Yeh Tho Kamaal Ho Gaya

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.

Kaakki Chattai One Hand Push up 2

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.

Kaakki Chattai Police Painting


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 !”

Kaaki Chattai Inspector Samsaaram

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 !”



(To be concluded)

Next Part :  The Last Stop Before Tucumcary



  1. 👍Zola. Made me feel like I was seeing the movie again. Those kind of non fussy , entertainers which were made in the 80s. Where when u went to a movie u just went to one. The songs in kaaki chattai were also pretty popular if I remember.Anyway ur review made me remember why I used to enjoy Kamals films so much👏🏻👏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sundari : Your comments really take me back to a simpler time when life was so simple (sigh) ! thank you so much

      “Those kind of non fussy , entertainers which were made in the 80s. Where when u went to a movie u just went to one. ”

      That comments encapsulates pretty much what I’ve tried to convey


  2. Superb Zola … it’s usually the second act that drags but you have added a lot of vignettes of old Kamal movies it’s brilliant … nice quip from For a Few Dollars More in the end great teaser to expect more …👍👍👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hari : Thanks a ton ! I knew that tucumcari bit wouldnt get past your hawk eye 🙂 🙂

      Reminds me of the scene where the Don is trying to pacify Hagen “I knew that Rococo Lampone building his own fiefdom wouldnt escape your attention”.

      Thanks paisan !


  3. Ravi, you seemed have really got into the intricacies of acting..unless you relish it, you cannot note the subtleties ..frankly, I am not a great movie buff nor a great fan of Kamal Hassan nor sure of the time period as well..but wanted to say this, since you have compared the maturity of the Tamil and Hindi audiences at that time..the Telugu industry is always made fun of as pink shirt, green bell bottom pant attired, step hair-cut heros’ executing exercise movements as dance..but good cinema came through Maro Charithra , Sagara Sangamam, Swati Muthyam ..this probably satisified his apetiete for acting, which both Tamil and Hindi films failed to give..he was straddling 3 different movie world’s at that time..yes his sense of humor and the way he brings them on screen them is excellent.. cheers to you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nicely articulated Zola. Typical Kamal fan (used “fan” for the want of a better word like “Veiryan” in Tamil) turning nostalgic. Enjoyed your comment about Kamal doing Rithika Singh wrt one-hand push-up. Good one.

    Nice buddy.

    B. Krishnakumar

    Liked by 1 person

    • KK : Thanks a bunch ! Veriyan is a far far more visually appetizing term. Thanks ! But At the age of 47 I’m at pains to be anybody’s veriyan because yenakku vayasaaiduchchuppaa yenakku vayasaaiduchchu I’m getting old (Major style).


  5. Good God – these two articles are brilliant!! Again, I find myself not wanting to devour them at one go so I can savor the pleasure for a longer time. Man, you really have to start sending these out to some magazines. They deserve a wider audience.

    Your work reminds me of Bill Watterson. Someone said that the true appeal of Calvin and Hobbes was that Watterson still remembered clearly what it meant to be a child and what the world looked like to a child. In the same way, I think that you still clearly remember what the world looked like to us when we were much younger. And I’m delighted when I read your essays because I get to meet that person again whom I forget about most of the time.

    Ravi, hard as it is to say this to you, I think it’s writing that’s your calling, not cartoons. Write more! I shall look forward with anticipation! I think I’ll even think of topics for you to write about so I can look afresh at the past.

    Thank you!!! And like Oliver Twist, I cannot but say “May I have some more please?”


    Liked by 1 person

    • Herr General Venks : Being compared to Bill Waterson is highly highly flattering. Thoroughly undeserved………………………………. but I’ll TAKE IT !

      I love the way you’ve articulated which emotional triggers I’ve pushed (very crude way of putting it when read side by side with your comments).

      For Oliver Twist – One more bowl of broth coming up !


  6. Ravishanker – You certainly took us down memory lane! Loved all those little tidbits, esp. what you wrote about Kamal falling between two stools as he tried to balance Kollywood and Bollywood and how Kaaki Sattai was a re-launch of sorts. Isn’t it amazing that pre-Nayagan you had villains in all those garish suits and in the most ridiculous of hide-outs. I mean, we have to thank Mani Ratnam for helping get rid of the “yes boss, andhoni sarakka anna nagar tower-la david kitte kuduthutan” kind of comments in thamizh movies!

    In that period, I also liked Kamal in “Vaazhve Maayam.” He was quite the kadhal mannan there!


  7. Ram Murali : I’m totally with you on the Andhoni sarakku and how Mani Rathnam was a game changer in this aspect (I hate using that management jargon but what to do ? veliyilay woray mazhai (Aboorva Raagangal Act II Scene II LOL) ! While on the aspect of garish suits (thanks for that one !) I failed to mention RS Manohar in Billa and how loud he came off next to Rajnikanth. Truly we’ve come a loooong way.

    Thanks for bringing up Vaazhvay Maayam. That really buttresses the 2 points I was making 1. about how Kamal really made the best he could of ridiculous material and 2. AL Narayanan’s dialogues which belonged in another era -I think you must also have been channeling AL Narayanan like myself ! Like Like same same – But for more on that you’ll have to wait for Part III (the last) of the Chronicles.

    Muchas Gracias Amigo !


  8. Ravishanker – I remember Kovai Sarala mentioning in an interview that it’s very rare to find dialogue writers like AL Narayanan these days. I liked his work in “Vaazhve Maayam.” Remember this humorous exchange that Kamal has with a kid in Sridevi’s house.

    “Thambi, un paeru ena pa?”
    “Baaaaboooo…neenge yeduku vandhirukeenge?”
    “Unga akkavuku podanum soappooo!”

    In fact, Bhagyaraj has mentioned multiple times that he feels guilty for going the story-screenplay-dialogues-direction route since his next generation did the same thing and in the process, we lost those dedicated writers that dominated the scene in the 70s and 80s. I think he’s right – a mix of the new age style and stronger writing (of the old school) would have taken thamizh cinema further in the 90s…

    In fact, if you look at the Kaaki Sattai wiki page, you’ll see a list of writers like Kameshwaran’s maligai kadai list in MMKR!

    “Gracias Amigo” — if I were to put on my “MMKR” hat again, I would say, “ias amigo…nallavaru-ngara!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ram Murali : Thats a great nugget on the Bhagyaraj lament.

      That bit on Kamal ingratiating himself with the kid is priceless. But in the age of Santhanam and TASMAC jokes not sure how this will be viewed today.

      The only thing I remember is that my sister and I were barfing on AL Narayan’s serious dialogues but I kinda miss that because times were simpler. So on this bit we agree to disagree I guess. My commiserations monsieur.

      Kameshwaran’s maligai kadai list and nallavarungara – ROFL !

      Please keep ’em coming !


  9. Wooowww….thoroughly enjoyed this! What a prelude to Kamal and kakki sattai (the piece on Satyaraj…i thought it was all about him!!)

    This is in my opinion at the least “The Hindu” material, if not more…no one has ever observed a tamil film and the hero with such details of background and circumstances. – And Kakki Sattai for that…what a choise…..

    So whats the third part about? Ambika?…..”Ah…railway station!” ROFL…, she had a boring face, but those ladies definitely knew how to act…..

    I’m enjoying this (Just sad that there was no mention of Singari Sarakku…..ennadhan irundhalum naa first bench audience sar)!


    • Vivek : “…..ennadhan irundhalum naa first bench audience sar)! ”

      DOFL (Dying on the floor laughing)

      What an ace quip !

      “So whats the third part about? Ambika?”

      More ROFL & DOFL

      Coming back to the wooden expression, the Hitchcockian possibilities are inriguing. The master director had gone on record stating that he preferred actors with blank expressions so that he could project his visuals onto them.

      Some visual ! Some director !


  10. Just noticed something….Look at the poster of Vikram, Viswaroopam and thoongavanam (all movies where he plays under cover cop of sorts)….he holds a gun in all of them


    And here comes kakki sattai poster…where he again played an under cover cop of sorts

    No Gun for the gunniyamana police officer….


  11. Vivek / Ravishanker – your comments made me think of something that I had noticed when I first came to the US – the sheer amount of Hollywood movie posters (of classics, especially) that were available. I am surprised that that’s never been the case with Thamizh or Indian movies. If that were the case, you would have found Kamal Hassan to be a significant fixture in my living room! 🙂

    Regarding heroes and guns, I can never forget this image of Ashwin Sekar holding a gun:
    Enamo Amul Baby Deepavali Thuppaki-ya pottutrukara madhiri irundhudhu!


    • Ram Murali : “Enamo Amul Baby Deepavali Thuppaki-ya pottutrukara madhiri irundhudhu!”

      ROFL !

      In the link you’ve provided you appear to have read S Ve Sekar’s thoughts. His expression seems to convey the same thing.

      Thats a great point you made about the posters. Yes – there was a lot of Art in our posters and some Heart too (AL Narayanan dialogue style !) and amazing technique but somehow scant thought seems to have been given to the overall idea the poster needs to convey. Which is where Hollywood scores big time.

      I have a cut out (that word !) of an interview with former Ashok Leyland Chairman Seshasayee. He said that he used to paint cinema hoardings as a hobby while in Loyola college. Amazing !

      To even blow up a passport size photo into an A4 size portrait is a venture fraught with risk but life size hoardings ? These guys (cinema poster painters) are demons truly.

      Thanks a lot for bringing this into the arena !


    • Vijay : “A lot of this went above my head” AAHAAA !! Looks like I’ve got a lot of work to do.

      “your humour is the thread that garnishes the write-up”
      Thanks a ton ! Coming from a master of dry wit and punnery, I feel reeeeaaall goood .

      Great to see you here and hope to see your witticisms and wisecracks more often…… HERE !! THATS an order (as they say in the army)


  12. ” but this was still 1984, all animals were equal but some were more equal than others” – Wow. You have connected two seminal novels of Orwell in one line…and joined them with Indian cinema. Wonder if it happened in the flow, subconsciously or you took time to think of a line to connect 1984 and Animal Farm.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Madan …Bless you ! That was a killer observation ! To quote a line from my article – I’d be fibbing if I were to say that I consciously tried to connect the two novels ..akin to saying that I knew India would win the 1983 World Cup.

    It bubbled up from the subconscious – ofcourse I was definitely thinking of Orwell when that came into the brain black box.


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