Kamalahasan: Has India produced a greater actor?

Posted in the Kamal Hassan Forum

Kannan K N

Bangalore, India

#1 Feb 19, 2013
I can already ‘feel’ several brows rising, particularly amongst those who must have suffered the actor’s extravagant indulgence in megalomania –‘Dashavataram’, or several other such misadventures over the last 5 years or so. I, an erstwhile admirer, had more or less written off Kamal, post Dashavataram, as an actor destined to discredit himself during his sunset years – as is often the case with artistes who start taking themselves more seriously than their art itself. However, the recent controversy over Vishwaroopam and the consequent media attention rekindled my interest in the actor. So much so that I felt compelled to revisit his body of work – only to find that even this exercise of merely revisiting what I already knew left me speechless all over again! So here I go - I now say with a fair degree of conviction that there has never been a greater Indian actor. And I am ready to take on the dissenters.

At the risk of sounding rather immodest, I can say that I have seen them all. From thespians like Dilip Kumar, Shivaji Ganeshan, Ashok Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Uttam Kumar to the masters of method acting like Naseeruddin, Shabana, Smita, Om puri, Soumitra Chatterjee, Pankaj Kapoor, Irfan Khan to the absolute naturals like Mohan Lal, Mammootty, Sanjeev Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri to the ‘star-actors’ like Amitabh, Amir (who too can boast of several flashes of brilliance), I have seen a significant amount of work of each of these icons of Indian cinema. Having done so, I can say with certainty that none of them can boast of a body of work that is so prolific and yet so brilliant as that of Kamalahasan.

While evaluating Kamal the actor, one is often faced with the tricky task of having to see his work distinct from the overall worth of his films. Understandably none of his films can match the finesse of well made Hindi films. Kamal never got to work with the best Indian film makers of his times like Stayajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Govind Nihlaini, Shekhar Kapur or even a Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar or Mahesh Bhat – because Tamil cinema quite simply did not have any. Nor did he get the support of great co-actors, to the standards you routinely find in Malayalam or Bengali cinema. But still Kamal rarely failed to make a telling mark. You see the sheer variety of his roles, and you realize easily that there has never been an actor in Indian mainstream cinema who has experimented so much with his roles. Despite being an obvious believer that films are meant first and foremost to entertain - Kamal has fiercely and relentlessly fought the safe comfort of a set image throughout his career, though he had enough opportunities to settle comfortably into one. And the extent to which he can raise his own stakes in chasing a vision or a dream is absolutely mind boggling. How else do you describe the sheer madness of a regional film maker talking of a 100 crore budget in the nineties! Remember Marudanayagam? Queen Elizabeth et al.[Please ‘You Tube’ snippets of whatever he shot for this film and you will (like me) hope that this movie gets made eventually]

Sample my picks out Kamal’s films over the last 50 years and judge for yourself. It is a pity that we do not celebrate this man and his exploits a little more.

Absolute Classics
1. Nayakan
2. Pushpak
3. Moondram Pirai
4. Mahanadi
5. Swati Muthyam (Telugu)/Sippikkul Muththu (Tamil)
6. Sagara Sangamam (Telugu)/Silangai Oli (Tamil)
7. Anbe Shivam
Intense Drama
8. Thevar Magan
9. Virumandi
10. Oru Kaidiyin Diary
11. Kurudhi Punal
12. Vettayadu Vilayadu
13. Thenali
14. Meendum Kokila
15. Panchtantram
16. Pammal K Sambandham
17. Sati Leelavati
18. Ek Duje Ke Liye
19. Raja Parvai
20. Apoorva Ragangal
21. 16 Vaithinile
22. Punnagai Mannan
23. Indran Chandran
24. Michael Madana Kamarajan
25. Apoorva Sahodarargal
26. Indian
27. Kalaththur Kannamma
28. Vaumayin Niram Sigappu
29. Guna
30. Chanakya
31. Hey Ram

Kannan K N


#2 Mar 24, 2013
this list compiles mostly tamil movies with few telugu but you really missed some good malayalam,telugu hits of the universal star.
Shankar V


#3 Jul 15, 2013
If kamal had been born into bollywood from his early days then his acceptance would have been greater.

He has done mainstream and art films with equal aplomb.

He has not only concentrated on acting but on all aspects of a film - screenplay , characterisation, technical aspects.

He has also written and sung songs.

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