Kamal Haasan’s new film uses an interesting narrative technique to intersect stories and connect disparate lives: a first-day-first-show review
Like a master craftsman who weaves several strands into a well-knit cohesive pattern, Kamal Haasan pulls the seemingly disparate lives of ten people from across the globe to create a coherent and compelling story.
Dasavathaaram, directed by K.S. Ravikumar, rests on a multi-layered narrative technique reminiscent of the Mahabharata — teeming with characters, delving into sub-plots, pausing to make interesting digressions and, eventually and astonishingly, bringing everything together to form a whole in manner of a true epic.
Marked by flashes of intelligence and humour, the dialogue in this Aascar Films production boldly interrogates religion and showcases the skills of Kamal Haasan, the writer. As for the actor, the opportunity of doing a record ten roles allows him to live up to the reputation of a trendsetter.
The film is held together by a simple plot. Scientist Govind Ramasamy is on a mission. A virus that can destroy the world finds its way out of the well-guarded lab and it is pandemonium till — ironically — the tsunami of December 2004 helps mitigate its dreadful impact.
As in award-winning films such as Crash and Babel, lives intersect and seemingly unconnected events are linked in accidental and sometimes predictable ways in a narrative genre that allows Kamal Haasan to don many roles — and naturally.
Each Kamal character has a distinct voice; much effort has evidently gone into the dubbing. The actor excels as Rangaraja Nambi, a 12th century temple priest, whose insular faith ends on a tragic note. As Balram Naidu, the RAW officer, he keeps you in stitches.
As Christian Fletcher, he plays the villain consummately. As Narahashi the Japanese, the action is stunning. As George W. Bush, he’s a tad contrived but passable. And as a grandmother, he evokes sympathy. It’s only as Kalifulla Khan that he comes out somewhat flat.
Significantly, it is only the last role in which the make up is grossly overdone. Otherwise, the proficiency of Michael Westmore’s make up, which has created 10 distinctly different Kamal Haasans, is impossible to ignore. It’s more than mere make-up, it’s art on an expressive visage.
Casting light, shade and perspective on this ambitious tale is the camera work of Ravivarman, the cinematographer. Computer graphics don’t work as well in the much hyped tsunami sequence as they do in other scenes.
As Kodhai, Asin plays the role of Rangaraja Nambi’s traumatised wife with a moving intensity. But as Andal, she’s exasperating. She causes a major accident, and not for a moment is she remorseful.
Mallika Sherawat fills the bill as the vamp and killer who gets killed. It’s a nostalgic trip with Jayaprada and Kamal Haasan as a couple; the two make an endearing pair.
The film would have worked even better had the narrative been tauter and more purposive post-interval.
All in all, Dasavathaaram shows that Kamal Haasan has once again taken great pains to make his cinematic projects convincing. The effort has paid off.