Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dasavathaaram – a page from history

An ode to the Vaishnava faith
Dasavathaaram – a page from history

How Dasavathaaram fares at the box office remains for the audiences to decide, but the fact that the movie uncovers many hidden and hardly talked about pages from history will remain something that will keep it in our memories for some time to come.
The history
The movie begins with an episode that re-creates the tale of a Vaishnava Brahmin (Iyengar) who lives in the town of Chidambaram in 12 Century AD. Tamilnadu at this point of time was a purely Hindu country extensively ruled by the Chozhas. Vaishnava and Shaiva politics were in vogue and the Chozhas being vehemently strong Shaivaites obviously supported the Shaiva Brahmins (Iyers). Kamal Hassan plays the role of a Vaishnava Brahmin who refuses to give up his faith in Vishnu and agree to the king’s wishes of a total Shaivic state religion that proclaims Shiva as the prime deity.

What actually happened?
What can be called an inquisition of sorts occurred all over deltaic Tamilnadu and Vishnu or Perumaal temples were often broken into, destroyed or damaged and Shiva was usually re-instated as the prime deity. Many Iyengars fled to other parts of Southern India, a huge number to Karnataka where the Hoysalas and other kingdoms were still quite unbiased. The population that chose to remain were tortured and recently discovered proof even claims that as severe punishments as impaling were prevalent.
The characterisation
The character played by Kamal Hassan is given the option to renounce his faith or be drowned with the reclining idol of Vishnu that was being shifted out of the temple in Chidambaram. He chooses the latter and is drowned alive after his son is forced to perform the last rites. The film ends the narrative at the drowning, but the Vaishnavic tendencies re-emerge at the end when the Tsunami and the re-emergence of the reclining Vishnu kind of re-emphasize the image of Vishnu as the protector. Asin’s character has also been unabashedly based on the life of Andal, the much romanticized other spouse of Vishnu also known as Ranganaayaki, and the fact that she plays a role quite similar to folk portrayals of Andal and is also called Andal in the film is something that cannot miss the attention of any culturophile.
Did Kamal Hassan decide to portray his Vaishnava faith in the film, which is why these influences cannot go unnoticed, or was this just a recreation of history? No one can answer this other than him, but we’re impressed with the guts of the screenplay writer, who has brought back the attention to this forgotten page of South India’s history. Where we come from and who we are, is something no one should ever forget, however bloody our history has been.



The much publicized Dasavathaaram finally hit screens today, and even though the hype created about the movie and its making did enough PR for the film, the film passes of as as a mediocre movie on the whole.
A brilliant screenplay that somehow manages to convincingly connect the ten roles of Kamal Hassan is put to waste with the utter chaos in how the film was made. The music was not very impressive, especially when one considers Himesh Reshammiya was paid a crore per song, and while you do get carried away by the gripping narrative and in-numerous twists, the final over all ‘feel’ is not very convincing.
We were impressed immensely by the 12 Century part of the film, where the well researched storyline and brilliant graphics created one of the most outstandingly convincing portrayals of the period. Be it the language, the costume or the emotions expressed, this small glimpse into a bloody episode in South Indian history deserves all the accolades it can receive. Asin was also quite the refresher and her portrayal of a young Iyengar girl in both her roles was a pleasure to watch. The acting isn’t bad, and the story definitely doesn’t suck, it’s the fake graphics and complete chaos in the otherwise brilliant film that acts as the biggest spoiler.
The film has some of the best comedy and action sequences we’ve ever seen, and Kamal Hassan in his Telegu avatar is irrepressible! Watch out for an extremely cute looking Japanese character who manages to pull of her accented Tamil with an incomparable panache. Guest appearances by old timers all through the film, including several directors do add to all the excitement, but the over emphasis on what we can only call Vaishnava-glorifying is something that cannot be ignored. If Sivaji has an overtone of hidden political messages, this one is unabashedly open about its religious inclinations.
The movie is worth one watch and all we’ll say is don’t have too many expectations and prepare to be amusingly surprised!

Asin as Andaal in Dasaavathaaram

Watch out for!
Kamal Hassan, he is the ‘ulaga-nayakan’ (universal hero) for a reason and the bits of maddening comedy all through the film

Don’t watch out for!
A scary background score that does no justice whatsoever and graphics that will make you snigger all through the movie.

A definite one-time watch. You will be entertained, just don’t hope to take too much back home.