The Dasavatharam answer to all the critical clamor

How can a priest fight?

Many have had this doubt. How does Rangarajan, a pious Vaishnavite priest fight off a number of soldiers? Too much of a cinematic liberty, many opine. But, there is an explanation, deep in Tamil culture and caste hierarchy (where each one was married to the ancestral profession by birth), there were a sect of Brahmins called the Ammathyayans whose profession used to be war. It might sound hard to believe but yes, there were warriors among Brahmins, too. And, coming from an industry where cinematic liberties regularly insult the intelligence of the audience, this should more than suffice as an explanation.

Where’s the story?

When did Kamal promise one? True, the plot can be summed up in one line, but the complexities are numerous. It is a delicate explanation of the Chaos Theory where every incident, however good or bad it may seem to us, has its

own role in the grand scheme of things. The movie shows how the 10 characters act in such a way, that the vial carrying biological weapon of mass destruction, that could be neutralized only by common salt, is brought to the seashore just minutes before the tsunami. A bit earlier or later could not have had the same effect as that of the huge waves rushing in. The design of the universe was to annihilate the bio weapon and the characters were merely pawns who played their destined roles, some hurrying and others delaying the journey of the vial, so that it reached the sea at just the right time. The way complaints about the lack of a story have been rising makes us think whether Kamal was supposed to have contrived the plot such that all 10 characters are brothers who were separated in their childhood and brought up in different corners of the world and recognize each other with a family song or a birthmark unique to the family! It would have definitely been a story then –only the movie would have looked like a 1970 Bollywood melodrama!

Is the budget justified, why do the songs look so plain?

Many don’t seem to be able to see the 60 crores, they say that it hasn’t translated into grandeur on the screen. Maybe, they failed to notice that almost 90% of the frames of Dasavatharam have more than one Kamal, all the scenes have more than one for sure and most of them have at least three and we don’t want to elaborate further. One is a 90 year old woman, there is a pot bellied cop, a mean Yankee, a 7 footer, a Japanese etc… The amount of graphics that would have gone in to get the movie in shape is good enough to justify any budget. And about the songs, do they have to look out of the world?

Dasavatharam is fiction, not fantasy. It is firmly grounded in realities and bound by the confines of the Chaos theory (which some might find difficult to swallow). In a cross country chase for the possession of a vial that is a weapon of mass destruction, where is the place for a song shot in the plush meadows of Switzerland or Austria? Yes, K.S. Ravikumar and Ravivarman would have made it look good and it might have made a few people believe that the 60 crores were well spent, but think of what it would have done to the movie. There might have been a strong temptation to include a Kamal-Asin duet and we must applaud the crew for resisting it. The songs of Dasavatharam are as natural as they can be. First, a soulful chant by a 12th century priest, a raunchy number by a strip club dancer, a devotional song in the true tradition of Chidambaram and a stage performance by a pop star. The song in the title tracks has no bearing on the movie, it’s just a postscript. Every song is just as it should be, not an ounce more. There are only few instances in Tamil cinema where songs remain so true to the script.

The ladies are exasperating!

Many are of the opinion that one lady is finished off far too early and the other hangs in for too long. There seems to be hardly any reason to complain about the supposedly premature end of Mallika Sherawath’s character. It is a mishap that occurs during a risky attempt to grab the vial in a crowded place, there is nothing out of logic. Only Mallika Sherawath fans who expected her characteristic glamour to parade on screen should find reasons enough to moan. There are also others who feel that that her club song was a bit unwarranted. Well, where would you expect to find a girl who accepts an offer for a transcontinental chase with a man she hardly knows the moment she is offered some money - at a bank counter or at a supermarket?! It has to be some place like a dance bar.

Asin, poor lady, has received brickbats for being so obsessed with Lord Krishna. Some feel she ought to have been slapped by Govind half way into the movie. Slapping ladies is a stereotype that Tamil cinema can afford to do without. Besides, expecting a biological scientist like Govind to be chauvinistic enough to slap a lady (that too one as good looking as Asin) and snatch the idol would be unrealistic. If you watch the movie you will notice that Govind never wants to get into a fight, even when faced by grave danger, he is always running away from violence. He doesn’t seem to be able to slap the man who is trying to kill him, let alone a woman who is an innocent bystander.

The beach quarrel?

This is definitely the scene that has been beaten badly and bruised by many people. They find the small talk at the site of a monumental disaster irritating. Granted, a tsunami hit beach is not the place for petty quarrels. But think of Govind’s frame of mind. For him and Asin, the tsunami was a timely deluge of common salt that prevented the death of millions across continents. They, in their opinion, have just witnessed the escape of mankind from a disaster of proportions that could dwarf the tsunami. After days of tension, their minds are now at rest knowing that the deadly ‘ebola-hanta combination’ has been neutralized by NaCl.

There is an old fable. A line was drawn and a man was asked to make the line smaller without erasing off any portion. The man simply drew a bigger line beside it and the first line indeed looked smaller. Here the tsunami was the small line and the bio-weapon dwarfed it. Only Kamal and Asin knew about it, hence the relaxed state of mind and small talk.

Why weren't the following appreciated?

Finally there are certain things about Dasavatharam that seem to have been missed in the flush of criticism. No two characters except Rangarajan and Govnidarajan share the same height and voice. If Apoorva Sahodarargal had one normal man and a dwarf, Dasavatharam has all ranges starting from the hunchback to the giant. The voices range from the husky, to the shrill. It is the kind of variety and dexterity that has never been seen in world cinema. It also has to be remembered that the movie is based on the chaos theory, something that requires understanding. If such a concept has been incorporated, along with a bio-weapon message, an environmental edge and narrated in such a lucid way that even a layman is able to connect, the maker has to be someone special. How often do we hear of scientific theories contributing to movies?

There is the technical aspect which does seem to have received a fair amount of appreciation. However, we cannot help but mention the climax fight between Narahashi and Fletcher as a masterpiece in graphics. Of course, as said above, most of the frames of Dasavatharam are technical showpieces by themselves, not because they are out of this world, but because they have made everything look so real. Finally there has been talk about how the characters of Dasavatharam don’t stick to the mind. Some say that only Boovaragan sticks while others remember Balram and so on. But the fact here is that most people know the characters that they say have not stuck to their mind, they identify the ‘non-stick’ing characters by name or appearance. That is proof enough that a mark has been created. For instance, Rangarajan Nambi does not appear on screen after the initial 10 minutes. He is non-existent for the next 150 odd minutes and yet many remember to criticize the way in which he fought off the soldiers!

It is easy to get carried away in the wave of criticism and not appreciate the real class of the movie. The fact that so much has been talked about the movie tells us about the impression it has created. What has to be realized is that we may have to wait decades before we see anything even remotely close to this. It is tough even for a genius and dedicated professional like Kamal to keep making efforts like this. One has to just open up one’s mind to see all that is wonderful about Dasavatharam and please don’t appreciate it for charity, only for Kamal Haasan or because someone asked you to be a sport. Dasavatharam is a creation that deserves far better.

By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun Gopinath.

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