2008/07/12

Dasavatharam, A Film of Subtleties and Subtitles

Since every man worth his NaCl would have seen the flick by now, let me skip spoiler warnings and cut to my questionnaire.

Why
  • does the narrator say 'My story started in an earthquake and ended in a butterfly'?
  • is chaos theory branded a 'western concept'? Universal phenomena may be accidental, but certainly not occidental.
  • do Avatar Singh and Govindarajan nod at each other knowingly in the lift?
  • doesn't anyone mention that the chemical so sought-after is nothing but common salt until Govi notices the manhole-men rubbing it on their skins? When Balram asks a lab scientist for the compound's name, he gets the reply, 'NaCl. Sorry, sir, enakku therinja Tamil ivlodhaan. NaCl.' Why doesn't he add 'Adhu just veetla use panra uppu dhaan, sir'? Likewise, Bush's aide answers 'Sodium chloride, Mr President'. Why the jargon?
  • K S Ravikumar? I'm sure things like the spearing of Fletcher by the pole of an Indian flag were his ideas. Had Kamal handled the cast and crew or roped in a younger director, he'd have kept the entire sequence of scenes tauter and would've prevented the brickbat of drag.
How on earth
  • did Hassan let others write the dialogues in his earlier films when he can come up with incredible lines like 'I'm just saying it would be nice if God existed', 'Telugu people like you will come here and keep Tamil alive', " 'There are 200-odd people, sir' 'Then inquire the odd people first' ", " 'He's getting away' 'No, he's not' " and so forth?
  • do two people have the heart to start a romance in the wake of a calamity that has claimed a thousand lives around them?
  • did Kamal write a story that does not give him an opening to peck his co-star's lips? Was Gautami at the sets?
  • didn't anyone at Ja.Ra.'s house hear the tidal wave till it was only a stone's throw away? The same question applies to Naidu in the chopper.
  • can somebody pull off an astounding dance like that (Ho ho sanam) at 54?
  • did a perfectionist like Kamal Hassan settle for a CG that shows video-game helicopters and giant Muslims walking an inch above earth?
  • does he consciously avoid Kollywood clichés [in this movie blood flies out of a bullet-hole, a singer says 'Paattu en thozhil dhaan', every syllable uttered in English is not repeated in Tamil for the benefit of the audience and the heroine's navel is kept concealed -- even when she's wearing a saree] and yet land safe as a cat upon leaping from the middle of a building?
  • didn't the iron chains around the stone sculpture lying in saline water for more than 800 years rust away to smithereens? (I'm not sure the bones would've made it either.)
  • did they manage the co-incidence of having a bloke with the name 'Hariharan' sing Kallai mattum kandaal right after Kamal and Napoleon have a Hari vs Haran dispute?
Where does Rangarajan Nambi's story fit in apropos the butterfly effect?

--------------------------------

There is no uncertainty in the hearsay that claims each part played by Hassan is a deliberate analogy to an avatar of Perumal. Someone acting in X number of roles wouldn’t title the movie ‘X roles’. Hence by labelling his work as ‘Dasavatharam’, Kamal didn’t mean ‘I have put in 10 appearances’, but can only have meant the incarnations of Vishnu. Let me borrow from my comment on an in-depth analysis of the motion pic and list my personal rankings of the ten roles.

10, Varaha.
Her movements were too quick for a 95-year-old and the make-up showed. I found her voice bad. Ulaganayagan could’ve done better there.
9, Vamana.
Dialogue delivery not so good. Remains to be seen if K used stilts for those extra 14 -15 inches. Bad make-up, boring character.
8, Kalki.
We’ve seen this Kamal in Indian and Aalavandhan. His rationality and scientific spirit appealed to me. But he appears at this number in my grading since the skill show through his other avatars steals the limelight.
7, Macha.
Dialogue delivery and body were perfect. Full marks to Kamal for demonstrating the foolishness of religious zealotry.
6, Krishna.
Once again immaculate dialogue delivery. His good nature makes his death very tragic. But you don’t need extraordinary talent to play this role. You need it to portray the next few in the list.
5, Rama.
His Hindi-mixed Tamil, the way he does a bit of Bhangra, etc. make him indistinguishable from a real Punjabi. I also liked the scene in which he says his problem was that he had pyaar for Jayapradha and is hence willing to give up singing.
4, Narasimha.
Not only his accent, even the way he moves his hands (during fights, practice and before taking photos with his just-married sis) is typical of a Japanese kung-fu monastic. His calmness and grace add to his persona.
3, Koorma.
His forehead is bigger than the original’s, but it can’t be helped. The accent, mannerisms, the display of the dumbness variety unique to the POTUS… Top-drawer stuff!
2, Balarama.
If the Kamal Hassan of Virumaandi, Anbe Sivam, etc strike awe and make you cry, his comedic timing in such portrayals as Balram Naidu and Thenaali tickle your very guts! Body language, costume, dialogues, face-cut — all just too lovely to be true. But sorry, Balram, you didn’t make it to #1 in my list, thanks to the sensation you were trying to arrest.
1, Parasurama.
What.a.per.for.mance! His build, terse speaking style, the racism that his body language betrays, his still-remaining CIA acumen… The range of subtleties Hassan has packed in his depiction of an American villain is limitless. Hollywood, you watching?

--------------------------------

Charu Hassan, the wise old brother of Kamal, once divulged on TV that his sibling, when young, had applied for the I.A.S. exam. His father opposed the decision.
'My dad was afraid Kamal might pass the exam. He didn't want the world to lose a great actor.'

10 Obiter dicta:

Blogger Vettri couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Hariharan was studdest of all!

If I had rated, B N would hav got the 1st place.

I guess, K S Ravi Kumar is not a bad choice though need not be the best.

Japanese-BL deserves a mention here.

Not heard of steel of Damascus sword n Qutb(some spelling) Minor? ancient Indian metallurgy is quite sophisticated.

My impression on,
K as a perfectionist faded away.
As an artist increased manifold.

Probably K did consultancy with Markandayelu(couldnt think of a better person) regarding Chaos theory n BE.

On the whole, producer's bankruptcy very probable.

Good to see another post, worth reading on the subject which has been debated more than enough already.

Good job!

10:02 PM  
Blogger Ramanathan couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Under 'Why', I agree with your third question. I'd dearly like to know why. Did you also notice that Govind bows slightly to Narahasi when they meet when Govind is about to surrender to the Police?

Your fourth question too is a very valid one. I'd like to club some more similar mistakes to this one. When Balram Naidu rightly says that he knows what is present in the container and "ulla irukkaradhu veliya vandha naama ellarum out", there is an unexpected deliberation with which Govind says "Well, not exactly. That's why I need to speak to a scientist." Also, when Asin asks him if the vial contains something similar to anthrax, Govind again says "not exactly". Normally, I'd have responded with consent and let things be in such situations.

The graphics in the scene where Fletcher is speared by the pole is extremely poor. However, I noticed that the graphics in this movie, in general, is being spoken very highly of. It appeared to me that a few shots of the Tsunami shown in the movie are original videos and not graphics. These are the parts where you see a banner saying "Servo" and another shot where an auto turns upside down.

The dialogs in the movie are good, but many of them are targeted at an intelligent audience. It is a happy sign that Kollywood has evolved thus.

In my personal, honest and humble opinion, two people may have the heart to start a romance even at the end of all things.

I noticed glass windows in Jara's house which were closed. That may have been the reason. I do not agree that the same question applies to Balram Naidu in the chopper. What about the noise that the chopper makes? Do you think you can hear anything at all on top of that noise?

It may not fit well here, but the way you worded this question reminds me of a good old PJ that I adapt for this instance. Here goes.

Q. What do you do when a Tsunami is a stone's throw away?
A. You don't throw the stone.

I appreciate the fact that Kamal has tried to avoid Kollywood clichés in the movie. But maybe the stunt that Fletcher pulled off wasn't really an impossible one. He is a trained professional and an ex-CIA agent.

And as far as your ratings go, I perfectly agree (unlike most of my friends) that Fletcher was far more exhilarating than Balram Naidu. Although Balram Naidu's comedy made one laugh spontaneously, the thrill that one feels when Fletcher is introduced (with sun glasses and half-outside a chopper), is incomparable to anything else. The way the question "Is this Kamal?" runs in your mind when you look at him and the amazement that follows each one of excellently accented dialogs is too much.

Mr. Jar has given an excellent title to an excellent review and an excellent starting line too.

If words are money, Jar is a salt-worthy millionaire.

9:22 PM  
Blogger unni krishnan couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

I'd like to state the below without any explanation, because the explanation would be...well, very unnecessary:
The film is the largest piece of crap I have seen, bigger even than that of
that masterpiece of shit once executed to its perfection in front of my neighbors Maruti-800 by "Kuttishankaran" the elephant who obediently serves the lord whose temple is in front of my home.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Ramanathan couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

A dialog that I missed out on, and in my personal opinion, the very best in the film. Govind to Sai Ram - "You are the south end of a north facing horse".

LOL :D

6:16 PM  
Blogger N couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Vettri,

What is Japanese-BL? And I don't think they would use such rust-free metallurgical techniques to make mere chains. A temple pillar, yes, a special sword, yes, but not a chain.
Thanks for the final words.


Adei Ramanatha,

H'm, yes, Kamal chanting 'Not exactly' was a tad pesky.

I don't know if the glass windows in a house would entirely blank out the sound of an approaching tsunami. On the other hand, if you listen closely, you can hear the tsunami in that scene [at least I fancy I heard it in the theatre] before it gatecrashes the party. As for your point about the chopper's noise, well, touché.

I convinced myself that Govi bowed to Narahasi because he identified him as a kung-fu master and merely executed the bowing tradition between two martial artists. Of course, I stretch my assumption to include that Govi had some kung-fu training earlier.

Although he's had CIA training, I'd have been happy if Fletcher had rolled a bit after touching ground.

Yes, when I got back home from the theatre I told my brother that Kamal had acted in only nine roles and that they had duped us by having an American play Fletcher.

Two more finds:
1, You wonder why Kamal says 'OK di thangacchi' to Yuka in her apartment. One doesn't normally use the t-word when addressing a woman, even when she is fraternally close. But later it is shown that she is Kamal's (Narahasi's) sister.
2, Consulting a dictionary tells me that the word 'fletcher' means 'manufacturer of bows and arrows'. Besides the axe connection, Parasuraman also taught archery to Dronacharyar and Karnan.

Thank you for those kind compliments!


Unni,

'Kuttishankaran' is an anagram of 'Hark! Unni at task.'

9:05 PM  
Blogger Naren couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Taking the liberty of assuming that you are a die hard fan of Kamal's, which is evident by the blog space you have given him, it is a nice read. Regarding some of your questions:

1) About your question on why no one mentioned salt instead of NaCl, we might surmise that scientists like Govi lose picture of the small things when trying to capture the bigger things? And 'Sodium Chloride, Mr. President' sounds much more pompous and technical than 'Salt, Mr. President!' I don't think there is any reason why he shouldn't have mentioned salt though. Wasn't really a suspense to us, was it??

2) KS Ravikumar is a very good director for comedy movies I suppose. I am not sure whether Kamal would have done a better job, wherever he has taken heavier responsibilities, that movie didn't do well in the box office, even though they were good movies, movies that a mature audience can relate to, like Anbe Sivam (screenplay), Virumaandi
(writer), Hey Ram (writer). I agree that the movie was dragged a lot.

4) I have nothing against people starting a romance in the midst of a calamity. Happens in real life too.

5) About how on earth could he have danced to a tune at the age of 54, I don't think I need to remind you that he is an accomplished dancer, so that agility and the fitness required would have been drubbed into him. And since the movie took more than 2 years to complete, he would have had a lot of time to practice and perfect his moves! Wonderful dance, but!

6) Indian Cinema has always neglected Physics in its action sequences. By now, I think we should get used to the fact that a hero can jump 4 floors without a scratch and dodge hundreds of bullets while just a single bullet from his end would find its mark.

7) Regarding the Rangaraja fights, a friend of mine remarked that Brahmins never fight, they aren't Kshatriyas. So, Kamal is wrong in that aspect. I couldn't help but reply "Nambi was a man first, then an Iyengar." :)

And BTW, I loved your jibe at Unni!

5:32 PM  
Blogger N couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Naren,

Thanks for the long comment.

1, Well, they do lose sight of the small picture in many things, but even Marie Curie wouldn't talk of NaCl as anything other than common salt.

2, Yes, Kamal wouldn't have had the time to direct this project, that's why he sought Ravi Kumar's collaboration. But perhaps someone young like Simbudevan (of Pulikesi fame) might have done a better job.

3, http://www.this-page-intentionally-left-blank.org/

4, They should have started it the next day. Not when there are fresh corpses all around with people weeping over them.

5, I was only complimenting him :) (And I've seen the first half of Salangai Oli twice!)

6, But this was a movie which adhered to logic in most scenes, that's why I carp about this slip. Bullets staying away from the hero is not a feature of Indian cinema alone. It's an iron (lead, actually) rule of the celluloid world. Take James Bond, for instance -- bullets never seem to pierce Brosnan. ;)

7, Ah :-)

I checked up what jibe exactly meant. It says, 'An aggressive remark directed at a person and intended to have a telling effect.'
In that case what I told Unni wasn't a jibe -- it was a friendly banter characteristic of our conversations.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Full Of Life couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Whoa!!! People have virtually taken the movie apart much better than the critics themselves perhaps.
Okay, I admit. My tamil is restricted to very colloquial use albeit I can read it, it makes little sense. It is like making someone who knows the script, read a language.
First twenty minutes were so bad, i contemplated running away from the hall. The monkey scene was plain gross. (I am an animal lover).
The make up of that villian was so disgusting, I flinched everytime he came on screen. Kamal Sir, you should have made someone else do that role.
I did not grasp all the dialogues word by word...thanks to the tamil.
The heroine was too silly and her voice made me want to shut off my ear-lobes.
Songs were nice... Balram Naidu was definitely the finest and best role. Loved him.
Yes,B N was the best.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Vettri couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Hey, me not a big fan of this guy... but I feel that Sarath Kumar would have done a better job with less make-up in Fletcher's role.

:D

Anyways, no one else was considered, for whatever commercial/artistic(:P) purposes, at the first place.

My impression on Kamal as an artist increased when I saw the movie, but later when I pondered upon things like Choas theory crap, Iyer-iyengar sentis, superfluous roles, I could only think of the well-thought means of publicity creating some ostentatious facades and controversies... he proved to be nothing more than an ordinary artist in the cinema industry.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

A senseless, souless movie. I hated Kamal after the movie!!!. I wonder how the hell this film became a hit?

4:58 PM  

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