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Film Review: Dasavatharam

Posted by anandrr on June 30, 2008

Kamal Hassan is a great actor and undoubtedly an intelligent man. He has acted in a wide variety of roles, almost always doing a good job, and he has written directed and produced a number of good movies. But apparently once you start dressing yourself up in layers of makeup and acting in multiple roles in a movie, you can’t go back. So having graduated from double roles to triple roles to quadruple roles, he seems to have convinced himself that the best possible movie would be one where he plays ten different roles. One would imagine that in addition to the obvious novelty, the movie might have something more to offer: technical wizardry perhaps, grand new advances in facial makeup, innovative story telling techniques, perhaps different strands coming together to reveal the plot, or even just experiments with  chronological progress. If you go in expecting any of these, expect to be sorely disappointed. If, on the other hand, watching Kamal don a number of Halloween style masks and prance around telling a story with no redeeming value is your idea of fun, hie on to the theatres and fork over a wad of your well earned money for this travesty of film making.

The very first impression of this film is its poor technical skills. It starts with an overuse of poor computer-generated imagery and then refuses to let go. When you’re making a movie in India, filling a stadium with extras and filming them watch a President speak while US and Indian flags flutter overhead can’t be the most expensive thing in the movie, especially if you’re making the most expensive Indian movie ever. But watch in horror as you gaze upon a series of 2 dimensional cutouts standing in for real people, a fake flag fluttering in the wind, a fake temple gopuram, fake boats in a fake river making fake ripples as they float by, all of it culminating with a fake shark in a fake ocean. Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. But Kamal had apparently decided that the only thing that peoplw would want to watch in this movie would be he, he, he, he, he, he, he, he, he and he, so really why not just cheaply generate and animate the rest of it? There is a Kamal who is inserted in the movie by a computer, the ultra-tall Kamal. Needless to say, this Kamal looks fake also, he seems to shimmer on surfaces instead of standing on them, he seems to be in his surroundings at times, and mostly just stuck in there. There is one good touch when tall Kamal casually ducks to avoid banging his head against a short door, but when you’ve said that you’ve said everything for the quality of special effects on display here. And then there’s the butterfly. Oh God, the butterfly. A butterfly flits across the screen. The narrator talks about the butterfly effect. It’s, what, 15 years since Forrest Gump made a beautiful feather flit across the screen and no one the wiser that it was fake? And we still can’t get a realistic bloody butterfly to flit hither and thither and not look like it was painted on by a second rate artist?

I am no Tamil genius, but in my limited understanding, there were but two flashes of brilliance of dialogue in the entire film. Once when President Bush dismisses his aide saying, “if it’s complicated, I don’t want to know,” and another when the main character says, “So you really think God created those tectonic plates millions of years ago so that we could have an earthquake here right at this moment? That’s some Intelligent Design.” It’s a great put down, even in the context of the discussion at that point, but here in India we don’t quibble much about the truth behind evolution, so it’s mostly a miss. The rest of the dialogue is mostly misses, the most glaring one being when the villain, a human T-1000 if ever there was one, meets his nemesis in a Japanese martial arts teacher (both Kamal, natch). “Remember Hiroshima,” T-1000 sneers at Kamal-san, “Remember Pearl Harbour,” Kamal-san growls back. And thus we are now ready to watch them beat the stuffing out of each other to avenge 50 year old war crimes.

Later this year Tata will be selling us a car for less than the price of a Segway, so I find it hard to imagine that Segway wanted its product placed so prominently. Yet there is Kamal and colleague going from meeting room to meeting room on a Segway, there he is Segwaying alongside his boss while another chap Segways on behind them, and there he is Segwaying inside a lab as he eavesdrops on the baddies. For a guy who is going to spend the rest of the movie on the run, he seems to have remarkably little experience moving on his own energy, standing still seems to be his most natural state of being.

And then there’s the Captain Obvious affliction. You see, Kamal is a smart man, but the rest of us would never be able to figure out even the simplest things unless we had our faces rubbed in it. So Captain Obvious leaves nothing to subtlety. Oh no, an audience should never have to discuss a movie after they leave the theater, it should all be perfectly laid out in front of them, besides an editor costs money. There’s Kamal fighting for his God just like old Kamal did in the 12th century, there’s the elephant outside the temple just like in the 12th century, wait, there he is fighting people with electric torches just like he fought the baddies with flaming torches to start this all off, and on and on and on, culminating with a shot of this supposedly gigantic idol (except it looks tiny thanks to inconsistent graphics), because we can’t otherwise realise that this gigantic rock thrown up by the ocean with bits of chain stuck to it must be the same idol we saw at the start of the movie with a chain around it unless that fact is made excruciatingly obvious.

Every now and then you see a hat tip to a good movie, a Terminator pose struck here, a shot from inside the trunk of a car there, to show us that the director likes watching good movies, he just doesn’t enjoy making them.

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One Response to “Film Review: Dasavatharam”

  1. PS said

    I thought Zaraa Hatke was the place for reviews? Anyway, as long as you are reviewing something somewhere it’ll do!

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