The director who escaped Kamal’s brilliance!

When the final analysis of 2009 was carried out there were a few films that kept repeating themselves in almost all the lists. One among them was Unnaipol Oruvan. It was arguably the best movie, had the best performances and had the strongest impact on the audience. Of course, this result was expected from the movie because the man behind it was Kamal Haasan. That is a fair enough claim. But aren’t there more people who also deserve to be called the ‘man behind the film’. I am not talking about Mohanlal or Neeraj Pandey or UTV. Perhaps you might have noticed the trailers and promos of Unnaipol Oruvan which said loud and clear: A Film by Chakri Toleti. This name seems to have been rather unceremoniously forgotten once the film was released and went on to become a big success in all aspects.

Technically speaking, Chakri Toleti is the most important person in the movie, its director. But, his name was hardly mentioned or remembered in the aftermath of the movie’s success. Everyone talked about Kamal, Mohanlal and the rare few noticed Ganesh Venkataraman and even lesser

number took note of Shruthi Haasan. How often does it happen that a director gets almost no credit for a movie’s success? Never! But, Unnaipol Oruvan was a special case and Kamal got all the limelight and applause. Wait, is this the case only for Unnaipol Oruvan or have we seen something similar before. Yes, similar things have happened before. I had written something more than a year back which had carried almost the same idea. The only difference was that the name Chakri Toleti was substituted by K.S. Ravikumar and the movie was Dasavatharam. Even as illustrious director as K.S. Ravikumar had found it tough to get his share of attention and applause from the audience for a movie like Dasavatharam. It is almost always the case with Kamal Haasan movies that the director is forgotten in the torrent of praise and accolades that are showered on the Universal Star. It can be said that the sheer brilliance of Kamal often blinds us to the efforts of the director. Sometimes (as is the case of Unnaipol Oruvan) the amount of attention focused on Kamal and his brilliance and the relative oblivion of the director gives the impression that the movie could have in fact been ghost directed by the man himself. We have many examples which prove that it is extremely difficult for a director to create an impression with a Kamal starrer because of the overwhelming skill and popularity of the star. The thing to note here is that all the credit of a movie, even the discredit goes only and only to Kamal. It is funny to see how even the flaws in a movie are seen as Kamal’s responsibility when somebody else is actually the director. Remember the amount of doubts and criticism that Dasavatharam had to face; not one of them held KSR responsible, everyone was taking it out at Kamal.

But, this tendency of Kamal’s sheer brilliance to overshadow the skills of the director is not new. This can be traced as far back as the days of Thevar Magan. I am not sure how many people actually know that the film was directed by Bharathan, everyone sees it as a Kamal film. So is the case with Mahanadi or Guna or Michael Madana Kamarajan. The classic example maybe Anbe Sivam, directed by Sundar C. Now, how many of you will dare call Anbe Sivam a Sundar C movie? I bet even the director himself wouldn’t do that.

It can be said that all Tamil cinema fans are like devotees and their idol is Dr. Kamal Haasan. The devotees tend to attribute anything that happens in their life as the will of God. Similarly, Tamil cinema fans attribute everything that happens in a Kamal starrer to Kamal himself, irrespective of whether he is the director or not. Such a comparison might be viewed as an antithesis to Kamal’s thoughts and (non)beliefs, but I couldn’t find a better analogy.

But, it is not Kamal Haasan’s fault that his directors don’t get noticed much. It is his high standards and perfectionism that attracts all attention towards him. It can never be said that Kamal tried to usurp credit from his directors. In fact, there is a school of thought among Kamal fans that most of his classic films have been directed by him. The official director has directed the film in naught but name. That is a very lofty claim, something that Kamal himself will refute. But, knowing his talents and brilliance, it doesn’t look completely unbelievable too.

Yes, it is tough for a director to create an impression with a Kamal starrer even if he does a good job. But, there are a select few who have managed this tough feat. We don’t have to go all the way back to Nayagan and Mani Rathnam. Even in this decade there have been a few instances when directors have managed to garner attention with a Kamal starrer. KSR sort of pulled it off with Panchathantiram (but that was because it was a multistarrer), Saran too had a fairly close shot with Vasool Raja. But, the man who did it without a shadow of doubt has to be Gautham Vasudev Menon with Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. It was not a multi-starrer, it was a well executed movie, it showcased a stylish and restrained performance from Kamal and in spite of all that it is remembered as a Gautham Menon movie. Yes, Kamal’s brilliance did shine throughout the movie, but never did anyone forget that the entire movie was directed by the man who gave us Kaakka Kaakka. That is perhaps the only instance in the decade when Kamal’s brilliance has not overshadowed a director’s contribution. In fact we can say in jest that Gautham is one of the few directors who escaped the effects of Kamal Haasan’s brilliance. Let’s see who does it next.

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