At sixty something,he’s a veteran now, a doyen in every dimension of the word. A crown jewel to the acting fraternity. His body of work and the influence it exudes statiting the obvious. But with regards to him, age is just a number. Not in the cliched way, that he looks eternally young. No. What I’m talking about is the fact that this stroke of genius which we see on screen these days to sheer bafflement didn’t get honed over the years to get there, it was there since forever.
Case in point being Nizhal Nijamagirathu that released in 1978. He plays Sanjeevi, an atheist with a communist affliation (his alter ego) with an authority that belongs to an oeuvre spanning a few decades of mastery.The way he struts across the terrace,nonchalantly crooning Kamban Emanthan,gives you the image of an actor expressing his feelings, not the lyrics.Mind you he was in his early twenties back then.
The way he looked into the eye of his woman, was stuff that made the cupid delirious. The way he dexterously wove poetry around the scaffolding of her humming on a then-and-there basis in the Sipi Irukudhu,Muthum Irukudhu sequence from Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu,stands testimony to his prowess in romance.Most of his mainstream movies treated women as capable peers- strong willed and independent- not just as objects of desire or the shrews that needed to be tamed.
There was something about his mojo, his portrayals endeared while continuing to enthral. It is not now, but even back then, he breathed fresh life into the male protagonist prototype. When every A-lister around him back then, was content playing monochromatic-single note characters; he plumbed the depths of the flawed vulnerable man with aplomb.
Take Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, where he sits down for dinner after showdown with his idealistic father. Red faced he rants about the importance of being a good human being over a good musician. He simmers about how the confrontation before didn’t affect his appetite. Then he quivers. In a moment the red in the face pales down, anger segues into disappointment, as he breaks down leaving the food unattended.
Satya was about a angry young man, alright. Not the noblest of character sketches in the Indian panorama during the eighties one might’ve assumed, with his peers- Rajinikanth and Amitabh playing it to great effect in every other movie. But what Kamal did to the archetype, few have managed. He added a humane coat to its larger-than-life stature. Beyond the dishoom-dishoom, Satya was a guilt saddled son, who rightfully felt instigated when touched beyond the tip of his nose. The outcome of his instigation weren’t only street fights like the norm used to be. Instead, it sometimes came out as heartfelt meltdown like the one with Amala in the jeep or a sarcastic rant at the hypocrisy of his neighbourhood, who wouldn’t testify to a dear one’s murder.
Kuruthipunal opens with a letter, a prologue of sorts in his baritone, addressing the societal disparities and the bloodbath that sucked him into it. His is a voice endowed with a sonorous finesse to it. His diction brings a certain credibility to the proceedings, even before a scene begins to kick in. You almost feel like, his granular articulation could baptise the crudest of swear words and tackiest of lines in Tamil.