Kamalhaasan, 50 unique years..and more

The name Kamalhaasan conjures up many adjectives, from enigmatic, revolutionist, dramatist to versatile. His contribution to cinema over the last fifty years is nothing short of extra ordinary. From the time (1959) he dipped his fingers as a six year old into a jar of sugary cookies hidden in a dark musty cupboard of a long gone era, every bite he has taken since then has been savored by all of us. The first bite he took won him a national award as a child artist for his endearing performance in the Tamil movie ” kallathur kannama”. From thereon Kamal has only grown from strength to strength under the initial guidance of K Balachander and Balu Mahendra. He has donned a myriad of roles, so much so that the adjective “stereotype” would not exist in his dictionary. His ability to transform himself in a dramatic manner, from shrinking his height to changing his facial contours in order to achieve the best result for the character remains undisputed. How many actors with super star statuses would want to appear meek, weak or for that matter plain ugly,with disfigured faces. How many would want to transform themselves into the opposite sex without worrying about their macho image? Most would shudder. But Kamal is no such man.

The fascinating thing about this actor is that despite being astute and sharp, he has never appeared worried about the commercial success of his movies in the monitory sense. This I believe is the true mark of an entertainer. His prime objective has always been to excel and to entertain, he always did and continues to do so.

He has surprised us out of our wits with “ apoorva sahodragal, pushpak, and dashavatharam” to name a few. His timing in comedy is par excellence and when he partners with Crazy Mohan, there is not much one can do but succumb to the onscreen madness of mirth. At the same time this man has made us cry with “ mahanadi, ek duuje ke liye, saagar, moondram pirai (who can forget the climax at the station) “ to name a very few. But Nayakan remains my all time favorite and this is one movie I wish I could always watch after I cross over! In short Kamal the genius can do just about everything and danced his way to our hearts quite literally with movies like “saagara sangamam”.

Vijay TV celebrated 50 years of Kamalhaasan’s contribution to Indian cinema recently in Chennai in a grandiose fashion, which was attended by the whose who from the four southern states of India. What I found rather surprising was there was not one representative from beyond the four states to wish him well at this grand function despite the actor’s contribution to cinema beyond the geographical borders of the four states. I had hoped for a felicitation at an all India level and not just one that was southern centric. Kamal too would probably wish not to labeled as a south Indian star. His fans understood this a long time back and they have redrawn the boundaries and have aptly given him a befitting title “ullaga nayagan” – A star of the world.


20 Responses to “Kamalhaasan, 50 unique years..and more”

  1. May God bless Kamal a hundred years and more. I love him more than I love myself. An actor of complete integrity, productivity, rationality, independence, honesty and a sense of justice.

    Thank you Sharmila for this wondeful dedication



  2. Thank you and glad you enjoyed this Sudhir!

  3. And Sudhir, a pleasant surprise to see this passion for Kamal but very understandable.

    • Well, Kamalahasan is simply the finest living actor in India. In Hindi films we have had Balraj Sahni, Sanjeev Kumar but Kamal was a complete actor with all the Navarasas in him including classical dance and music. In the West probably Dustin Hoffman comes closest in versatility.

  4. Lakshmi Jag Says:

    Yes Sharmila I do agree with you. His achievements must have been recognized nationally and not just by south Indian fraternity. He was so cute in Kalathur Kannamma.

  5. Sudhir – I ditto your thoughts, when it comes to versatility he is undisputed. he has never bothered about his “image” or the economic viability of his movieand hence always gave his best towards his performance. Thanks for sharing your views.

  6. Lakshmi – Cinemas from the south and actors from the south are largely ignored at Indian film festivals and awards including the IIFA. So, maybe our expectations were too much. However, it was gratifying to learn that a southern equivalent for the IIFA has been created, to showcase south indian movies internationally.

  7. where does the question of southern cinema, or northern cinema arise ? both use the same film rolls and say “action” dont they ? what differs perhaps is the work ethic, and approach to cinema – having grown up watching Kamal, i fondly recall my school/college days when we used to dismiss each of his new work as perhaps his last creative output – maybe in a rather cynical way – but each time, he disproved us by coming up with something either better, or rivalling his previous work – this cycle continued upto a point where we decided unanimously that his versatility-creativity-passion for cinema was beyond doubt. I must say, that few actors/artists in india have the luxury of having the most passionate critics like the ones Kamal has and even his most vehemently opposed critic cannot hide his/her admiration for this genius! the ironic part is he is his own critic as well, which perhaps is the reason why he continues to evolve

    having said all of this, am not entirely happy with his ‘dasavatharam’ which for its phenomenal effort, was shoddily done at many places – i do understand the limitations we have in terms of technical expertise and capital power, but when it comes to kamal, fans like me expect nothing less than the very best

  8. MRT – Good to see you back and thanks for your comment which I have been nodding to as I was reading it. Yes, Kamal is one actor who keeps outdoing himself and is probably his own worst critic. Without a doubt he is a genius. re – dashavatharam, I agree it was “awkward” in some places but what I was most fascinated with was his ability to portray ten sides in 120 minutes. re – films from north or south, my only issue is that they are not treated at par with each other.

    • this general north-south divide i think stems from several reasons/factors: for most part, the industry largely used to thrive on hype than substance – at least until the late 1990s, when fresh talent brought in fresh ideas as well as a different work ethic – the other big reason is that there are ‘n’ no of camps in Bollywood – Amitabh camp (seems to be coming out and trying out things), Shah Rukh camp, Aamir khan camp, karan johar camp, rajshri camp, hrithik-rajesh roshan camp and a few other camps – these camps often might intercollaborate, but seldom they look outside and they have certain preset teams of technicians including composers – IMHO, this ‘camp’ thing is what prevents the industry from giving due credit to artists from outside their realms!

      this is all based on my understanding of whatever little i have been seeing in the media online

      let me put this in another perspective giving the example of someone I consider is the greatest talent ever to have graced the film industry in india – maestro.Ilaiyaraaja – his score for PAA must have been child’s play for him, given his astonishing versatility and genius! his repertoire and output rivals that of an Ennio Morricone or a John Williams, though the latter are more popular in their own country than Ilaiyaraaja is in his own country! if you get a chance do read this article written by one of my friends – http://www.thecommentfactory.com/indian-composer-ilaiyaraaja-is-a-genius-how-long-can-the-west-ignore-him-1878 (“Ilaiyaraaja – an unusual and extraordinary talent”) – its mind-boggling when my friends/associates here in the US with strong roots in Western classical music and other genres genuinely are taken in by his music (when i play the same to them), while this man languishes with not even a Padma Shri to his credit!

      while my family members and friends in Bangalore/Chennai/Hyderabad might know a lot about Salilda, SD Burman, RD Burman, Shankar-Jaikishen, Hemant Kumar, C Ramachandra, Roshan, Madan Mohan etc, am yet to come across a hindi film fan, with knowledge of a Ghantasala, or a MS Viswanathan, or a Dakshina Moorthy etc, leave alone an Ilaiyaraaja!

      thats just one example – i cannot comprehend why such an indifference exists!

  9. A great example of this man’s genius is in his most recent release in Kannada “Suryakanthi” which has an astonishing “edeya bagilu” 1960s jazzy romantic score! most likely he must have composed this track in the morning and the “mudi mudi’ track for PAA the same afternoon! I cannot think of any other composer with such prolificity and versatility!

  10. MRT – Thank you for the link. The article is wonderful and provides valuable insight into the genius of Illayaraja. I agree he has been south india’s best kept secret, not just to the west but also to the rest of India. Illayaraja has never been utilized well in mainstream bollwood movies, which is a pity. Very few like Balki insist on using him. But with or without Bollywood or Hollywood, his class is unsurpassable.

  11. Hi Sharmila,
    I am from Sri Lanka and have been a fan on Indian movies from early nineties. 🙂

    I just started reading your blog and have been reading the earliest post. I agree that Kamal Hassan is porbably one of the greatest actors India has unearthed. Most people tend to forget about Shivji Ganeshan who was as good as him.

    Kamal had lost his auro after “Indian” in mid nineties till he acted in “Unnaipol Oruvan”. Whereas, Shivaji was par excellence till his death.

    • Welcome to this space Irshad. Yes, Kamal is the finest this country as seen. However, I tend to disagree that Kamal has lost his aura, he is one actor who does not worry about commercial results and lets his work do all the talking. Why do you feel he has lost it after Indian? I thought he was fabulous in the father role.

      • Sharmila,

        I second that. Kamal is Kamaal. He is one of the few who can electrify a dead script or revive a lifeless character.

  12. Hi Sharmila,

    Sorry about the delayed reply. Yes, Kamal is ONE of the finest. Most of his movies have been monotonous and stupid comedies. Liked him a lot during 80’s though.

  13. Sharmila,

    Kamal will be back in Malayalam after a hiatus of 23 years . With Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Kandahar’ and Kamal in ‘Four Friends’, 2010 will indeed be a golden year for the Malayalam film industry.

    A dedication to my all-time favorite actor, Kamal Haasan…


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