K. Balachander, the filmmaker who made Kamal Hassan, finds Dasavataram astonishingly good
A Kamal Hassan film is an event you await for the sheer unpredictability of the product. You know it will not be rolled out of an assembly line with ingredients easily digestible. He believes in trying to make the audience think, but never shoves his radical thoughts down their throat.
If it was about a successful farmer who moves to the big bad city in search of greener pastures (ironical) only in the hope of giving his children better education in “Mahanadhi” then “Thevar Magan” talked about the futility of violence and there’s “Anbe Sivam” with those enlightening exchanges between Kamal and Madhavan about love, life and God.
These films also brought to fore Kamal’s talent as a screenplay writer. The other two near flawless works are “Apoorva Sahodarargal” and that cult classic comedy, “Micheal Madana Kamarajan”. He’s the only actor in Indian cinema who’s had success on his terms. He has never danced to his fans tunes. A Rajnikanth or a Chiranjeevi have failed each time they’ve deviated even slightly from the oft trodden path.
So “Dasavatharam” is here, after a seemingly unending delay, mired in trivial controversies like every film the maverick makes. The reactions are as usual extreme from people who call it mind-blowing to others who feel he should seek the couch of a head shrinker. A clique in Chennai partied prematurely celebrating the film’s failure but the fact is that ‘Aaskar’ Ravichandran is laughing all the way to the bank. For every person who claims to have walked out of the theatre confounded by the proceedings there are others who want to watch it again to grasp the nuances. “Believe me you’ll discover something new every time you watch the film,” says director Ravi Kumar. I’ll voice my views after a second viewing, but on an impulse I called that personification of humility and the man who discovered Kamal, K. Balachander.
What moved you so much that you visited Kamal the day after you watched the film? He’s done all the ten roles wonderfully well. I will not go into the subject because it’s about the pursuit of something, but the hard work he has put in is astonishing. I liked the film immensely for the wonderful dialogues and the way it has been mounted. I saw the film again. Being a student of cinema I’ll watch it a third time because he’s achieved so many things in one film. I have a few things to learn.
What makes you proud about Kamal Hassan the actor? I’m proud that he’s today a ‘Ulaganayakan’. I was instrumental in having him in my films though I won’t claim to have taught him everything. I have a lot to learn from him as far as technique is concerned. He’s outgrown everyone in Indian cinema.
So the teacher wants to learn from the student now. Yes. That’s why I’m going to view it a third time.
He seems to spring something new in every film. He’s a man who revels in freshness. The effort he puts in is phenomenal. Others are only making money. This man has taken two years to complete this film. He could have amassed four times the wealth if he’d worked in more films. He’s pursues perfection.
He’s accused of self-indulgence. I beg to disagree. He’s there in every frame because he’s donning ten roles. Otherwise Kamal teaches everyone and fine tunes every other artiste’s performance on the set. He’s selfish to the extent that he wants the product to be good.
How did he react when you visited him? It was profound. I had not visited him for the past ten years and went unannounced. If I’d called he’d have said I’ll come and see you. I did talk to him after the show but wanted to give others a chance too. He was sleeping and was moved to see me. Things settled when we started talking. I had so many things to ask him. I told him I didn’t know what to make after watching the film and he said, “You made me.” I was touched.
S. SHIVA KUMAR