Movie Dasaavatram is the Flavor of the Season
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Lord Vishnu has incarnated in various life forms through different ages in situations where Hindu religion was in danger. In Hindu mythology, there are ten incarnation of Lord Vishnu; Tortoise, Fish, Boar, Narasimha, Parasurama,Vamana, Krishna, Rama, Buddha and Kalki.
The Tamil movie Dasaavtaram staring Kamala Hassan has supposedly taken a cue from the 10 aavtars of lord Vishnu and its named as so. However its storyline does not seem to have any linkage with the avatars of Vishnu and its all about a deadly virus that find its way out of a well guarded lab in the US and is ready to destroy the world, but its impact gets mitigated eventually by the killer Tsunami waves that had hit the Coramandel coast in 2004.
It could really have been a great mythological movie, if the 10 avatars of Vishnu could have been fit into this story of good verses evil. Many movie goers who had gone to the theater with such expectations came back saying it’s a mish mash of a film having nothing to do with their religion.
Dasaavatram had a perfect opening with all hype and hula built around this mega film much ahead of its release. The Vaishnavites sect of Hindus filed a court case praying this movie hurt their religious sentiments. The Madras High Court rejected their plea on the ground that they were complaining without seeing the film. Then the Supreme Court was moved that too rejected the plea saying the contention lacks circumstantial evidences.
All this happened because the story line of the film was kept a well guarded secret. Its promo tend to suggest that the movie had strong religious aroma but when it was released in theaters on June 13, 2008, the moviegoers came out saying Dasaavatram had nothing to do with the Hindu religion.
The movie opens with settings in the 12th century Tamil Nadu which was a hot bed of fight between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites followers of the Hindu religion. The Shaivite King orders a Vishnu devotee Rangarajan Nambi (Kamala Hassan-1) to utter “Om Namah Shiva” (I bow before Shiva) who refuses to do so and instead says “Om Namoh Nariyana” (I bow before Vishnu). For this Nambi is punished and tied up with the idol of Lord Ranganatha and taken in a boat and thrown into the ocean. The character of Nambi ends there in the movie, only the idol of Lord Ranganatha resurfaces in the end, when the Tsunami struck the Coramandel coast in 2004.
The moviegoers are wondering about the connection of Nambi’s character with the rest of the movie. ‘Why this was there at all, it looked the last shot where the idol reappears, was meant to justify the opening,’ said Vijay who had seen the movie first day first show. He did not seems to be happy with the quick end of Nambi’s character and calls it a patch work not meant for this movie at all. ‘Perhaps Kamala Hassan was planning a period film and so shot this character with a different story line altogether, but that project could not materialize and so this character was patched up in Dasaavatram. Such things are common these days among the musicians and this has happened in this case as well,” Vijay said adding that the common people have been coned.
Another moviegoer, Raghav tries explaining this puzzle in a different way. ‘Kamala Hassan’s movies are like abstract paintings and one has to look at it from that point of view, maybe the linkages of Nambi’s character could be traced at the abstract levels to seek justification,’ he says.
Dasaavatram’s release was hyped up with the audio release of the film. Hollywood actor, Jackie Chang flew into Chennai with his bodyguards to attend the star studded function. Hindi movie’s super star Amitabh Bachachan too came to Chennai to attend the function. Controversy dogged the event, when bollywood’s sex bomb, Malika Sharawat who acts in this movie, sat on the stage with legged crossed in micro- mini skirt. While the 85 years old Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karaunanidhi, could only give her side looks, that too with one eye behind the dark glasses, the audience sitting in front had a theme for a dream that evening.
Dasavathram supposedly made at a whopping cost of Rs 60 crore created enough excitement before its release. The movie sold its audio rights to Sony BMG for close to 2 crore rupees. Theatres across Chennai were booked for the next ten days with almost all the multiplexes having 6 shows a days. In the end the promise of a cinematic extravaganza turned out to be a dam squib, just a flavor in the season of entertainment.
The film actually begins in United States where an Indian scientist Govind Ramasamy (Kamala Hassan-2) discovers that a deadly virus that could be used as a biological weapon goes missing from his lab. He launches a man hunt for it and the plot takes the line of “War on terror.”
American president George W Bush (Kamala Hassan-3) makes appearances on the screen several times, urging the rest of the world to combat this evil design. The American president is shown as a buffoon contemplating a nuke war.
The most interesting part of the plot is here the terrorist are not the Al Qaeda or of Afghan variety, as the Hollywood flicks tend to suggests but are reputedly referred as American terrorists. What the movie tries to convey that the destruction of the world could necessarily not be at the hands of turban headed Islamic jihadist, but the Americans wearing western cloths could also trigger the catastrophe.
Govind has an Indian friend who has a Japanese wife and he gives information to the American terrorists that the biological weapon is in house. The terrorists come looking for the weapon and in the process kill him and his wife. The Japanese wife has a brother called Narashashi (Kamala Hassan-4) in Japan who is a marital arts expert and he plans to take revenge against his sister’s killer. In the course of the hunt for the biological weapon, Govind travels to India. He is chased by a CIA agent, Christian Fletcher (Kamala Hassan-5), the villain of the film. The bio weapon is accentually parceled to India from US to an old woman, Krishnaveni (Kamala Hassan-6), who yearns for the return of her son. When Govind reaches India, he is hauled by a RAW investigative officer, Balram Naidu (Kamala Hassan-7). Naidu a light and interesting character is meant to provide comical relief to the audience.
The plot gets disjointed from here and characters get connected through some unconnected events and others quite predictably in an accidental way. Suddenly a Sikh pop singer, Avatar Singh (Kamala Hassan-8) comes up, who is fighting a loosing battle against cancer. The story then wavers to a social activist, Annachi (Kamala Hassan-9) who is fighting the sand mafia in Tamil Nadu. Then attention shifts to an eight foot Tamil speaking Pathan, Kalifullah Khan (Kamala Hassan-10) a buffoon of a character.
The movie ends up in a high voltage drama centered on the Tsunami of 2004, when Fletcher tries using the bio weapon to destroy the world but is sucked by the Tsunami whose salt water neutralizes the bio weapon.
As we see, the story of Dasaavatram is not only weak but quite complex. The high pace of the movie sustains the tempo of the movie that does not allow much of thinking. Music is mediocre, and songs by Hindi playback Himesh Reshammiya is terrible. The only saving grace is its background score.
This jumble mumble of a movie however stands out for its excellent technical work and versatile actor Kamala Hassan’s extraordinary performance in several characters. So excellent is his make-up and voice modulation that it is a difficult task picking any one character as outstanding.
Tsunami shots are perhaps the outstanding presentation in the movie. Top class visuals, superb special effects and the background score together created a big impression on the moviegoers.
In sum Dasaavatram may well go down in the history of Indian cinema as a unique experiment in the commercial circuit but its span may not last beyond a season of entertainment.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org