He is the one doing it all. He can croon all the four parts – tenor, base, alto and soprano and also pitch in as the baton-waving conductor, if needed he can even scamper down the aisle and provide the mandatory applause after every chorus. Kamal Haasan does it all - in his movies that is. In a career spanning over half a century, he has virtually re-defined the word ‘actor’ as we know it. For Mr. Haasan believes in doing every small part to perfection, even if it means sitting still for a whole day while make up artistes scour his face. But that mind is not idle, there are a zillion things buzzing in his head and as the mascara comes off after the lights have dimmed, he would be ready with an adaption of ‘The Martian’ if you like, with a ‘theyyam’ routine thrown in.
The man is an enigma of sorts. He can catch you by the scruff of your neck and mesmerize you with his work in films like Nayakan and Pushpak and at the same time leave you twiddling your thumb with atrocities like Abhay and Mumbai Express. But that is how Kamal Haasan is, he wants you to take the rough with the smooth, feel the sense of exhilaration as you glide through his oeuvre with Virumaandi or a Guna and hit the ground hard with something like Dashavatharam or a Vishwaroopam. Kamal’s motto would be to stun the audience and sting them at the same time. While the whole of Kodambakkam went salivating after the other colossus of Tamil cinema, Rajnikant, Kamal preferred to play the thinking man’s actor. So as Kamal turns 61 and the Ulaganayagan fans look forward to his latest Thoongavaanam, here is a peek at five of his memorable roles.
Moondram Pirai (1982)
Helmed by ace director Balu Mahendra this was a tale of love, hope and despair set in Ooty. Kamal plays savior to an amnesiac Sridevi who regains her memory towards the end but fails to recognize him in a heart-wrenching climax. With powerhouse performances from both the leads and a pleasing soundtrack it was both a critical and commercial success. The film was released with an ‘Adult Only’ certificate, thanks to Silk Smitha who saunters into the film now and then striking Khajuraho inspired poses with Kamal.
This was vintage Kamal Haasan in role of gangster Sakthivel Nayakar. Mani Ratnam took the character of Velu Nayakar to Kamal Haasan and the actor lived his whole life in that one role. Nayakan in many ways defines Indian cinema, The Godfather inspiration notwithstanding. Kamal’s act in the scene where he sees his son’s dead body, has master class written all over it. Meanwhile in Bombay, Vinod Khanna went ahead and starred in a Hindi remake a year later, but sadly nobody was looking.
Kamal’s big hit Ek Duje Ke Liye didn’t exactly give him the big ticket entry into Hindi films, not that he cared much. He starred as the third angle of the love triangle in this Ramesh Sippy directed romantic saga that had a suave Rishi Kapoor wooing a gorgeous Dimple Kapadia to the scintillating tune of Chehra hai ya chand khila hai. But it was Kamal’s tragi-comic act that had everyone sit up and take notice, bringing him also the Filmfare ‘Best Actor’ trophy.
Aboorva Sagotharargal (1989)
This film was milestone in the actor’s career as he teamed up with Singeetam Srinivasa Rao after collaborating earlier in the classic silent Pushpak in 1987. Kamal pulled off the role of a dwarf with so much dexterity that the audiences kept going back to theatres to see how he had done it. The screenplay weaved by Kamal himself had the requisite doses of love, revenge and melodrama and was dubbed as Appu Raja in Hindi.
Thevar Magan (1992)
Produced in house by Kamal and his brother, this was a landmark film in the actor’s career. Malayalam director Bharathan came in to create Kamal’s own story on screen, with PC Sreeram providing the magic with the camera. With a star cast to die for that had Sivaji Ganesan, Kamal, Gouthami, Revathi and Nassar, the film was a box office hit and inspired many remakes, including Priyadarshan’s Viraasat in Hindi.
Kamal Haasan wears his own crown calmly all with the roses and thorns. Here’s hoping that whatever he does, Mani Ratnam figures somewhere in his to-do list, maybe one last time.
(The writer is a Social Development Consultant based in Delhi working with The World Bank.)