Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dasavataram Experience...

400-500 of us were packed into Danbarry theaters in Cincinnati on Sunday evening. The A/c was not turned on. It was sweltering hot inside. Tickets were oversold for 'Dasavataram'. People who had arrived 20 minutes earlier before showtime couldn't find seats. The person next to me had "reserved" seats for his friends/family with empty coke bottles, kerchiefs, napkins, popcorn boxes etc..There were many like him in the audience. There were shouts of "Alwarpettai Andavaaa..thalaivaa!" in the enthusiastic audience. A lot of people were standing in the back row because of the tickets confusion. Some people had to refund their tickets and return disappointed.

It was a typical Indian cinema experience! :) For a minute, I wondered if I was back in Chennai.

I wouldn't call this movie a total disappointment. The racy screenplay was engaging and the fast pace of the movie left little time to ruminate. However, Kamalhassan could definitely have avoided these overt make-up gimmicks. Some of the roles would've been better if played by others.

What I liked:

1. Screenplay

2. Intelligent weaving of chaos theory concepts

3. Boovarahan, Balram Naidu, Paatti. The portrayal of Boovarahan was particulary touching and authentic. I was moved by this character. The Paatti was funny because she used language that reminded me of my own grandmother..:)

4. No stupid duets in unnecessary places. Even the songs were effectively used to move the screenplay on. Good job!

5. The first out-and-out thriller/chase Tamil movie I've seen with biotech terrorists and what-not.

6. Questions about the existence/non-existence of God. Beautifully portrayed! Makes the audience question co-incidences.

7. The Tsunami scene. What I didn't realize through 4 years of articles and media coverage, I realized in those 5 minutes of the movie -- the scale of disaster, the impact on the average person etc...Very poignant, touching scene!

8. Napoleon looked the part as the Chola king. Was pleasantly surprised! His Tamil sucked though. I was thinking that he'd make a good Periya Pazhuvettarayar if 'Ponniyin Selvan' is ever made.

What I didn't like:

1. The deliberately inflammatory Rangarajan Nambi episode. I am not an exclusive Saivite nor am I an anti-Vaishnavite. But I was offended by this portrayal of Saivism. The lines from the song "Kallai Mattum Kandaal.." --

"Ettukkul Aindhu adangividum Aanal
Aindhukkul ettu adangaadhu.."

(Meaning: The eight-lettered Namo Narayanaya can encompass the five-lettered Nama Shivaya. But five letters cannot contain 8)

particularly inflamed me. If we're talking about Vaishnavites being victimized in the 12th century, let's talk about what's happening today in Srirangam and other Vaishnavite-dominated places. I've personally been discriminated against in Srirangam many, many times (within and without the temple).

2. Music. Himesh Reshamaiyya has single-handedly delivered a mortal blow to this movie.

3. The feet-licking sycophancy in the last scene -- what relation has Karunanidhi to this movie?!

4. Make-up overkill. Could've easily avoided 5-6 roles. Many of the characters didn't have depth and weren't developed well.

5. The Rangarajan Nambi episode didn't tie in with the rest of the story. If any of you knows how it relates, please do comment.

6. The title 'Dasavataram' has very minimal relation to the storyline. And that leads me to..

7. The movie is about Kamalhassan, the man and not about the story/characters/roles. This, according to me, is THE biggest drawback. Even the title is about the man doing 10 roles.

Definitely watchable once or twice!


aswin said...

I agree with you in saying that, cholas or saivaities for that matter can not only be blamed for being very monotheistic in nature. We have "always" had fervent worshipers of Lord Vishnu who bash/humiliate believers of other faith. But coming to the movie part, i think, they have shown glimpses of such fervent monotheistic belief of cholas/saivaities by using the story of rangarajan nambi. May be someone in future might make a film about the monotheistic belief of vaishnavites and their atrocities against other faiths.

will this portrayal make people beleive that Cholas/ saivaities are racists?

My answer is "may be".

Ganesh Venkittu said...

Subha - ( what happened to thinnaiarattai?)

I am an ardent fan of vaali, as my writings in my blog can allude....I am not offended by your remarks about the "kallai mattum kandaal" lines. I thought I shall give my opinion...

first the situation. IF thats what the director/producers want, thats what the lyricist gives.

second - to whom the lines are directed. In the context of the scene, its directed at the saivite chola king, by an angry vaishnavite.

third, if you interpret the lines as pure math, then yes, 5 does go in 8. In fact, if you go back to those lines in the song, it says specifically "yettil ainthu kazhiyum ENN, ainthil yettu ENN kazhiyaathu"...granted, vaali is not trying to mathematics, and I know that..

As a reader of his books ( ramanuja kaviyam, avatara purushan, pandavar bhoomi), you will find in his bio that he is a staunch "Murugan" devotee. In fact, the last line of it always ends as below

பழனி முருகனை
இடையறாது சிந்திப்பவர்;

what happened in tamilnadu with vaishnavism Vs. saivism is true. There is no doubt about it. There are very high references of it in Ramanuja kaviyam by vaali ( koorathaazhvan losing his eyes is in there)...

The Doodler said...

ganesh venkittu,

Welcome back! :) It has been a while since I saw you comment in this space.

If we're placing things in context, I think the film-makers have to show the entire scenario in the 12th century. I do not deny that there were Saivite - Vaishnavite clashes with both sides being in the wrong. So if the movie had shown these clashes and then shown this particular episode, that's putting it in context.

Next, if the lines were directed exclusively at the Chola king, there was no need at all to show a bunch of Saivites grinning at the Vaishanivite being murdered. That could've definitely been avoided. That indicated to me that ire is directed not at the king but at Saivites as a whole.

There are countless instances in history of religious persecution. Pandyan Kings have massacred Jains near Madurai. Pallava kings have prosecuted Saivites when they were under the influence of Jainism. That's when Appar wrote:

"Sotrunai Vedhiyan Sodhivaanavan
Potrunai Porundhadi Thiruntha Kaithozha
Katroonai poottiyor Kadalir Paaichinum
Natrunaiyaavadhu Namachivayave!"

Singling out this one instance on the vehicle of international publicity is ridiculous!

Gopinath Sundharam said...

Subha, while I agree that portraying a single incident to show the Saivite-Vaishnavite clashes is not good, looking at this scene in the context of this movie, the director/story-writer had no other choice -- he can't be showing every such incident -- then this movie would be something else.

I think (I'm not 100% sure) that he added this 12th century scene just to show the intricacies of chaos theory.

To answer your other question as how this incident is relevant to the whole movie, I think this Vaishnavite idol might have caused the tsunami later in the current century (at least according to the writer).

My 2 cents..

prabukarthik said...

I second Gopi.

>>If we're placing things in context, I think the film-makers have to show the entire scenario in the 12th century.

Indha padathuku idhu out of syllabus, IMHO.

Adiya said...

Venky Krishnamoorthy said...

As with many other Kamal movies in the recent past, we have to leave our brains, and enjoy the movie.

Not since Pesum Padam, have I seen any worthwhile movie from Kamal

Anonymous said...

I thought the whole movie is about Chaos theory and Butterfly effect. (I have not seen the movie).

The Doodler said...

Gopi, thanks..

PK, i am not totally convinced yet but i am willing to attribute it to Kamal's personal idiosyncracies.

Venky K,

I actually loved Anbe Sivam, Panchathanthiram etc..

Adiya, will read those

Anon, see the movie..:)

Sriram said...

i kinda agree with prabhukarthik in that you really can't have the entire history acted out in a movie just to appear to be neutral. thats not possible.

but at the same time, it makes me read up more about the whole issue of shaivaites vs vaishnavites and how much of a part did the chozhas play in it? i really haven't read the works of any tamizh pulavars, nayanmars or azhwars.. any pointers to brush up my history?

Sriram said...

however, if you happen to think in a sinister manner looking for a "story" heres one.. in both anbe sivam and dasa.., you'd see that one of the villains is an ardent shaivate and a "christian" acts as a saviour and is portrayed as a very loving character who is a total anathema to the villain..

now is that by design? :)

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The White Rider said...

What i agree with:
1.Presence of Karunanidhi
2.Himesh Reshammiya..except the Kalai mattum kandal song..
3.Makeup was horrible..
4. No silly duets
5. Napolean's part
6. Tsunami

what i dont agree with :
1. Screenplay could have been much much much better..(Sivaji was a hit movie because of Rajnikanth and the screenplay)
2.Characters such as Kalifullah, the japanese guy and avtaar singh were completely unnecessary.

My points:

Just because Hinduism is a tolerant religion it doesnt mean that you show muslims and christians in good light and show hindus fighting amongst themselves.

The makeup in previous Kamal movies like Avvai shanmugi and Indian were 10 times better.

The Rangarajan Nambi character scene is kind of the start of the butterfly effect. it is because of the drowning of the deity that a fault is created which leads to tremors 800 years later causing the tsunami(Supposedly!!) bringing down the amount of damage that could have been caused by the virus,

oops.. gtg.. will "doodle" back later..

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Karthik said...

Some guys have claimed they haven't understood chaos theory which plays such an important part in the film. As a physics student, I've decided to explain it a bit so that people can appreciate the brilliance of the film.

What is Chaos?
Basically a chaotic system is one wherein long term predictions are impossible. Like for example, if I push a car, I know that it is going to move and it will continue to do so if I go on pushing it on and on. However, in a chaotic system, this situation cannot be predicted over a long period of time. Weather, for example, is a chaotic system. No matter how good your instruments are, you simply cannot predict the weather with 100 per cent accuracy over a long term basis and forecast it.

What is the Butterfly Effect?
It is the most important component of a chaotic system. Basically, small perturbations results in amplifications which completely destroys the original nature of the system and makes prediction impossible. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, it could result in a cyclone in USA.(Mark the word COULD.) A highly dumbed down explanation of the butterfly effect is in the film Anniyan, where Vikram's sister dies because a liquor shop owner sells liquor on a dry day.

OK, how does Dasa incorporate it?

In essence, Dasa talks about eight characters who are inconsequential as such, but are integrated in a larger picture. Without Bush, the plane would have been called back. Without Shinghen, Govind would be dead. Without the tsunami, the world would have been destroyed. Even Krishnaveni (the old woman) plays a very important role. If she had not put the vial in the idol, maybe Govind would have recovered it then and there and a powerful weapon would have been unleashed. The very fact that it went into the idol meant that it was being accelerated to its destiny. Without Kaifulllah Khan, Govind would have never escaped... the list simply goes on.

OK, so does the film talk about theism or atheism?
Neither. It talks about how humans drive the destiny of the world.

The idol that is drowned in the sea along with Rangarajan in 12th century by Chozha king results in a fault being developed at the bottom of the ocean and creates tremors more than 800 years later. These tremors result in the Tsunami. This again is a classic case of Butterfly Effect wherein a seemingly inconsequential event (the drowning of the idol) saves Tamil Nadu from being wiped off the face of the earth.
If you knew the real dasavatharams of Lord Vishnu and their characters you can appreciate the script more.

Let me explain, starting with the best adapted role:

1. Krishna avatar - Vincent Poovaraghavan Lord krishna is actually a dalit, he is dark-skinned [shyamalam]. He saved draupadi when she was being violated and he was the actual diplomat in mahabharatham. Lord krishna dies of an arrow striking his lower leg. Now look at how vincent was introduced.. he appears when asin is about to be molested and he saves her like draupadi. Vincent is the dalit diplomat, fights for land issue [soil issue to be exact] and dies from the metal rod striking his leg. Oh even five of vincent's men are drugged at P. Vasu's.. sounds familiar???

2. Balarama avatar - Balarama naidu

This is an easy given. as the name suggests and the role personifies you can easily get it.

3. Mathsya avatar - Ranagaraja nambi

nambi is thrown into water in an act of trying to save lord from being thrown into sea, though vainly. what more clue do you want?

4. Varaha avatar - Krishnaveni paatti

During the mukunda song, krishnaveni paatti does varaha avatar in the shadow puppetry. The frame freezes on it for a second. there is the clue. Moreover, in varaha avatar lord actually hides earth so as to protect life forms. Here too krishnaveni hides the germs - life form inside the statue so as to protect.

5. Vamana avatar - Kalifulla khan

remember in vamana avatar, lord vishnu takes the vishvaroopa, that is the giant form! Hence the giant kalifulla here symbolises vamana avatar.

6. Parasurama avatar - Christian Fletcher Parasurama is actually on an angry killing spree and killed 21 generations of the particular kshatriya vamsa. Hence the real KILLER... Guess what thats what our Fletcher is! He comes around with the gun [modern upgrade for axe] and kills everyone around. I have to check if he kills 21 people though. :-D

7. Narasimha avatar - Shingen Narahashi

first of all the name itself is a play on the words singam [means lion in tamil] and narasimha [the avatar being symbolised]. Lord Narasimha manifests himelf to kill the bad guy and he also teaches prahaladha.

In the movie, he shows up to kill the killer fletcher! and is also a teacher.. Lord Narasimha had to kill the asura with bare hands and hence the martial arts exponent here.. get it?

8. Rama avatar - Avatar Singh

Lord Rama stands for the one man one woman maxim, kind of symbolising true love.. Here Avatar portrays that spirit by saying that he loves his woman more than anything and wants to live for her.

9. Kalki avatar - Govindaraj Ramasamy

As you know, the hero in kaliyug can be none other than the Kalki avatar!!!

10. Koorma avatar - Bush

This is the most loose adaptation I couldn't clearly comprehend. But if you look at the real koorma avatar, the lord is the turtle/tortoise that helps in stirring the ksheera sagara and bringing out the amruth.

This essentially creates war among the devas and asuras. Similarly today Bush facilitates war between you know whom... May be Kamal also indicates that this avatar is a bit dumb like the tortoise...

DASAVATHARAM justifies its titile!

Meena said...

Hi...first time visit...i saw the movie this weekend in telugu. The movie just panders to Kamal's narcisstic streak. 10 roles and most when they appeared looked unnatural and grotesque. The storyline was good but became an ode to the makeupman who must have labored very hard to get the effect. unfortunately, they looked unreal. sorry, 1 out of 5 for me.

finding thyself said...

I am not a real big fan of Kamal except for Anbe Sivam and of course now: Dasavartharam. Though the make up flaws were evident in some of the characters, overall the story was refreshing for tamil movie standards. With most of the movies being predictable with a love triangle or with heroes who mirror the superstar in every aspect, this movie was like a breath of fresh air. And i think this definitely has pushed the standard of movie making in TN.

finding thyself said...

@karthik: I found a similar post about the ten avatars on this blog:

Ganesh Venkittu said...

subha - I dont know your email address, so thought of posting a comment here, in the hope that you may probably email me back..

recently I was on vacation in india for 6 weeks, and went to my favorite place to see my favorite god -- Srirangam...and I know you share the same penchant towards that place as well, going by your posts..

anyway, I will be posting some pictures along with writeups in my blog pretty soon, and when you get time, can you either comment/do new posts about srirangam+aanaikaa+others...

Srirangam looks changed to me -- the perumal is the same, but the people seemed aloof and different...they dont look to me like "veera vaishnavites" as I had seen them last in 1996...I dont know whether you feel that way, but wanted to get your thoughts...


PS: just fyi, I am reading books by Devan, and he is from --- Tiruvidaimarudur ( your other post)...I did not go to that town but thought I would mention to you..