Kamal Haasan: The Ten Off-Screen Avatars You NEED To See

Kamal Haasan turns 65! Here are TEN off-screen avatars you need to know about.

5 min read
Kamal Haasan: The Ten Off-Screen Avatars You NEED To See

Kamal Haasan turns 65 this year (7 November, 2019). By the time he made Virumandi (2004) - a film that he wrote, directed and starred in - he was already a legend. Not just in Tamil cinema, but across Indian cinema. While he's a consummate actor, it remains just one of the many talents he displays in any given film.

Here then, are 10 of his off-screen Avatars, that deserve more attention, and definitely a closer look. Of course, there are also some spectacular idiosyncrasies that are worth mentioning, and giggling about!

1. The Born Actor

Kamal Haasan took to the film industry like fish to water. 1960, a 6-year-old Kamal Haasan debuts in Kalathur Kannamma. Remember the super-cute ammavum neeye...?

Savithri, the heroine seeks Kamal's forgiveness. She had punished him wrongly. The 6-year-old consoles the teacher and chokes mid-sentence as he remembers the 'beating'.

He was 6-years-old!

The beating was not real, it was make-believe in a scene. But six-year-old Haasan gets into the skin of the character, 'remembering' the beating that never was and reacts to it in the scene.

He was 6-years-old AND this was his first film. Now that’s what I call a debut!

2. The Screenwriter

Kamal Haasan in a still from Dasavathaaram.
(Photo: Screengrab / YouTube / SonyMusic South)

Kamal Haasan film matlab? Writer, director, choreographer, stuntman, (chaiwala, housekeeping), makeup artist, editor, (assistant director, second assistant director, third assistant director), all Kamal sir only!

(Plus minimum double role.)

But the jack of all trades is also a true master of screenplay. The itch started with Guru, the 1980 'superhero' flick. And blossomed into brilliance in Kuruthip Punal, Mahanadi, Hey Ram, Dashavatar, and the most recent Vishwaroopam.

Say what you want about the movies, but the screenplay is undeniably taut!

Especially Dasavatharam (2008), in which he begins with his understanding of the butterfly effect (chaos theory) and goes on to visually expand on it through the film that ends in a CGI tsunami.

3. The Comedian

Crazy Mohan and Kamal Haasan!

<PJ Altert!> They are Tamil's original Collaba-kaathalargal. Hee hee hee!

Their collaboration as screen writers cum actors has spawned some of THE BEST comedies in Tamil cinema. Whiplash wit and wordplay that slaps English with a Tamil word, or lands a dozen puns within the space of a pinhead.

Like the way Joss Whedon influenced the way teenagers spoke or joked, through his Buffy series, Crazy Mohan's comedy is nothing short of a pop-culture phenomenon in Tamil.

Appu Raja, Sathi leelavathi, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Panchatanthiram, Pammal K Samantham and Chachi 420 are laugh riots from the opening credits to the end.

Kamal remains one of the very, very few artists who can actually land these jokes land, milking the dialogues well. He does have the last laugh!

4. Musician / Playback Singer

Kamal revived the actor-singer trend in Kollywood, after a five decade gap. Remember Thyagaraja Bhagavathar of the early 40s? Kamal's first song, Ninaivu...oru paravai in the 1978 thriller Sigappur Rojakkal' is cult. Enough history for today.

Rajinikanth, Vijay, Chiranjeevi, Dhanush and a number of other actors followed suit. But, they need pitch benders to NOT scare away children.

Kamal is pro-level playback singer. Ninaivo oru paravai, Sundari neeyum in Michael Madana Kama Rajan. And don't forget Rukku Rukku Rukku which he sings in an old woman's voice in Chachi 420. Despite the old woman rasp and natural 'pitch bend', the song is surprisingly complex and technical. His songs in Vishwaroopam 2 are a bit of a stretch, but the man is in his sixties, so let's cut him some slack!

5. Dancer / Choreographer

Kamal began his career as an adult in the film industry as a choreographer. Now he did improve the dance moves of the late 70s and 80s, but he is to blame for the Jane Fonda exercise routines of the 80s and 90s stars.

BUT, there’s no one who’s more adept at classical dance than Kamal Haasan, to date, in the Indian film scene.

In Vishwaroop, he plays a Kathak dancer, who's also a double agent - typical Kamal! And his moves are beautifully fluid. But for a glimpse of his real avant garde dance avatar, you've got to check him out in K Vishwanath's Sagara Sangamam, where he plays a classical dancer who eventually drinks himself to death. Oh boy oh boy oh boy! What moves, what grace, and what fire his body has!


6. Method Actor

Kamal is Daniel Lewis by Day and the Dark Knight's Christian Bale by night. He learnt to play the mridangam for a Balachandar film, in which he plays the instrument. He learnt Hindi for Ek Duje Ke liye. And surpassed himself for his film Abhay (2001), in which he pumped himself up with steroids and spent moths in isolation to become a psychopathic killer.

No one gets into the character like he does, and no one brings out the character on screen, like he does!

7. Politician

Kamal's tweets were always political, and the themes of the films he directed had overtones of his brand of ideology. So when he entered hardcore politics in 2017, it was both a surprise and something that everyone expected of him. His party Makkal Neethi Maiyam is one of the most digital savvy political parties in TN, and there are more women running his office than those in the DMK and the AIADMK put together.

As per usual, he’s unique in his style of functioning, his sartorial sense and the issues he’s latched on to.

8. Technician

With Appu Raja (1989), Kamal Haasan pioneered practical VFX in mainstream modern Tamil cinema. In fact, you could place this film right up there with Mayabazaar (1957), in the way the VFX holds up even today. As a dwarf, he's totally convincing, and the suspension of disbelief is complete all through the film.

And with Abhay (1989), he pioneered CGI. He plays a double role, where the psychotic killer version is almost twice as large as the hero version. The same scenes were shot months apart, so that he could beef up. And this involved intense fight scenes between the two Kamal Haasans. Abhay, or Aalavandhan in Tamil is 18 years old, and most of the CGI still holds. It is mind blowing.

9. Twitter Warrior

There's this inside joke that the only way to understand Kamal Haasan's Tamil tweets is if you ARE Kamal Haasan. And even then, there's no surety. But the man has taken to twitter like only he can. He's made the state government respond to his questions, made himself a part of large issues, and confounded the Tamil out of the Tamilians, all within 280 characters!


10. Disruptor / Director

Marudanayagam, his dream project is still in the works, and is as large in scale as Baahubali. And this was a film he had started to make a decade ago.

If there's one Avatar Kamal Haasan has worn consistently, and which both fans and adversaries will vouch for, it has to be that of a disruptor. I mean, director. Chachi 420, Hey Ram(2000) and Vishwaroopam are all landmark films that stand apart, whether you agree with them or not. And while Abhay had Suresh Krishna as director, it is very much a Kamal Haasan film, in that it disrupted the current possibilities in the Tamil industry in its sheer ambition. Whether it is supported direct to home film releases, or his honest approach to filmmaking post political entry, Kamal is truly a disruptor; both in politics and in cinema.

Whether it is supported direct to home film releases, or his honest approach to filmmaking post political entry, Kamal is truly a disruptor; both in politics and in cinema. What’s the Bigg Boss going to do next? We’ll be watching!

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