A case of ten avatarams (Part 1)

Dear Kamalji,

I write this in pain and angst after watching your magnum opus ‘Dasavataram‘ on an eventful Friday the 13th. I had to fight with the distributor for a ticket to watch you erupt on screen and this is something I had done before only for Chiru and Thalaivar. Before I bore you with the insignificant observations that I made, I would like to tell you an incident from school. I was in the IInd std and we were doing a play for the annual day called ‘The Nutcracker‘. A friend walked up to me and this is the exact conversation for I can never forget.

He:Even though you are the Nutcracker, I am on screen much longer than you
Me: How is that?
He: I play a mouse, a hare, a doll, a Russian Cossack and a tree.
Me: I’m the hero!
He: My mom says that I have a far more important part as It involves so many roles and dress changes.
Me: Still, the whole play is about me
He: Total up the time people will see you and me, I am there longer than you.
Me: It’s not
time it’s
about focus!
It’s not about time it’s about focus!

I didn’t even know what focus meant(heard the teacher use it while shouting at the lighting guy), it was like those words the great sages speak that make sense years later. The teachers had told every kid something similar so that they don’t get jealous of me hogging the limelight, and I pricked his bubble. Either of us didn’t know what it meant but he assumed that focus was something important and ran away sobbing.

I consider you to be a very intelligent person and assume that you can catch my point. All through the movie, this incident kept hitting me each time you plastered your face. I don’t get this fixation you have with latex and donning multiple roles. Did someone ever tell you that a great actor is one who can do many roles? The way I see you is like my friend who was in every scene of the movie in some role or the other but the focus was never on him. The importance of focus is something I learnt in a theater workshop fifteen years later, but used it to justify my role as a kid. You are a great actor and this urge to reinvent yourself puts you in a league of your own. You by yourself are in institution in acting and many actors have learnt the trade by just watching you the ‘Ekalavya‘ way. We have loved your performances in Nayagan, Hey Ram, Pushpak, Thevar Magan, Mahanadi and more recently Virumandi, Anbe Sivam etc where you played to the galleries meant for the so-called intelligent junta. We’ve also cheered your performances in Panchatantram, MMKR, Avvai Shanmugi, Singaravelan and Apoorva Sahodarangal where you enthralled the front-benchers with comic timing like never before.

The problem with Dasavatarm is not with your acting prowess and I shall be committing a cardinal sin if I even spoke of it. The basic premise of the story and the plot is something that I liked a lot, however I felt that you molested the screenplay just to accommodate the ten characters. I have always believed that a story creates characters but the characters don’t
drive a story
a story creates characters but the characters don’t drive a story. This was the principal flaw in the film for me and the chaos created by the entry and exit sequences of these characters took the focus away from the movie. Lets not get confused with chaos theory for that is reserved for the coming paragraphs. Sticking on to the screenplay, I felt that most of the characters were forced into the story to accommodate meaty portions of screenplay and an opportunity to exhibit your latex fetish(I know it sounds corny!). Many portions of the film were there just so that your CG dept gets a chance to show many Kamals in the same frame. I shall curb my urge to dissect every frame and point the fallacies but will surely do in case I receive rediff style comments.  Right from the audio release everything about the movie has surrounded the ten roles. Being able to enact ten roles is a phenomenon and praise worthy, I have no qualms against that and will even go under the knife to state that no current actor in world cinema can even dream of attempting it, forget surpassing.  But amidst the din created in the media by the ten roles, the real loser has been the screenplay. Below are excerpts from an interview you gave to the Times of India.

My ten different roles are the USP of Dashaavataram…. I used to spend five hours only in makeup. What was interesting is that I have started respecting women more after that…….The loudest seller in a bazaar attracts attention. I have always felt that the loudest crying child gets the milk [link]

I can go on and cite many interviews where all the talk has been about the roles, make-up, CG effects but the screenplay has been the neglected child. Just so that I clear the air once again let me reiterate my earlier statement, my problem is not with the ten roles but with
the screenplay
my problem is not with the ten roles but with the screenplay. All the more because you took it upon yourself and declared it to be your most satisfying role. I quote from an interview you gave to CNN-IBN

The screenplay is what I enjoyed doing the most and that’s the 11th role I have played – the most pivotal and difficult role. It’s like the loneliness of a long distance runner.[link]

It sure must have been difficult to weave all the characters into the story, but that is the very reason for its complexity. Your story never demanded ten roles, you stuffed them into it and wove the screenplay around them so that they embed seamlessly with the plot. Its a case of inviting issues you never needed in the first place and then proudly claiming to have weathered the storm.

(Continued in the next post)