Kamal Haasan- The star finally descends from his sky

I remember the night before the bookings opened for the first Vishwaroopam. Trust me, it was a bloodbath and in a matter of few minutes the entire weekend including Monday was sold out. People who tried getting tickets for the first weekend in any self respecting theatre in Chennai would agree with me. Friends and acquaintances were in touch with one another over phone to see if there was an eleventh hour ticket favour to extract. As Aandavar fans, it was both, a proud and restless time to be. The movie hadn’t released in the state for an entire week, but the reviews from overseas(where it had released) were overwhelmingly positive. It was embroiled in convoluted controversies, political and religious, with the ruling govt and several fringe outfits. But ask any fanboy of the actor who has been around long enough, he would vouch that this was the kind of trailer that generally precedes a storm in the theatres. Some memories from this phase would go on to bookmark this chapter as an extremely special one, as far as crazy display of love for a star goes. Like the powerful speech by the man himself from his Alwarpet office’s terrace, addressing an angry crowd of loyalists to keep calm and disburse. Or the fact that thousands— like yours truly, who were too lazy to cast vote in a polling booth next door —went to other states to catch a dekho, for we just couldn’t just afford to see him vulnerable and helpless. We were the minions chipping in to move the mountain for him. Unsurprisingly, these glitches didn’t deter the hype and earth shattering response it got at the ticket windows, when it finally released in the state. The lines from the title track,”Thadaigalai Vendre, Sarithiram padaipavan, Gyanabagam Varugiradha” assumed a gravitas beyond the context of the film.

This part of the world, we celebrate….scratch that, worship our movie stars as demigods if the endless shower of milk on fifty feet cutouts are anything to go by. We like them in their abodes as inaccessible larger than life beings, who come alive only in their 70MM extensions sporadically, which we catch a glimpse of at ungodly hours in the dark of nondescript theatres. That’s the reason for the fourth wall breaking dialogues and winks to exist in these star vehicles. Not as devices to further the story’s cause, but to ensure that the theatrical experience is an endorphin addled affair.
While in most parts of the world, movies are merely a source of entertainment and an exercise to pass time; here they’re that and a lot more. They’re extremely personal. They’re personality forming devices, that lend dimensions to other wise modest men with nothing home to write about. Ask the millenials, we would tell you what being a Kamal fan meant to a friend who was a Rajni fan and vice versa. Often than not, a room with the two of them felt like a pressure cooker about to burst upon. These weren’t mere individuals who wore make up and took up pseudonyms in front of the camera. They stood for a certain preference in art form. A certain sensibility. And the cold war between the two legions were largely, two school of thoughts coming against each other in an never ending one-upmanship, veiled on the surface as hits vs flops and expletives conversations. At the heart of all this, was the fact that the two stars in question, were in a distant sky from where they would descend to the silver screens to compete and at times interact with one other, through their movies and fans. Beyond this they existed through their songs and popular lines, scripting popular culture in tandem with their whims and fancies. They wouldn’t give interviews. Their public appearances were few and far between. They wouldn’t put their weight behind commercial brands like their peers in the north. Only information available to their respective core constituencies were through grapevine and unverified gossip, leaving everything else to one’s imagination; endowing them with an enigmatic aura. While one did everything to keep this intact, the other did everything in his power to break away from the mould.

In a culture of worship, the God remains ensconced in the sanctum sanctorum, while his devotees form a beeline outside to catch a glimpse. This status quo changes, the moment the God steps out to the streets. The paradigm changes. No more do they need to look up to someone who’s amongst them. He becomes amythical. His accessibility dissolves their devotion. And the religion crumbles.

For ardent followers like me, this phase that started a few years ago, came as a surprise when the hitherto elusive star started opening up, in fact a little too much. There was a time I remember, when I had to wait for a rare cover story in Vikatan to get a glimpse of his recent looks in a film or his two cents on an issue. Since I couldn’t read in Tamil that fluently and it was a Haasan interview, I remember asking my grandma to do the honours. It all started I guess, when he came on Super Singer. Seeing him in that program felt inexplicably wrong. His king size stature felt bizarre and out of place in a show involving amateur singers. The idea behind it was so uncanny. The thought that the Kamal Haasan needed a prime time slot in a household show, to reach to the masses felt redundant and unsettling. I slighted it as an one off occurence. But more was to come.

He was at every other film event or they happened in his backyard, quite literally. Then Twitter happened or he happened to it. And endless chaste Tamil/English limericks and cryptic tweets starting making their way into our timelines. From talking about him on social media, to talking to him there; it had come a full circle. From inhabiting our imagination, to leaving nothing to it, my God had stepped out of the sanctum sanctorum. From then on it’s been a slow painful exercise in alienation and detriment. First we got to see him in an hitherto unseen ad campaign for Pothy’s. Then came the advent into small screen with Big Boss, a show designed as an antithesis for everything his body of work stood for. He was ubiquitous- in posters, hoardings, TV spots and newspapers, only that this time, none of this marketing avalanche concerned a film starring him. Then came the last straw, his political entry. Whatever little was left of that once comet-sized aura, was gone. Call it a job hazard, but he was available in every district  and on every stage in it; every terminal and every memorial. Switch on the TV, he was there. Switch it off, he was there on Youtube. Come out of it, he was tweeting about an ongoing crisis. And like that, my favourite star-mentor was doing everything in his power to dismantle the halo around his head.

No wonder, the bookings for Vishwaroopam-2 were lacklustre at the ticket windows. I was appalled to see the movie open with a video about his poltiical party. This was not the Kamal I revered. It was the first show and the theatre was brimming with die hard fans, who were waiting to wolf whistle at his first appearance; which came in the form of a three minute documentary of his recent political outings. By the time his character, Wizam appeared onscreen the steam had already run out. Maybe like the movie, this phase is also a sequel starring the star of the first film, but with an altogether different stature and a different role to play. It was after all natural for the Sun to set on this horizon as well, just that it took close to six decades for the evening to come.

 

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Roast of Suryavamsam

There are things in life we did at a certain age, that we absolutely feel ridiculous about years later- like eating sand, touching own poop, naively dressing…err cross dressing up like the opposite sex largely because a parent cajoled us(only to leave an indelible scar behind thirty years later). Having binge watched Suryavamsam is one such thing. Yup the one with the “rosa poo chinna rosa poo” anthem. I suppose it is bound to have been inflicted on anyone born in the late eighties in Tamilnadu. It’s one of those movies that are so bad that they’re so good. Where do I start? About it being the precursor of several “Supreme Star” Sarath Kumar(SSSK) movies where he plays both, father and son.  Or about the tackiest original sound track ever by S.A. Rajkumar which would go on to scar generations for years to come, while taking contemporary music back to an era where it came out of fingers tapping on dalda tins.

So for the uninitiated, Suryavamsam is the story of Chinarasu(SSSK) whose utility to his household is the same as mine to the movie- nothing. He’s a pigeon brained son in a family with a stiff patriarch(SSSK again), who condescends him for a sport. But somehow this torn carpet treatment at home doesn’t seem to deter his appetite( as can be seen by the size of shirts, ample enough to camp refugees) or the uncontested reverence for his betel nut chewing father with a static wig. A woman he loves dumps him. Another woman looking for a loser to run a social experiment on, falls for him and the dad opposes him for scoring without his consent. In the process, he gets kicked out. How this simpleton turns into a Bill Gates and reunites with his disrespectful dad is the rest of the movie.

Vikraman’s movies are not movies, but moral science lessons shoved up our throat with an unending number of cliches and white flag tempting background score, for want of a gunpoint. His stories are modest about their ambitions or character sketches. His good men who hail from heaven are Ujala-white beings without a trace of grey and his bad men are nigga black. Pardon the racism, but throw anything at his heroes: diatribes, torn chappals, bombs- they’ll not just forgive you, but chip in to lend a helping shoulder on a rainy day. Celestial creatures that they’re.

Take for instance Chinarasu’s delusional love for his maman ponnu a.k.a fiancee, entirely oblivious to the fact that she’s more aroused by a root vegetable. Anyways, he diligently drives an Enfield like every mama would- with colored ribbons flowing from both handle bars – to pick her up from the terminus every holiday. He takes her to the same god forsaken waterfall to sing the rose anthem I was talking about earlier, with little regard to the fact that she’s a doctor who’s feeling up wild daisies on the river bank instead of paying attention to his metaphorical song or that he’s pushing forty without a clue to earn his next meal which is contingent on the kindness of his gluttonous family. So as the D day approaches, she dumps him because who would want to marry an uncle with a brain of an infant and an appetite of an elephant after becoming a doctor, right? But here’s the fun part, he assumes blame for calling off the wedding for no intelligible reason, in the process becoming a punching bag to his dad again. Wow, no one knew there were so many different ways to be a loser with a capital L.

While Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone had to undergo so much imaginative foreplay before they could get it on with in Basic Instinct, all it takes here is just an aphrodisiac lizard on the wall. No foreplay. No class. Just plain rubber lizard. And the consummation is left to our imagination. What we instead get is a song which sounds like a love child between crass lyrics and tacky music with the hook line that goes- “Adada Alwa thundu iduppu, un iduppu“(Your waist is a piece of Halwa!).

There are many things that got into vogue through this movie. The windfall song sequence with victory montages being one such. The song begins with Chinarasu driving a dilapidated town bus. Before we can come to the first stanza, he’s already the richest business magnate in Asia, god knows doing what. By the end of the second stanza his wife is a collector and he’s well, shown signing on state budgets and other stuff. The song ends with the voice of the lizard caused accident, their kid. Yeah, one happy family.

One thing that disturbs me to this very day is the girl child that was cast as Chinarasu’s son. Why the casting department- if there was any – had to resort to this weird stroke of genius is beyond me, especially in a state like Tamilnadu which is littered with male progeny. And the cutesy of this bewigged kid while referring to septuagenarians as, ” Fraaandu”(Friend) violates me.

Long before Benedict Cumberbatch could flaunt the art of deduction in solving crimes, it came to our living rooms with half the fuss, thanks to the father who nabs the perpetrator by a mere sniff. Yeah, just sniffing.He remembers the scent of a perfume and conservatively narrows in on the only person in the entire village of three lakh odd people, to use it. Movie comes to an end with this deduction. So does the purpose of having sniffer dogs.