Dedicated to my CA articleship buddy John Sudeep Koleth for all those lovely memories of the countless arguments we had on which movie to go to after bunking the client’s audit
(Contd. From Part I – Link Below)
Part II : Marlon Travolta – The Bollywood Mis-adventure
In the early ‘80s, Kamalahasan was multitasking with Hindi and Tamil films.
The Hindi audience had never seen anything like him before – he was the closest that one could get to a phenomenon called Marlon Travolta.
i.e some one with phenomenal talent, with experience of the stage – who does everything Marlon Brando did from Method acting to doing unconventional roles and also exercising his contractual right / option to revise whole scripts……. PLUS DANCING.
The Bollywood film press was very active, propping up paper tigers to find an alternative to Amitabh Bachchan. So there was that added pressure.
He did acquit himself well, even though he didn’t have the essential chocolate hero looks.
The Hindi audience liked him but they wanted to see him exhibit his talent for dance and keep dancing around for a few more movies till they felt they wanted something more.
Amitabh did only one movie a year but this was still 1984, all animals were equal but some were more equal than others.
But Kamal’s idea was that he was already 100 films old before he came to Hindi cinema and he was a big boy and wanted to do meaningful films. That was a fatal error of judgement. Remakes of Aboorva Ragangal (Ek Nai Paheli) and some of his other unconventional Southern hits bombed and within no time he found himself sandwiched between heavy weights in forgettable multi starrers like ‘Raj Tilak’.
Years later, after Apu Raja (Aboorva Sagodharargal) succeeded in Hindi, he reminisced after seeing the Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit starrer ‘Dil’ – “A film like ‘Dil’ should have been my third film in Hindi – THEN I’d have been in business”.
Its not enough to eat Woodlands Drive-in Idli, Vada, Sada Dosa once in a month. You need to eat it every other day. So also with Kamal, Rajni films in the 80s – the assembly line needed to churn out potboilers all the time, else the audience was apt to forget you.
So also with Kamal. With one foot in the competitive Bollywood of the ‘80s, he wasn’t able to churn out as many films as the Tamil market required to satiate its appetite.
So, he had to be RE-introduced all the time in films cleverly disguised as (Re) launch vehicles.
This was also around the time he was looking to RE-invent himself in order to meet the rising competition from rising star ‘Style Mannan’ (as he was initially known) Rajnikanth.
Kamal always had this diffidence in the corner of his psyche about his Bharathanatyam expertise and was therefore trying to transform the dancer (the lithe youth of Aval Appadithaan and Nizhal Nijamaagiradhu) and the feminine tag associated with it into the Macho beefcake man of Sakalakalaa Vallavan.
He even appeared in an interview once on Doordarshan (conducted by an assortment of fans) in his sleeveless shirt in order to show off the newly acquired macho biceps.
Even after a hit like Sakalakala Vallavan, the Hindi (mis)adventure left him meandering off course and losing ground to his rivals.
So, Kaakki Chattai was another reintroduction (and reinvention) of Kamal in Tamil which was supposed to touch all the masala bases as we will see later.
When I saw the film, the first time, and with the expectations that go with a Kamalahasan movie, the start was underwhelming. The movie began but even when the title cards came on, the pace was lethargic to say the least. It looked like a desperate attempt to package a hero for the audience. The color scheme was all infrared or whatever you call the grading of the print similar to the color of the surroundings as seen through the eyes of the creature called the Predator in that Schwarzenegger movie.
You half expected the hero and heroine to come out from behind the screen and greet the audience like a star son launch in Bollywood.
You wanted to cry out “When’s the movie going to START ??!!”
In the first scene, we see the hero doing his “gym-nastics” in the terrace of his house with bar bells, etc but without the fancy gym equipment. This goes on for some time and when we are fully convinced that he’s a real macho guy, he ups the ante.
He does a Rithika Singh (Irudhi Suttru) i.e he does a push up on one hand.
The novelty of that one-hand push up resulted in that visual being carried in the initial posters of the film.
On hindsight, after watching the rest of the movie, we realize that Kamal is “in character ” from shot one. He lugs the barbells and weights to the terrace like a fearful, devout husband lugs the household provisions indoors.
The Under-rated Comedian
In his films of the seventies, the Kamal persona had a rich vein of humour which in turn stemmed from the characters he played. For instance, the lecherous rake he played in Manmadha Leelai also had a streak of sophisticated Don Juan buffoonery – the kind you would associate with any youth trying to impress the opposite sex. Similarly in Ninaithaalay Inikkum, where he chats up Jayapradha on a flight to Singapore.
In Simla Special, where he plays an everyday Joe who works at an everyday job (but who knows how to Dance !), his snappy asides make the transition seamless from one major gag situation to another. Like his calling out to the drama troupe musicians as he hurries into the theatre from the office to have his make up done before the opening curtain “Yennappaa?…………. Sruthi sayththitrukkeengalaa ?….. Drama mudiyarthukkulla Sayththiruveenga illa ?
Depending on the viewer’s age he was either the wise cracking young “uncle” next door (if the viewer was in the 6th standard at school) or the humorous eligible bachelor next door (if the viewer was an adult).
But ofcourse, the audience required the mandatory sidekick comedian to accompany the hero. During the seventies it was Suruli Rajan who accompanied Kamal all the way to Europe (Ullaasa Paravaigal).
In the early eighties, it was Thengai Srinivasan but with his limited agility there was only so far he could tag along. So invariably he either appeared in the role of the hero’s boss (Tik Tik Tik) or neighbor–well wisher (Meendum Kokila).
But with the loss of Suruli due to cirrhosis and Thengai Srinivasan, due to his lack of agility (in Kaakki Chattai he appears in exactly two scenes but not without making a strong impression with his description of Kamal “Exercise bodeee (body), Rangoon mochchakottai maadhri rendu kannu…”), Kamal goes the comedy route alone.
The first half of the movie is all about the travails of a wide eyed innocent youth, Murali (Kamal), a constable’s son, who aspires to become a daredevil police officer.
Throughout the first half his wide eyed innocence is endearing and so is his collateral stupidity.
Somewhere in Act I, Murali’s (Kamal) love interest Uma (Ambika), who hosts an exhibition of her paintings, also does one of Kamal in full police uniform.
He drops by her gallery and after getting over his revulsion at the other risqué art exhibits she’s displayed, chances upon the painting of his likeness (in police uniform) and forgets to look at the face and instead tries to figure out the rank of the “police officer” like a child tries to figure out the power of a new Pokemon character, by counting the medals and finally after discovering that it is indeed himself, runs away with the painting like a child who chances upon a long cherished toy in a shop.
A banal act in an unapologetically masala setting but Kamal pulls it off convincingly throughout the movie and lends consistency to what was essentially a non-role as the audience was about to find out in the defining second half.
Ofcourse, the question of how such an innocent, ‘pazham’ bloke is able to get a girl can be swept conveniently under the carpet.
In another scene, he dons a police uniform especially made for him by Ambika’s tailor (ofcourse after Kamal confirms that the uniform is indeed proper “IG oada tailoraaa ?…appoanaa semma tailor ! ) and they visit the temple together.
Ambika is the perfect foil, alternatingly amused and exasperated by Murali’s (Kamal) lack of smarts. A bystander asks politely, “Saar endha station ?“ (in obvious reference to Kamal in uniform).
Ambika’s caustic reply “Uh ? Railway station !”
Another onlooker remarks to his friend. “Avaroada poarudhu inspector oada samsaaramaa ?”
On hearing this Kamal insists on a show down with the smart aleck, justifying it by “Kittakka vandhaa ‘samsaaram’ nnu solluvaan………… Konja dhooram poanaa ‘Samaaasaaram’ nnu solluvaan !”
HA ! VAARAYVAA !!
(To be concluded)
Next Part : The Last Stop Before Tucumcary