He's the typical Tam Brahm. Not too fair, not too dark. Not too tall, not too short. Impressively bright. Enviably talented. Extremely charming. Not to forget, reasonably sexy. Wow, that almost sounds like my dream guy! I'm now having a compelling temptation to alter the course of this article and call it "My Kinda Guy". Thankfully, will power prevails. Getting back to this guy. Actually, its hard to nonchalantly call him a "guy", considering he's as old as my Dad! :D As the whole of Tamil Nadu celebrates the 50th anniversary of Padmashri Kamal Hassan's foray into cinema, here's my miniscule contribution.
Paramakudi, in the district of Ramanathapuram (southern TN), takes pride in being the birthplace of KH (I respect the guy, but I can't repeatedly type his full name out). Its a different issue that KH left Paramakudi at the age of three, but he still talks in his interviews about this insignificant town from where he hails. At the age of five, he sparkled as an orphaned boy who ultimately unites with his parents, played by superstars of that age - Gemini Ganesan and Savitri - in KaLatthur KaNNamma, his debut. And sparkle, he did! Imagine if you watched and re-watched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for the sake of Sana Saeed (who plays Shahrukh's daughter), rather than for the chemistry between Shahrukh and Kajol. That's what you end up doing in this movie. KH is so endearing in his role, its hard to believe he's acting.
Cut to 12 years later and KH turned up as this wiry youth in many a random movie. I haven't watched any of these, so, no comments. But thank God, K Balachander didn't make the same mistake. He more than just noticed KH and hoisted him by giving him secondary and sometimes even tertiary roles. A loser in love, a struggling actor, a cynical ventriloquist and many other such. Its beautiful to see how he stands out in all of these roles, regardless of the overbearing cast surrounding him in most of these attempts. My personal recommendation among these - AvaL Oru Thodarkadhai. Don't miss this one!
The 70's saw the rise of this promising star. As Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan's movies declined in their appeal, KH delivered hits, one bigger than the previous. And for competition, he had none other than Rajni. Especially interesting are the movies in which Kamal and Rajni are pitted against each other. 16 Vayathinile and ILamai Oonjal Aadukirathu being the best examples of this. At this juncture, I cannot possibly omit mentioning the well known, widely discussed camaraderie that Rajni and KH share, to this day. Touch wood! Its so heartening to see the mutual admiration these two stars exhibit, notwithstanding the disparity in their genres.
Talking about camaraderie, I am reminded of another C word - Chemistry. Most people like romantic movies. They'll deny it, but its human nature to like romance. Sridevi and Kamal Hassan had something going in every scene that they enacted. Sparks fly and hearts flutter when you watch these two on screen. Sridevi's innocence silently luring the shrewd Kamal. A vicarious falling-in-love experience! And SPB and S Janaki's voices elevate this experience several levels higher! I particularly like the song "Sippi irukkudu" in Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu. Watch it here!
A necessary requisite for a Tamil Hero to become a superstar is that he address socially relevant issues. MGR did it, Sivaji continued it and Rajni upheld it. KH did it too, but, at his own terms. In fact, he still does it and his most well remembered movies belong to this genre. From Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (addressing alcohol addiction) to Nayagan (heavy duty stuff!) to Hey Ram (on Partition) followed by Anbe Sivam (Be good, Do good) and then to Virumaandi (on Capital Punishment, I think). Strong ideals, strong messages.
I would have to be beside myself to wrap up without talking about my most favourite thing about KH. According to me, KH is one of the finest comedians in the country. Make that world. Exquisite timing, impeccable dialogue delivery (in any dialect of Tamil there is) and brilliant body language. Add to this an undercurrent of intelligent humour disguised under an icing of senseless, chaotic comedy. If laughter is the best medicine, then KH's comedy is panacea. Simla Special (where he plays a theatre artist), Michael Madana Kama Rajan (quadruplets, separated at birth - and that's just the beginning of the confusion!), Panchatantram (four becomes five) are a (very) few of my all time favourites. I just realized I should be owning all these on DVD!
And this, as the saying goes, is only the tip of the iceberg. I can go on and on about KH and what I know of his achievements. If you're looking for as much mental stimulation that reading a book gives you, pick one of his movies and watch them. I guarantee that you'll like him, love the movie and itch until you watch the next one. Oh except of course, Dasavatharam. Why not? That would require a whole new article!