Several hours after I saw the amazing
camera chameleon Kamal Haasan transform into 10 utterly different characters, my
head was still reeling.
"Is that also him?" my daughter kept asking about every character - man, woman or child - who popped up in this action-reaction drama on the dynamics of destiny, karma, religion, politics and global terrorism.
You have to see "Dashavatar" to know what the astounding Kamal Haasan has attempted and failed to achieve in this woefully ambitious tale of greed and lust for life - and I don`t only mean the emotions that motivate the characters.
The actor, who is also the screenwriter of this flamboyant tale of rebellious warriors, international gangs and parochial accents, is also motivated by a lust and ambition for more, more and more of himself on screen. He doesn`t just hog footage. He wallows it up without a burp.
On-screen megalomania is not a good thing for the wellbeing of a film. When the actor becomes several sizes larger than the vehicles invented to accommodate his restless talents, its time for the actor to slow down and consider why cinema flourished as an art form in the first place.
Was it so that one day an actor of Kamal Haasan`s stature could monopolise screen time to the detriment of all narrative equilibrium?
Indeed, the actor`s audacity takes your breath away. Right before our stunned eyes Kamal Haasan transforms into characters ranging from an old cantankerous woman to George Bush.
The funniest of them all is an impersonation of a pompous, parochial Bengali government agent (whose ringtone is R.D. Burman`s "Jaane-e-jaan tu kahan main yahan" in Bengali) assigned to bring a global terrorist (played with snarling lipsmacking relish by, who else, Kamal The Chameleon) to book. They chase one another on land and in space. They create mayhem but no pace or space for the narration to breathe in any semblance of grace.
This is an epic that loses control over its resources. A Tamil maestro of the performing arts doing a Bengali accent is as outrageous as Jaya Prada playing the wife of a cancer-stricken Punjabi Bhangra-pop singer.
Oh, didn`t I tell you? Kamal Haasan also does a Punjabi. And why not? "Dashavatar" is an ode to Indianess in all its gory glory. It starts several centuries ago and ends in in 2004 with the Tsunami waters creating a havoc and catastrophe (impressively staged) far more containable than what what this film has achieved.
"Dashavatar" is one chaotic, messy and exasperating mass of mammoth ambitions gone awry.
An ongoing theme in all of Kamal Haasan`s cinema is the opposition between religion and cynicism. As in real life, in this film the actor (in one of his 10 avatars) is an agnostic who ironically has to run around with a Krishna statue that has a deadly vial secreted in its clay body. Wow, god meets the NASA!
For company, the agnostic has the hysterical Asin screeching and fretting like Kajol on drugs. Then poor Mallika Sherawat appears to perform a snazzy cabaret to an indeterminate Himesh Reshammiya tune and gets impaled to the nearest wall like a comicbook amazon who forgot to let us know she could and would go from oomphy to grisly without bothering about the strange range of moods that this bizarre film covers.
Don`t blame her. It`s the atmosphere of constant hyper-activity that Kamal Haasan with some help from director Ravi Kumar creates. Some of the aerial action sequences are no doubt breathtaking. And a couple of Kamal Hassan`s avatars, especially the Japanese samurai and the wisened senile woman looking for her long-lost son are outright awesome.
By the time the old lady thinks she has found her son, the director has lost the plot. Completely.
This movie is more a triumph of prosthetic excesses than creative passion.
"Dashavatar" is not a bad film. Its worse. Its an insufferable, self-indulgent film.