bachchan continues to be Bachchan on the screen. He is hardly ever anybody else. That is my quarrel with him.

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I had always suspected this: the great figures of a rapidly expanding audience abroad for Bollywood cinema. Now come the news and the realisation that the viewership is primarily made up of NRIs! Bollywood has still not been able to rope in non-Indian audiences abroad. This is where auteurs such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan score over Bollywood badshahs. I remember the kind of crowds that came to see his “Naalu Pennungal” or Four Women at Deauville in France’s Norman countryside. Yet, Adoor and his ilk continue to be neglected by big producers. While we have an Adlabs and Columbia seeking Bollywood scripts to put money into, they do not go anywhere near meaningful cinema.

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Tailpiece: Heard Sivaji Ganesan tell Kamal Haasan, “So my dear chap you are one up on me”. Kamal’s ten avatars have beaten the late thespian’s nine in “Navaratri” (Nine Nights).

(Webposted June 19 2008)