Kamal Haasan, the master actor, is back in Papanasam
July 07 2015 11:25 PM
BACK IN CHARACTER: A screen grab from Kamal Haasan’s latest film.
BACK IN CHARACTER: A screen grab from Kamal Haasan’s latest film.

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

Many months ago, when I watched Jeethu Joseph’s Malayalam feature, Drishyam, in Chennai, I was floored by the audience response. Even though the film had been playing for several weeks, the auditorium where I saw it was packed, and the applause every time the protagonist, Mohanlal, outwitted the police was thunderous.
Reams of newsprint haven been used to analyse why Drishyam proved such a runaway hit. I would think — agreeing with all those who felt the same — that police brutality and misuse of State power were the key factors that endeared the masses to Mohanlal’s Georgekutty, a humble cable television operator, who had not gone beyond class four in school, but who is perceptive and intelligent enough to learn from the string of movies he watches night after night, sitting in his tiny office room in a Kerala village.
As Joseph told me in the course of a recent interview in Chennai, viewers identified themselves with the problems and sufferings of Georgekutty and his family. “People completely sympathised with the cable television guy... They were on the same emotional wave length as Georgekutty and his family of wife and two daughters — one of whom was wronged by the rich son of a top police official.”
The phenomenal success of Drishyam encouraged Joseph to helm a Tamil version of the film with Kamal Haasan and Gautami. Called Papanasam (a town in Tamil Nadu renowned for its Shiva temple), it opened last week.
One of the nicest aspects about Papanasam is the return of Haasan as we all once knew him, the great master actor. He had at some point in his career lost himself into characters larger than life, parts he may not have been comfortable playing — like those in Uttama Villain and Viswaroopam.
Haasan is marvellous as a small town cable-television operator, Suyumbulingam, who more than makes up for his lack of education, having just scrapped through standard four, by learning from cinema. Night after night, he travels through movies, by picking up an unbelievable lot of information from them — at one point enough to drive Tamil Nadu police to sheer exasperation.
Although it may be odious to draw comparisons, one would naturally pit Haasan against the Malayalam superstar, Mohanlal, who was brilliant in Drishyam — an absorbing play of cat-and-mouse, where the rodent is undoubtedly smarter than the feline creature.
The essential difference between the two stars is the way they have tackled the script: while Haasan infuses a liberal dose of the emotional quotient into Suyumbulingam, Mohanlal’s Georgekutty is cold, calculated and ruthless. Even when he is mercilessly beaten by the cop and left bruised and bleeding in order to force a confession out of him and his family — which is present there during this sadistic show of State power — he smiles if only to instil a certain confidence into his wife and daughters and lift their dangerously sagging spirits. Haasan instead conveys pain and anguish in what is a clear demonstration of emotion, rather than courage or bravado.
Even at the climax, while Mohanlal is composed and amazingly restrained during his meeting with the Inspector-General of Police (portrayed by Asha Sharat in both versions), Haasan is overcome with grief as he makes his admission — or almost.
My question here is, will not such an emotional approach reduce the impact of what is clearly a crime thriller — where the son of the Inspector-General of Police clicks the pictures of Suyumbulingam’s elder daughter, Selvi (Nivetha Thomas), and later demands sex from her. Otherwise, the tell-tale clip will go viral, he warns her.
The plot — probably well known by now — involves a murder and Suyumbulingam’s canny moves to protect his family, moves that infuriate the IG to such an extent that she orders the police to go in for a violent interrogation. Even Suyumbulingam’s wife, Rani (Gautami reappearing on screen after ages, and what a gripping piece of acting) and Selvi are not spared. The methods employed by the cops are extremely painful to watch, and as we see an unflinching IG (whose son is missing) and her rather docile husband (Anant Mahadevan), one can well understand how low a State can stoop to ferret out information — ways that may be entirely unlawful as we see in Papanasam, as we also witnessed in Drishyam.
The Tamil edition is longer by about 15 minutes than Drishyam, and at 180 minutes, the time does not really weigh on us. For the performances in Papanasam, even those of the daughters, Esther Anil (as Menace) and Thomas, are polished, and the directorial touch of Joseph is seamless. The story and script are his as well.
A must watch for those fans of Kamal who have been waiting to see him as an actor — not a star driven to stunts — and, of course, Gautami, who would certainly rekindle memories of her great performances in works like Thevar Magan, Iruvar and so on.
Remakes galore
This is certainly the age of film remakes. One after the other is popping out of the cans. Vamsi Paidipally, the Telugu director whose Brindavanam and Yevadu jingled the boxoffice, is now set to remake a French movie, The Intouchables, with Tamil heartthrob Karthi, Telugu charmer, Nagarjuna, and that stunner, Tamaannaah.
In Tamil Nadu, we are just savouring the remake of the Malayalam thriller, Drishyam, with Kamal Haasan stepping into the shoes of Mohanlal. Papanasam appears like a wonderful homecoming for Kamal. We see him as he once was, an engaging actor.
Haasan will soon be seen in another remake, Thoongavanam, culled out of the French thriller
Sleepless Night, helmed by Frederic Jardin in 2011. Prakash Raj will co-star with Kamal.
Paidipally’s film has not yet been given a title, but will be shot extensively in Serbia. It is interesting to see Indian helmers and producers getting adventurous, and stepping outside familiar terrains like Switzerland, London, New York, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.
Now, who would have thought of shooting an Indian movie in Serbia. But then, there is perhaps, something that Paidipally discovered that we have not. Serbia was once part of Yugoslavia. Today, Serbia is a small independent nation, reputed for its elan and feisty defiance as well as one of the hottest destinations for night life. The rivers Danube and Sava have innumerable floating nightclubs known for their wild parties.
It is into this arena of fun and frolic that Karthi, Nagarjuna and Tamaannaah will walk to create the Telugu and Tamil versions of The Intouchables. Made in 2011 by Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano, The Intouchables or The Untouchables is a poignant drama of two men, one a quadriplegic and the other, his caregiver, a criminal who had been jailed for robbery. Inspired by a true event of a man left crippled after a paragliding mishap, The Intouchables became one of the biggest crowd pullers in France.
The French film, despite its tragic tale, was handled in a breezy style, in fact, almost in a comic way. It was no weepy tale of a man. It was not even a plot about the usual recklessness of caregivers. Rather, The Intouchables is bright, sunny and positive — although one cannot miss the underlying tension of class and race conflict here as one are taken through fascinating male bonding. The quadriplegic is a white millionaire, while his caregiver is a black man from a poorer background. The written material could have easily lent itself to a sentimental sob story.
Will Paidipally follow this mode? Or, will he turn his movie into a depressively tragic narrative?
Whatever that be, one is happy to note that Indian cinema is finally getting gutsy. It is admitting that it is into remakes, and officially so. One remembers Mahesh Bhatt’s 1991 Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi — which was a frame by frame copy of Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night — immortalised by Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert. They were acting together for the first time. So was Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt — who in a way also made the film unforgettable with the songs. After a long time, one felt that melody was returning to Hindi cinema.
But Bhatt never admitted — at least openly — that his work was remade from the Hollywood blockbuster.
So, we would soon see the Telugu/Tamil editions of The Intouchables, and why not! A good story, a good script needs to be borrowed and remade and shown to a far wider audience. A good plot seldom gets dated. No wonder, Shakespeare remains so popular centuries after he wrote those classic plays, and they continue to be staged even today in so many, many languages — with directors like Vishal Bharadwaj going in for free adaptations of the Bard’s dramas. And with remarkable success.

* Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and world cinema for over three decades, and may be e-mailed
at [email protected]

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