After having bashed Dasavatharam in a post yesterday, a comment got me thinking. As an actor, Kamal Haasan is far more fascinated with the concept of “vesham” or disguise than his contemporaries. He’s taken vehsam to new levels and never seems to hesitate to take on a different physical appearance. Even if you think in terms of some of his early films like
Aval Oru Thodarkathai Avargal, where he doesn’t really play a very important character, his disguise is a doll. He plays a ventriloquist, which divides your attention between his character and an extension. The other film where his physical appearance, his walk, and everything else is transformed is 16 Vayathinile. That he likes double, triple characters in the same film is well known, and perhaps a legacy of 70s filmmaking.
But he really begins experimenting with age and latex in Indian. It was actually a rather interesting watch, with his entire body taking on the appearance of a really old man. Though the thick layer of latex was a bit annoying, it didn’t really interfere with his portrayal. He further experimented with Anbe Sivam and Avvai Shanmughi. This is not to say that other actors in Tamil Cinema haven’t experimented, but Kamal Haasan I think became enamored with the concept of donning not just a character but an entire physical appearance to go with it. In some cases, like MMKR, the disguise was more superficial, based on clothes. In others, like Apoorva Sagothargal, he goes to an extreme length (quite literally).
You have to wonder, why this obsession with physical transformation. And I think that was Dasavatharam’s fundamental problem. Throughout, he wants you to admire the effort he’s put into the make up and latex department. Unfortunately, that means none of the characters are well etched enough to elicit any empathy from you. And evoking empathy was always Kamal’s strength. Or just evoking some damn strong emotion. The trouble is that Kamal isn’t able to get any expression on the “latex face”. The faces don’t move. They feel like puppets. Like caricatures. Which is a departure from the Kamal we know. The one who emotes, the one who knows how to weep, the one whose face crumples with disappointment. He seems to be so fascinated by his ability to become someone else, almost a metamorphosis of sorts. That the story, the plot and most of all, the need to evoke some support for the protagonist vanish. What you’re left with feels like a bad “drama”. It doesn’t feel like a film, it feels like a B-grade Tamil play that tries to save money by getting its characters to play different roles by wearing different colour shirts.