Dasavathaaram – Kamal Haasan’s magnificent obsession

By Vidya Pradhan

“15 bucks!” was my outraged gasp at the flea-bitten Cinedome East in Fremont yesterday. Yes, inflation is up all around, but over-pricing the already dubiously valued movie ticket is something really hard to stomach in these days of 5 dollar gas and 18 dollar atta sacks at Indian grocery stores.

The reason I discovered, courtesy the under-employed youngster at the movie hall, is that the filmmaker has decided this is what the movie is worth, going retro in the age of 99 cent songs and free movie downloads. Not surprising – the movie went over its budget of Rs.130 crores( about $30 million) and is now considered the costliest Indian movie ever made.

Well, I shelled out 30 bucks for my 12 year old and myself and entered the theater for a very private screening – there were just 2 of us inside. The same pimply youth at the counter had to be summoned to start the movie. We settled down with popcorn to see if we would get our “paisa vasooled” .

We did.

Dasavathaaram( Ten Avatars) puts lead actor Kamal Haasan, who also has story, screenplay and dialogue credits, in the record books for portraying 10 roles in the same movie. The story begins with a flashback to the 12th century, when a Vaishnavite priest (Kamal) prefers to die for his faith rather than convert to Shaivism at the orders of the Chola king. Cut to modern day America where biologist and atheist Govindarajan Ramaswamy ( Kamal again) has developed a doomsday virus which is now wanted by governments and terrorists alike.

The plot follows Kamal in his many avatars across many continents till the vial of the virus and the avatars converge in Chennai for the climax on the day of the 2004 tsunami.

Kamal attempts to imbue some gravitas into his labor of love by introducing a philosophical rumination on the existence of God, but the movie is really just an action packed summer blockbuster in the vein of “Mission Impossible”. It also gives the somewhat narcissistic actor the opportunity to fulfill every single cinematic ambition he has ever had in one go; in his various roles, Kamal cries, dances, is tall( how Freudian!), gets to be President of the US, is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, American, Japanese and female.

He does all the above with a fine distinction – let no one say he can’t act. Is the make-up good enough? No. Despite the best prosthetic technology that money can buy, it is easy to tell which character is Kamal, which is a pity, because each character has a unique personality with looks and accent to match. My 12 year old could not figure it out, and if one assumes that to be the mental age of the average Indian film-goer, then I guess it was acceptable.

Money is also lavished on the special effects, which, while not in the league of Hollywood films, is pretty good for Indian ventures. A fight between two of the avatars towards the end of the movie is astonishing; one forgets the same actor is playing both roles. The tsunami is recreated fairly convincingly and the many and varied deaths in the film are gorily realistic.

As you may have guessed, this is definitely not a movie for younger kids. People die regularly and terribly, with a knife to the jugular being the most popular method of dispatching characters. Blood gushes enough to fill a blood bank or two and the death-by-virus is nauseatingly yucky.

The film is absorbing, even if it lacks finesse. One reviewer called it boring, which it most certainly is not, even if it is predictable to anyone with an IQ over 100. It is loud, crude at times and even silly. Asin, who was the 7th or 8th actress considered for the role, shrieks her way through the comedic scenes. It is illogical, improbable, melodramatic and often unintentionally funny. The Segway scenes had me scratching my head. Some jokes are impossible to translate from Tamil ( one character mimes the letter "S" to signal "Yes"- if you didn't get that one you were probably born north of the Deccan.)

But this may simply be the Tamil style of film-making (I remember being annoyed at Anniyan for the same reason). Kamal, middle-aged and paunchy though he may be, brings enthusiasm and talent to the ten roles and does them full justice. You may not like Dasavathaaram, but you will not forget it.

I enjoyed this movie and I would recommend it to people who like mindless summer fare and have a yen for violence and action. See it on the big screen for the full impact and leave the kids at home.

Dasavathaaram( in Tamil with English subtitles)
*ring – Kamal Haasan(x10), Asin, Jayaprada, Mallika Sherawat.
My rating: 3 stars out of 5.

Currently running in Cinedome East in FremontShows at 12, 4 and 8.

2 thoughts on “Dasavathaaram – Kamal Haasan’s magnificent obsession

  1. Geeta Padmanabhan

    “Mindless summer fare” is bang on! The girls in my office – average age 27 – loved the movie for the same reason. Good time pass and paisa vasool.

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  2. Mohican

    Apparently KH wanted to beat thespian Sivaji Ganesan act of playing 9 roles (as also of Sanjeev Kumar) in a movie. So he embarked upon ‘Dasavataram’ – actually ‘Thirteenavataram’ because of his three roles behind the camera.
    Somehow, I feel KH will very soon become one of those senile old men of Tamil Cinema.

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