A typical Madras tiffin would consist of at least 10 mouth watering delicacies - Dosa, Pongal, Vada, Idli, Upma, four chutneys and filter coffee. Any one item missing and the meal would be rather incomplete. And when each one of these delicacies morphs into a Kamal Haasan and transports you inside a movie theatre, it is sheer delight for the palate. The Kamal Haasan cafe dishes out this and more in Dasavatharam - what one would typically call a classic 'Madras Masala.'
Ten wonderful endearing Kamal Haasans! It is delightful to see the hard working actor play these ten parts. The man simply won't give up. Hours of make-up for a few minutes of filming. Yes, the make-up tends to be shoddy sometimes, but what the hell. It all works. The legend from Chennai toils to bring some wonderful moments with each of his characters - The American CIA officer's ruthlessness, the scientist's helplessness, the Sikh pop singer's bhangra like body language, the dark skinned social activist with his Tirunelveli dialect, the Japanese martial arts expert with his small twinkling eyes and deft movements, the 80 year old Brahmin lady with all her eccentricities, the seven feet tall Muslim man with his Urduised Tamil, the delightful Telugu CBI officer with his hilarious Tamil with a Telugu twang, The die-hard Iyengar Brahmin from the 12th century and the most unexpected one, US president George Bush. The actor plays them all magically. Every dialect, every accent, every nuance carefully crafted with passion.
But if one still has to pick, the CBI officer Naidu, stands tall indeed. Kamal has always shown a tremendous flair for comedy and Naidu with his comic brilliance will be long remembered. The effortless ease with which he plays an 80 year old Brahmin lady is commendable too. Also Kamal's take on George Bush's war mongering style will surely evoke giggles.
Here is a man, driving his movie team crazy with his sheer passion for being an actor and entertainer. Here is a man who will spend 9 hours on the make-up table with a Hollywood make-up guru to bring to life yet another fascinating character. Here is a man who is not afraid to transform his face to look like George Bush. Here is a man who can adapt and weave the chaos theory into a mystically linked, complex plot-driven, entertaining screenplay. Make no mistake. Kamal Haasan is an intelligent man, who brings great passion into his work. Yes, he shows it off. So what? After all, isn't an artist entitled to show off his work?
Obviously, this is a one man show and there is not much here for other actors. Mallika Sherawat, for instance breezes in and out and her slender, shapely figure is a refreshing change from the rather overweight molls generally seen in Tamil cinema. Asin makes a pretty heroine.
There surely is great teamwork here between Director Ravikumar ans Actor Kamal Haasan. It's not always easy to work with Mr Haasan, who is known for his giant quirks. But here is a man who, let's not forget, has directed some of the other heavyweight legend Rajinikanth's biggest hits like Padayappa (1999). This is a man who understands Tamil audiences and their psyches well. For sure, he has the ability to control a maverick like Kamal who can easily get carried away into a whirlpool-like world of his own. Though it seemingly appears that Kamal is in charge, a closer look will easily tell that Ravikumar is in fact the one in charge. This is a filmmaker who can carry off vehicles with larger-than-life stars designed for the front benchers in Tamil Nadu.
The diverse range of locations is simply awesome as you are transported from a 12th century Chola kingdom, to hi-tech bio labs in the US, from a Japanese Martial Arts school to the quaint crowded temple streets of Chidambaram and the beaches of Nagapattinam. The climax tsunami scene is a treat for Indian cinema goers. I am willing to forgive some of these special effects being tacky. After all, that's a department driven by big dollars. There only a dearth of big money here, not ideas. The tsunami sequence, for all its problems, stands out as a great effort to bring world-class cinematic special effects to a topical Indian story.
Himesh Reshammiya is the most puzzling entity in the credits here. There is practically no music at all, and it surely didn't need this 'Mumbai star' to produce the little forgettable stuff there is.
Ravi Varman is an old hand with cinematography and handles difficult scenes with ease. Particular mention must be made of Devi Sri Prasad for his evocative and interesting background score.
There is always a constant buzz in Chennai about the rivalry between the two giants of Kodambakkam. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. The rivalry is mythical and non-existent. Rajini has his own magic while Kamal too has his. There can never be comparisons between Rajini's Sivaji, The Boss and Kamal's Dasavatharam. These are two legends delivering two different genres of film. Rajini's mass frenzy cannot and never will be replaced by any other actor. And Rajini's die-hard fans will always queue up respectfully on day one to get a ticket of their idol's adversary's new film. As an admirer of both, and as an ardent fan of Tamil cinema I only wish what every fan wishes. To see them setting the Tamil screen on fire together one day.
As for the tiffin fare, I wouldn't mind sacrificing my everyday pongal and vada for Dasavatharam for a day.