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The Kamal conundrum
While on a whirlwind promotion of his film Hey Ram in Thiruvananthapuram in 2000, Kamal Haasan talked about breaking his nose in a stunt scene. The audience was transfixed by his story about his nose being crooked for life because he was hell bent on doing a risky scene himself.
Taking risks has been second nature to Haasan, whether it is interspersing animation in action scenes in Aalavandhan or exploring Hindu extremism in Hey Ram. According to film historian and actor Mohan Raman, Haasan is knowledgeable enough to break new ground. But sometimes his asset becomes his liability. "He came in as a child actor, proved himself as a dancer and a choreographer. Then he became a hero, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, director, singer and producer, " says Raman.
Haasan's fans don't take to streets;not even during the recent impasse over the release of his latest movie Vishwaroopam. Some like Prabu Rajasekaran in Chennai started a website trying to bring together those who want to offer financial help to the star who has invested a lot in the film. "I am not a diehard fan. I like his ideas and philosophies, " says Rajasekaran. Rajasekaran admires Haasan's atheism, the bohemian personal life, and most of all, his inclination to alternate between masala and art films.
But it is this mixing up of genres, sometimes within a film, that creates problems for Haasan, says Rajan Korai Krishnan, Tamil cinema researcher and assistant professor at Ambedkar University. "He is a self conscious practitioner of cinema. He knows the modes of narration in popular Indian cinema and has also developed a taste for Hollywood and European art cinema, " says Krishnan. Sometimes, the experiments work. Raajaparvai, his first production, was a love story that was not appreciated by many though a few loved its subtle narrative style.
"Anbe Sivam is a typical road film but there are certain extraordinary touches, especially where Madhavan's character opens up to the hard realities of life, " says Krishnan. The terrain becomes tricky when Haasan tries to be realistic. "He tries to create fictitious realism in the format of popular cinema and it creates scope for misunderstanding, " he says.
According to M S S Pandian, Tamil cinema researcher, Hey Ram was more communal than Vishwaroopam. "I decry the ban but to an extent, what happened to Vishwaroopam is the culmination of a trend seen in some his movies, " he says.
Many observers say that the star is not open to suggestions. "One sad thing is that he doesn't fully inhabit the intellectual space, probably because he doesn't want to stray from the mainstream too much, " says Krishnan.
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