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Set to score a perfect ten

What next? Catch Kamal Hasan in 10 different roles in "Dasavatharam". S. Shivkumar talks to the veteran actor



If there is a numerical equation to multiply entertainment, Kamal Hasan is all set to write it with "Dasavatharam". The multi-faceted veteran will portray ten different roles in a single film and this time we will see Kamal feeling quite at home with a perfect American accent too.

You would expect nothing less from the team that worked on "Avvai Shanmughi", "Tenali" and "Panchatantram". It is again at work here, and crafting the project, produced by `Oscar' V. Ravichandran, is director K.S. Ravikumar. Dialogues are by `Crazy' Mohan, interspersed with A. R. Rahman's overtures. Some of Sujata's contribution to the story will perk up the script.

A film that is woven together with multiple roles is not really conceptually unique, but each one raises the bar for the next — Sivaji made "Navarathri" stand out and in Hollywood, Eddie Murphy and Peter Sellers did the same.

Kamal knows that he must now add to the lustre of the multi-role entertainment genre. Can he pull it off? Relaxing between scenes being shot for "Vettaiyadu Vilayadu" (he plays a young-looking, jean-clad double-button shirted type in the film) he turns contemplative and thinks that "Ellam Inba Mayam" was a clumsy and amateurish attempt.

But for "Dasavatharam", he is getting the language right, literally. He is travelling to the U.S. to practise the accent. In the successful "Rama, Shaama, Bhama" (the Kannada remake of "Sathi Leelavathi"), he ventured to do something that even Kannada actors usually don't: Speak with an Udipi accent. Picking up an authentic Yankee accent (we must wait to see how much it drawls) is going to be a lot less difficult.

"Every role is a challenge. Some succeed, some fail," says the star. The only constant that holds good for him is the urge to experiment each time, eliminating the clichés.

Taking a sweeping look at the territory he has covered so far, Kamal thinks it has been a mix of top commercial successes, unsung but brilliant accomplishments and examples of things that failed because they were avant garde by conventional audience standards.

"It's like childbirth. Some die in the process, some go on to become Presidents," he smiles. "Some of my unsung performances are my favourites. I rate "Hey Ram" very high. The movie is an important step in self-improvement. When I see "Guna", I know that I could have done that shot better. Or "Nayagan", for that matter. Everyone harps on "Nayagan". But I personally think it was not an extraordinary performance," he says.

Cinema speaks for itself. "It is like a policeman who can find the lie in a thief or the mother who can tell if her son is fibbing. A good actor can find the lie in his performance," says Kamal.

Then why do bad performances happen? The pressure is always there. Even Brando and Shakespeare worked under pressure. It is just personal endurance.

What is special about "Hey Ram"? "In "Hey Ram" there is very little obvious acting. You are able to empathise. There are moments in the film where you see the inside of the man, simply staring into a woman. The love scene with the second wife and scenes when Nehru announces that Gandhiji is dead are great."

That is the turn-of-the-century Kamal. Many remember the gawky and nervous youth whose character emerged first in black and white. Some of that intensity was natural. He was less than cocky then, after all, he was working for K. Balachander. Was it the pressure of working for a master?

As we learn, the contrary is true. "With a director like Balachander any actor is safe. It was he who noticed and nurtured my acting talent," he says. "I am very fond of "Avargal". I was very young and full of confidence. These are films that made my confidence grow and took me all the way to north India," he adds.

Groomed by Balachander

To many young actors of that time, Balachander was like a potter. "He can mould any actor. The amount of film he will waste on stars is mind-boggling. I was already his blue-eyed boy during "Manmatha Leelai" and it was an interesting subject. For that period it was unusual, a breaking down of the fidelity stereotypes."

Everyone recognises the brilliance of Kamal as "Chappani", the unconventional tragic hero of "Pathinaaru Vayathinele", who is linked in the film to Sridevi and contrasted with a rakish character played by Rajinikant. "It was a director's film. Bharatirajaa took Tamil cinema to new heights. The director was also an equal hero in the film," is Kamal's take on the classic. "My performance in "Kokila" in Kannada received kudos from Mrinal Sen. He was surprised to see that kind of performance from the South. That's when he noticed me," says Kamal, breaking away from the nostalgic wave.

"Some were critical of me for being too stylish in "Marocharitra". This is a market place and people will love my style. I assured them and it did." "Nizhal Nijamagirathu" was far superior to "Marocharitra", he thinks. With due respect to Bharatirajaa, Balu Mahendra and Mahendran, he feels, "Aval Appadi Thaan" was a daring attempt.

The actor, who is currently reading C.K. Prahlad's "Fortune At the Bottom of the Pyramid," is busy compiling a collection of his own Tamil poems. Another Kamal avatar?

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