Readers Write In #118: Why Kamal is not an actor

Posted on November 30, 2019


(by Ramamoorthi N, written on his Facebook page a few years ago)

In the small Railway town I grew up, my mother (God bless her soul) would dress in a dotted saree and dark “cooling” glasses whenever she stepped out of home, thus creating the effect of one of the many middle aged heroines the early Kamal romanced in his movies. Earning for herself the sobriquet, “Kamalahasan Mami”. That was the impact Kamalahasan had, 500 km away from where he lived. (To me, he will always be Kamalahasan. Not Kamal Hassan. Just like it will always be Mount Road, not Anna Salai.)

Years ago when I tagged along with my mother to watch his movies, he was this funny and devilishly handsome guy. (God, you wanted to be that guy!) Later of course, I watched with overflowing Tamil pride when the world hailed him as a great actor who did impossible roles and won all those awards.

But today, when I reflect on his completing 57 years in cinema, I think he’s not an actor.

(Spoiler alert, click-bait leading to nothing controversial! )

Great actors bring meaning to their roles from inside. Kamal is so much more. He sees his roles from outside, from his audience’s seat, so he knows exactly the effect he needs to create. And how to get it.

So Kamal is this street smart production manager who somehow seems to have access to hundreds of wigs, props and other things. Much like Imelda Marcos and her shoes, he probably opens his cupboard every morning and goes, “Ah, I’ll look like this today”. Maybe the inspiration is derived from the blockbuster productions of stage masters like RS Manohar.

He is a talent scout who liberally borrows looks and mannerisms from people across the world. Dev Anand/Gregory Peck have appeared in romantic scenes. Al Pacino was in “MMKR”. I know Telugu so I know who GK Rayudu (“Indrudu Chandrudu”) and Balaram Naidu (“Dasavatharam”) are but I won’t tell.

He’s the cinematic equivalent of a cardsharp, secretly exulting in the success of his undiscovered con. For years, he never revealed how they made Appu happen.

To portray violence in a character, Kamal just uses teeth. Yes, teeth. Try the psychopathic Dileep (“Sigappu Rojakkal”), the murderous Michael (“MMKR”) or the mentally unhinged Nandu (“Aalavandhaan”).

He understands language and dialogue writing like no other in this country, or perhaps anywhere in the world. He embarrasses us Tamilians with his deep knowledge and use of the language. If you think his mastery is limited to different dialects of Tamil, watch the “Sharma” scene in “Chachi 420”. By the way, he is also the guy who gave us our first “foreign return” English.

He has an awesome perception of cultural atmosphere. I’m not being racist here, but it is unbelievable that a Brahmin by birth can direct and/or play “Virumandi” and “PKS”.

People who know and watch movies in multiple languages will understand this – I hate remakes because I feel cheated when I go to the theatre to find out I’ve seen the story before.But even here Kamal adds layers to create a new experience. “Papanasam”, the most recent example of such sleight-of-hand, turned out to be a drishyam within a Drishyam.

My wish for Kamalahasan on his 57th year? He keeps calling himself a student of cinema but I think it’s time he also becomes the coach. And not just in a Drona- Ekalavya way which only leads to poor imitations. I’d love to see him direct more, direct other lead actors, give them characters he’d normally play, pass on his tradecraft as unselfishly as the master directors of the past passed them on to him.

Selfishly speaking, Indian cinema needs Kamalahasan to be Akram teaching swing to young bowlers more than it needs for him to be Colin Cowdrey out to take on Lillee and Thommo.

May he be around for 57 years more! May his art live 10 times longer!