The first time I met Kamal Haasan

 

All of us have a set of things to do and words to be spoken should we accidentally bump into God or a favorite personality, to make the most of the time without remaining awestruck for too long. I’ve always thought about how I would shake hands with Kamal with a firm grip without grabbing them, the first time I meet him in blood and flesh. He’s been my God cum favourite personality since the first time I stepped into the dark of a theatre playing Aboorva Sagotharagal. Ever since, his steep sand paper voice has changed in its meaning in my life from being just a lullaby to the very sound of my conscience. He’s the matinee idol, I’ve over the years come to subconsciously imitate in my articulation and gesticulation out of affection and some kind of entitlement. So I should’ve ideally genuflected at the sight of him, like a minion at the first sight of a mountain.

But coming to think, what I actually did when I met him for the first time was a lot different than just reverential. Funny in fact. But weird most certainly. So he was the chief guest for my school culturals that year, 2005 I suppose. With a moustache that only looked thick next to a girl my age, a mushroom cut for a hair statement and trouser worn just an inch below the chest, I was in the eleventh grade and looked every bit a junior artist from a tacky B grade.

To leave a startling first impression on Thalaivar, I had left no stone unturned. I would’ve done a fifty more push ups that day than usual to look firmer in my uniform, shampooed my hair to a bouncy extent and wore a neck piece that— coming to think of now — made my sexual orientation questionable. I didn’t know how my chest being firmer or my bouncy hair smelling fruity was going to make his trip to my school any more special. But at sixteen you’re allowed your share of screw ups at trying to impress.

Anyways I was there since morning by the doors of the auditorium. Sadly I wasn’t a volunteer. Had I been one, I could’ve been a part of the entourage to take him to the dais. Luckier, could’ve stood next to him for the whole time. But wretched me wasn’t. So I had to do the next best thing to get the front row seat to the shindig.

I’d heard before that Kamal was a chronic late comer to events. I didn’t take it seriously till his car appeared outside the venue, three hours past the scheduled time. People from outside were trying to percolate into the hall, which already— with crowd ballooned inside beyond it’s capacity — was a couple of members away from a stampede. Evergreen tracks from his movies were inundating the air, which by then seemed to transmit electricity from the collective palpable excitement of wolf whistling teenagers. As soon as he walked through those doors, all hells broke loose as the roof came down with the raucous. Sporting a black V-neck half sleeve shirt with a pair of black chinos, he was every bit the debonair presence that had captured the imagination of more than a generation from the silver screen.

At the aisle of a row, I was still a several seconds away from him. He was sauntering in my direction. The seconds in my time frame became slower than minutes, as my demigod was about to cross my path. As I was taking in every bit of the moment, I was ruminating the things to do when I would be parallel to him.
Should I ambush his trajectory for a shake hand or an awkward hug? It felt a little too outrageous for my sensibility. And not only that, it would’ve drawn a lot of attention, which makes me uncomfortably nervous. Maybe I should just wave at him. But that would be too generic an expression of my unconditional love for him.
The window for decision had closed as he was a row away.

I’m going to leave a mark on him, like the way he did on me.

Before my brain could process that course of action, the index finger in my right hand had already began to act. In one quick motion, I swiftly scratched his ample forearm with my nail as he went past me. It took a moment for him to realise that he’d been scratched, by then he was a row before cursing the charlatan who’d done that. I didn’t know what I was thinking, thankfully the deafening crowd around, kept me invisible.

I did manage to leave a mark on him!

Every time I reminisce this anecdote, I can’t get myself to stop laughing. What a stupid seventeen year old have I been. Wish I had known figurative from literal back then, Thalaivar would’ve been one scar less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kabali and Uttama Villain- the similarities that we overlooked

Cinema at a surface level is an ostensibly exciting medium that promises to manipulate your imagination for the price of a ticket and the duration of the movie. While most movies leave our minds as we peel away from the seats once the lights come on, few remain to intrigue. Sometimes some of such attempts are made of the fabric that wove another special attempt. Some might be surreptitious spin-offs with gratuitous level alterations to appear unique, while some might be loud-announced inspirations at the outset.

Dissimilar looking things with a little more deconstruction might turn out chalk and chalk, while things appearing identical at the surface level might actually be chalk and cheese beyond the initial deception.

Last week saw the release of the Rajinikanth starrer Kabali amidst much fanfare. But it was surprisingly not a typical Rajini escapist fare, which instead resulted in a lot of debates and observations of subtexts and symbolisms that were overlooked; something that usually happens after the release of every Kamal movie.In introspection, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between Kabali and Kamal Haasan’s Uttama Villain that released last year. This piece is my attempt at deconstructing the similarities between both the films.

 

The Imprisonment-Metaphor and Literal

If Kamal’s Manoranjan was imprisoned in his fame, Rajini’s Kabali is in a facility. Uttama Villain starts with a star who is trapped in a prison of his popularity, too comfortable to notice the mediocre that it has turned him into. Kabali opens with an elderly gangster who has been framed into imprisonment for 25 years now, who in the evening of his life doesn’t have anything to look forward to, beyond the walls of the prison.
It takes the knowledge of a life ending cancer to shake up Manoranjan out of his self imposed imprisonment, while it takes a joint motion of compassion by a bunch of Malaysian diplomats to end Kabali’s term.

The Surprise daughter and the Foster father

In UV, a doctor walks into the life of the protagonist to shine light on a blind spot from a plaintive chapter of his life, an unrequited romance. Mano gets to know about his biological daughter through him, a love child he had hoped to have in the past. With the knowledge of his imminent death comes another surprise of as much gravitas, a relation to yearn for with the little time left.
Kabali sets on a manhunt to take down the men behind the murder of his beloved wife, who was pregnant.  As he narrows in on another suspected scumbag running a brothel to take down, neither does he expect him to be a foster parent;  leave alone to his own daughter,  who he had assumed to have perished along with his pregnant wife years ago. Moments later in a crossfire, the revelation of his life stands personified in his daughter spraying bullets all over the room to save his ass.

The Artifice-Theyyam and Meta movie & Gangster plot and Malaysian Tamil rhetoric

Knowing that his days are numbered,Manoranjan wants to make a memorable movie, that would embalm him in the minds of the people long after his time. He chooses to make an existentialist comedy of errors about an “immortal” theyyam artist who manages to prevail over death, ironical to his reality.
Kabali takes it upon himself to be the voice and at times, fist of the marginalised tamil demography of Malaysia. He swears to bring down the empire of his ideological opponents in a gang that goes by the name of “43”(in dragon font), while running a rehabilitation facility for tamil people in the front end.
UV had a solid core in the self discovery of its dying protagonist and how he unites with his estranged family, that was diluted by the parallel narrative involving the meta movie that was neither funny nor poignant enough to be taken seriously.
Likewise Kabali too has a wonderful premise in the emotional journey of an old gangster who brings back his scattered family together, the impact of which was watered down by the montages of Tamil revolution and the excessive caste rhetorics that neither caused a stir nor organically gelled with the narrative.

The Reunion, Redemption and Departure

By the time UV draws to its end, Manoranjan manages to win his estranged daughter’s love, reconcile with his indifferent family and most importantly finds peace within, at the sight of all his close ones coming together in one warm embrace. He eventually dies , but only after redeeming himself with the completion of his last movie, that he leaves behind to last forever.
Close on the heels of his union with his daughter, Kabali wakes up to another pleasant shock about his wife being alive in India. Soon, all the three unite in one teary-eyed occasion, that wells up their eyes with relief, than joy. Fate continues to be a solicitous hope changer in his life with every incongruous surprise it hurls at him.
He comes back to Malaysia, to single handedly annihilate his arch nemesis-the 43 gang, to only be confronted by irony, in the form of a bullet that left the pistol of an unassuming youngster from his own camp.

When Uttama Villain released last year, it dichotomised the audience by the bipolar reception it met with- into ones who swore by its mastery in their elaborate deconstruction articles to be a timeless classic with a myriad metaphors beneath or simply trashed it to be a preposterous movie that failed to hold their attention. The movie finally ended up as a failure at the box office.
Encore of the same seems to be happening with Kabali, with the movie turning to be  fodder for a lot of debate; atypical of the  vanilla euphoria around a Rajni starrer. For now, we’ll  have to wait and watch as to where it lands from here.