Kamal Haasan, disguise and Dasavatharam

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.

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20 Responses to Kamal Haasan, disguise and Dasavatharam

  1. prakash says:

    * comment NOT for publishing*

    the film in which kamal plays a ventriloquist is not aval oru…. but avargal.

    //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//

    egjactly egjactly…very nice observation.



  2. B o o. says:

    He plays a Mimic in Aval Oru Thodarkathai though. So, close. And nice observations indeed. Planning to watch the movie this weekend. (If I am not in the hospital, that is!!)


  3. varali says:

    Also physical transformation sans latex – Aalavandaan. Megalomania about sums it up.


  4. Pingback: Kamal Haasan’s obsession with disguises | DesiPundit

  5. Blogeswari says:

    Very well written , Neha! I felt sorry for Kamal’s makeup in Dasavatharam – the Japanese guy, tall muslim fellow… looked so terrible!


  6. Space Bar says:

    Not that I’ve seen this film – and though I share your distaste for all this vesham putting – I must say that aesthetically there must be a different perspective through which one could look at the whole thing.

    It occurred to me that the way you describe Kamal’s inflexible latex faces is like Kathakali masks. Aesthetically, I’d imagine Kamal’s film is close to a more codified interpretation of character (as happens in Kathalakali), with broad gestures standing in for nuance. Am I right? Could it be interpreted that way?


  7. Nilu says:

    Kamal Hassan’s strength lies in a form of movie making that no longer sells.

    His finest performances — Guna, Devar Magan and Mahanadi will not bring in even 10% of what a Visai or Asith padam does, if they were released today.

    I guess, he should gracefully quit.


  8. Whats wrong with you people?

    I am only sad that Kamal Hassan has wasted so much of his time.

    The fellow is a genius in many ways. The movie is mind blowing in so many ways. He is the only refuge for tamil cinema and you want him to quit, gracefully that too!

    You are cribbing about the make-up so much. But did you guys look at the effort that he has put into charecterising each of his 10 avatars? Fletecher for an instance, was mind blowing. His body language, his accent and style was terrific. And no questions about Krishaveni Patti… Even a real patti could not have done so well.

    I do agree that the make-up was patchy in a few places and that would have restricted his ability to emote… but that does not make Dasavatharam bad. Its any time better than anyother movie that has come in recent days and its a million times better than Sivaji. So stop cribbing and appreciate the good in the movie, there is so much of that. There is so much synchronization, so much thinking and so much of hard work put into each frame. I am surprised you chaps have overseen it.


    If the educated do not have the mind to appreciate good films, I don’t see a future for Indian Cinema.

    Long live masala movies.



  9. Premalatha says:

    But he really begins experimenting with age and latex in Indian.

    naayakan. In one interview he said that he did the make up himself in Nayakan.

    good review.


  10. hawkeye says:

    I said the same thing. Just replaced ‘megalomania’ with ‘ego maniac’. And that was enough to rediff’ize my blog.


  11. hawkeye says:

    also kamal comes from a stage drama era. where an actor is defined as a person who dons heavy make up. a single person also puts multiple roles in a drama. he said in some interview that this was a reason behind him donning multiple roles


  12. Nilu says:

    Hawkeye, if you said the same thing and have to explain that did — it should tell you something.


  13. hawkeye says:


    You are trying too hard. Intha over-eagerness to criticize’a konjam adakku.


  14. Nilu says:

    That does make your idiotic statement less idiotic.


  15. WA says:

    kids these days!


  16. hawkeye says:

    pochuda. so much desperation to drag me into a conversation. now people have to ignore your boring comments in blogs they visit regularly.

    intha paaru thambi. when i want to see an unbiased opinion about me, i’ll call you. appo you can come and mis interpret whatever i say. athuvaraikkum pothify.


  17. Nilu says:

    Weren’t you asked to shut up?


  18. hawkeye says:

    i l q . , p
    v . o; n.


  19. Amaidhi.. Amaidhi..

    As for all those people babbling about Chaos Theory – please understand that any randomly strung series of events cannot be passed for Chaos Theory – instead we could call it “Just Because” Theory.


  20. Ganesh says:

    “Kamal should gracefully quit ” -Nilu

    So sad and shameful that someone is making such a comment about a genius. The worst part comes when Vijay and Ajith’s commercial successes are getting compared against the work of a genius who always tries something new instead copying the work of malayalam and telugu films that have already tasted success.
    We all have seen how much Ajith and Vijay have struggled with their dual roles in Billa and ATM.
    I do agree that the makeup work was bit patchy in dasavatharam. But that cannot take any credit from the superlative performance by Kamal.
    When OSO and Sivaji were accepted which we very mediocre in story/concept or presentation, i don’t know why people are passing such bad comments about such a good movie?
    he is the only one who does so much experimentation by changing his physical appearance (bald -in Nayagan, tonsured head in Alavandhan,dwarf,tall,with beard ,without beard, as a old lady, middle aged lady and what not), where people like vijay and Ajit are even afraid of shaving off their one week old beard, fearing that they would lose their acceptance. And the king of bollywood will always be clean shaved even while potraying the role of devdas (clean shaved devdas)..pathetic.

    Probably it’s because Kamal has set such high standards upon himself, the expectation of people is so high from a Kamal film and no such expectation from a Sharukh/Rajini/Ajith/vijay films.
    Other theory could be that the people’s mindset is so conditioned to the typical masala with song,dance,romance,fight that they are unable to accept any thing unconventional.


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