When he was just 4 years old, a child came onto a film set and changed Cinema’s history forever. Since then, he has sang, danced, performed stunts, written songs and screenplays, directed legendary films, and of course, acted in more than 230 films across Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and Bengali. His name is Kamal Haasan.
Here is my top 5 Kamal films of all time! These are my very personal favorites among so many others.
1- Salangai Oli, directed by K Viswanath, released in 1983
We live in a time of KGF 2, RRR, Pushpa and even Kamal Hassan’s own Vikram. All of these are action films driven by the macho image of the lead heroes. Punch dialogues, slow motion entries, violent fight sequences, big explosions… These are the elements that make up a « mass » film today. But back in 1983, this unassuming drama film about dance had a different kind of mass sequence. We are introduced to Balu. He is an alcoholic newspaper journalist and art critic. This is a man that we know absolutely nothing about. On one of his job assignments, he is supposed to go and review this dance performance by Sailaja, a popular female dancer. After her performance, everyone applauses and praises her. However, only Balu gives a very negative review in his newspaper. Seeing this, the next day, Sailaja hands up at his office, confronts him and asks him: “what do you know about dance to write a review like this?” What happens after is, in my opinion, one of Kamal’s best mass moments in cinema. The best part is that there is no violence. But you still feel like getting up from your seat and whistling. One of the things that I love about Kamal is how we can portray pain in so many different ways. This film about the pain of an honest artist breaks my heart every time I watch it, and I still keep going back to it.
Another film about an honest man is:
2 – Varumayin Niram Sivappu (transl : The colour of poverty is red), directed by K Balachander, released 1980
K Balachander is the one who introduced Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth to Tamil Cinema. The setting of this film is the early 80s. This is the time when India was going through a huge unemployment crisis. In the middle of this crisis, there is Rangan. He is a well-educated but unemployed man living with his Tamil roommates, in Delhi. He is trying to look for a job. He has every quality that is required to get whatever job was there, during that time, except that he has a very big weakness: his honesty is straightforwardness. This does not allow him to adjust at any regular workplace. Therefore, he keeps getting thrown out of jobs. He is never afraid to speak his mind. He is never afraid to express his anger against the system or against his own father. Rangan will stay hungry but will never work at a job that goes against his honesty, his ideals and his morals.
3 – Nammavar (transl : One of ours), directed by K S Sethumadhavan, story and screenplay by Kamal Haasan, released in 1994
This film is very close to me for a very specific reason. When I was in young, I hardly had any teachers that I could look up to. I am sure a lot of you can relate to this. As I did not have teachers who could be role models to look up to, obviously, like for everything else in life, I turned to cinema. I would go to the movies to find characters like Robin William’s character in Dead Poet Society, Amir Khan as Ram Shankar in Taare Zameen Par, and Kamal Haasan as professor Selvam in Nammavar. If you watched Master with actor Vijay, JD, the main character is supposed to be the student of Professor Selvam back in the day. Selvam is his biggest inspiration. Professor Selvam is not a regular professor. He has unique teaching methods. He has this fearlessness against the other staffs. Compared to the other teachers, Selvam is really progressive. For that time, it was a big thing. He would enter the classroom, see boys and girls sitting separately and ask them to sit together, to mingle with each other, to get to know one another, and to become aware of the opposite sex.
4 – Apoorva Sagodhargal (transl : Unique brothers), directed by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, screenplay by Kamal Haasan, released in 1989
The screenplay that he wrote is easily one of the finest “masala” screenplays ever. I mean “masala” in the most positive sense. I really believe “masala” cinema is India’s identity. It is a classical example of how a simple revenge story can get elevated by this fast-moving focus screenplay. In 2018, Shahrukh Kahn played a dwarf character in Zero. It was done using VFX. But if we look back in the late 80s when there was no VFX, how the team used practical effects to show Kamal Haasan as Appu the dwarf? Kamal had to walk with folded knees in the special shoes that they made. In some shorts, they used to dig a trench so that Kamal would be placed inside. They used different camera angles to portray him. This is the reason why this film is so special.
5 – Nayagan (transl : Hero), directed by Mani Ratnam, released in 1987
I discovered Nayagan on a random afternoon, in my first year of uni. Once I did, for every day of that month, I watched it over and over again. In every way possible, Nayagan is a gorgeous work of art. What really stands out for me, more than anything else, is the nature of Sakthivel character. He is supposed to be a gangster. But the way the character is written makes him so vulnerable. He is this stoic introverted man who does not speak much in the beginning. As the film goes along, he becomes more and more vulnerable and more and more unafraid to express his emotions. Apart from all the awards, apart from all the box office success that Nayagan got, the film is literally a landmark film. It brought a lot of changes. It changed the way gangsters were shown in cinema. It changed Kamal’s career trajectory. It paved the way to so many of our best filmmakers, including Gautham Menon and Vetrimaaran.
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