fans sympathetic to Dasavatharam have expressed
their doubts about Kamal Haasan’s 11th avataram
in the film: as scriptwriter. It isn’t necessary
to do a close reading of the film to see what
went wrong with the movie –even to the common
moviegoer the script, for a movie so overwrought,
feels clearly underwritten. For me, Dasavatharam
also felt like the most expensive Indian comedy
ever made. Underneath its epic scale, it is really
one more typical screwball comedy that Kamal has
patented over the years, starting with Michael
Madana Kamaraj and ending (or so we thought) with
Mumbai Express. But in Dasavatharam he has resurrected
that formula again, except it now gets a 60 crore
Having shelled out 400 bucks for a ticket (the
going rate for a first day, first show for this
movie in multiplexes across the country), I thought
if it didn’t live up to the hype, I could,
in that time honored tradition of film critics,
complain about what a hollow spectacle it was.
But emerging from the theatre what I wanted to
know was this–where’s the spectacle?
Where did the 60 crores go? Because you don’t
it on screen. The hype led us to believe we were in
for an epic thriller that would, if not rival Hollywood,
dwarf anything else in Indian cinema.
But Dasavatharam fails to provide a single set piece
that is suspenseful, inventive or inspired. The grandeur,
drama and intensity of the film’s prologue, set
in the 12 century, are never again matched in the movie.
As the plot unravels, you realize with a sinking heart
(which has now joined your wallet) that the movie’s
thrilling opening act has little to do with the rest
of the story, except in the most tangential way.
A voice-over at the beginning tells us (and this should
have been warning enough) that what is about to unfold
is related to chaos theory. The movie ends with demonstrating
how everything in the universe seems to have its own
checks and balances: by intelligent design or unknown,
evolutionary forces – you’re asked to take
your pick. Nice. But a smaller budget, a more engaging
script, with a little less America in it could have
accomplished the same, and accomplished it with the
comic aplomb Kamal is famous for.
What follows is one long screwball comedy (a race to
save the planet) that begins in Washington D.C. and
ends in Chennai, just as the tsunami is poised to strike.
What is particularly offensive is Kamal and Asin (thrown
away in a shrill, exasperating role) conducting a lover’s
quarrel on a beach just devastated by the tsunami, littered
with the wounded and the dead. Most of the comedy in
Dasavatharam is intended, but part of it is unintended.
Kamal Haasan is a brilliant comic gifted with a rich
comedic imagination, and he should really push that.
We tend to forget that in the movie he not only impersonates
ten different characters, but even speaks like ten different
characters. The special effect here is not just prosthetics
but Kamal’s gift for miming voices.
While his Indian avatars here are rendered with near-perfection,
his American impersonations of George Bush and an ex-CIA
agent are funny in a dreadful, embarrassing way. Kamal’s
Balram Naidu, a maddeningly bureaucratic RAW agent gloating
with Telugu pride, is his subtlest, most brilliant comic
creation. Another character, that of a Christian dalit
activist, is impeccably delineated. Kamal’s triumph
here is rendering the Tamil spoken by this character
pitch perfectly. A third, a Japanese martial arts master,
also feels genuine, for the way the star is able to
mimic a master’s body language (and a little Japanese).
None of them are caricatures; they are complex, believable
The American impersonations, on the other hand, are
too broad, and without believable detail. Worse, the
make up for them sucks. Why does Kamal Haasan’s
George Jr. look like Jay Leno? Though the actor didn’t
intend it, the joke is on Bush: all those sharp American
stand up comics like Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman
who’ve been thinking up ways to satirize Bush
couldn’t have finished him off the way Kamal’s
impersonation has. And when Bush swishes his legs like
Rajnikanth, swaggers to the podium, and speaks a little
Tamil, it was all I could do to keep from choking.
His ex-CIA agent avatar looks like that Mickey Rourke
character from Sin City. Paired with Mallika Sherawat,
the rogue agent-killer asks her if she can speak English.
A reasonable question for an American to ask an Indian,
if it wasn’t being asked in a Las Vegas strip
club where he meets her pole dancing.
Kamal, the experienced auteur, should know well enough
by now that the script shouldn’t be the 11th avataram
but the first. Dasavatharam doesn’t add up to
that spectacular movie experience I had waited so long
and so eagerly for.
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