To every Tamil movie fan, the name Kamalhaasan, is a name that evokes pride. Pride in the fact that there is a creator cum actor, who can take, if not already taken, Tamil film-making to heights never seen before. I too had this sense of pride, after having watched Kamal's movies for almost all my life.
Then 'Netflix' happened to me. Never had I got a chance to watch world cinema as much as I have done in the last few years, thanks to the amazing concept of Netflix. Anyways, this article is not a promotion for the same. This article is about the authenticity (or the lack of) the 'Icon' of Indian cinema.
Kamal's career can be phased out into two distinct phases. The first phase was that of the "Actor"...his initial years were when his mentor (KB) and sometimes other directors had the most say in the works he did. Basically, Kamal was the actor in a director's movie, nothing more.
There has never been any doubts about his histrionic skills. He was and still is the most matured actors to have emerged out of Indian cinema. A person who isn't content with the work he does and the fame and fans that come with it. Needless to say, he came out of the shadows of film stars being just showpieces in a motion picture, that was a story told in the eyes of the director.
Then began the second phase...the "Creator"...The first step, any actor trying to get involved in the making of the movie, would do is writing. The story and screenplay department are the least populated areas of film-making. Scripts tailored to showcase an actor's histrionics, is every actor's dream.
Kamal too started his involvement in the making of a movie in a similar way. Eighties is when Kamal started to make head-way in the so-called journey of cinematic excellence. Raaja-Paarvai was his first screenplay...
"Striving to be independent, a blind but determined young man moves away from his overprotective family. The young man meets a kooky neighbor. His quick wit and good looks disarm the free-spirited neighbor, and before long they're more than just friends."
Did you think this was the gist of Raaja Paarvai? Wrong...this is the blurb of a Milton Katselas film based on a Leonard Gershe’s stage play. The film was "Butterflies Are Free".
Raaja Paarvai was not "inspired" from this New York tale. It requires great resourcefulness to adapt this film into the Indian context. Sai Paranjpe's 'Sparsh' was the movie that did this hard-work. 'Raaja-Paarvai' was re-inspired by Sparsh. The timeframes of both these movies re-inforces this fact. 'Sparsh' was released in 1980 while 'Raja Paarvai' came out in 1981.
There are more such 'co-incidences'...
Indiran Chandiran is another of Kamal's milestone movies. The movie was a first in the sense of experimentation with the look of the character. Disfiguring oneself to get under the skin of the character was something "new" to the Indian "intelligentia".
Indiran Chandiran (aka) Indrudu Chandrudu (aka) Mayor Saab is a down-right rip of the Richard Dreyfuss starrer "Moon Over Parador". This movie was the height of Richard Dreyfuss' dramatic skills. Richard Dreyfuss plays Jack Noah who is offered a role in the tiny Caribbean island of Parador; impersonating the nation's dictator, to whom he bears a resemblance. But he soon gets into trouble when he runs afoul of the Parador police chief, who wants to keep the dictator's demise a secret until he can takeover the country.
There are many more such "co-incidences"...
"Enakkul Oruvan" was inspired by "Reincarnation of Peter Proud(1975)" just as "Sathya" was inspired by "Marathon Man(1976)" starring Dustin Hoffman.
Kamal has a great admiration for Dustin Hoffman. It is evident in the roles/scripts he has adapted into the Indian context. Most of us know that "Chachi-420" (aka) "Avvai Shanmugi" was inspired from Robin Williams' "Mrs. Doubtfire". But the inspiration doesn't stop just there. The story line of "Avvai Shanmugi" is surely a rip from "Mrs. Doubtfire", but the character that Kamal portrayed, the body-language, the background of "Shanmugi Paati" itself is inspired from the character Dustin Hoffman plays in "Tootsie". Even the portion of the older Gemini Ganesan character falling for Shanmugi Paati, is taken out of "Tootsie".
The most interesting of adaptations out of Kamal's handi-works is "Anbe Sivam". The movie itself can be split into 2 portions. The first is the portion depicting the travel that Madhavan and Kamal make from Bhubaneshwar to Chennai. The second is the flashback portion involving the duel between the communist-Kamal and the industrialist-Nasser. The first portion is adapted from Steve Martin's "Planes, Trains and Automobiles". The second portion is inspired from Mel Gibson's "The Man without a Face".
The list of such "co-incidences" is endless...Here is a sampling...
"Magalir Mattum" from "Nine to Five" (1980, Jane fonda, Dolly Parton)
"Thenali" from "What About Bob" (1991, Richard Dreyfuss & Bill Murray)
"Virumandi" - The jail interviewing part and the abolition of Death Penalty is from "The Life of David Gale"(2003, Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney)
"Panchathanthiram" from "Very Bad Things"(1998)
"Naala Damayanthi" from "Green Card"(1990, Andie MacDowell, Gerard Depardieu)
"Sathi Leelavathi" from "She-Devil"(1989, Meryl Streep, Roseanne)
"Nammavar" from "To Sir With Love"(1967, Sidney Poitier)
"Guna" is based on "Tie me up Tie me down"(1990)
So much for "co-incidences"...
Inspiration is an instinct. It is the essence of one's imagination. At the same time it is a license that needs to be utilised like treading a tight rope.
Every great creator has always credited the source of his/her creations. Failing to do so, no matter what justice has been done to the inspired product, is a murder of the creator's essence.
Creators are inspired, true, agreed. What I dont understand is how come one creator alone is inspired from contemporary hollywood movies for every film he is involved creatively. Kamal is not inspired by the Mahabharatha or any epic, he is not inspired by a true life incident, he is not inspired by a book he reads. He is invariably inspired by a Hollywood movie made in the last 20-30 years. How else would one judge this kind of a selective inspiration?
To further my point, the Mexican director Alejjandro Gonzalez Inarittu's movie, '21 Grams' was inspired by a psalm in the bible, which talks about the weight of the soul. His movie starts with the credits line reading:- "Inspired by Psalm xx:yy". The inspiration is minimal, but the director stuck upon the idea of it when reading the psalm. But he still credits his inpiration. That is creative ethics at its zenith.
It is a general assumption that there is no-one better in the Indian film scape who has thought and acted differently when it comes to creativity and film-making than Kamal Haasan. Indian cinema has many creators who have been inspired from the west for most of their creations but have later faced ignominy when their plagiarism has been exposed. Deva is a shining example. For people who argue Kamal has adapted western scripts to Indian palettes, Deva has done an equally great job of adapting Western tunes to the Indian scape. Would anyone dare to weigh Kamal and Deva at the same level of genuineness in their respective fields?
Ignorance is bliss. In this case, the people's ignorance is Kamal's bliss.
Comments and brickbats welcome!!!
Some people hear their own Inner Voices with great clarity and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy or become legends... - Jim Morrison