Warning: Review contains spoilers, almost all of them. It may be excruciatingly long, like the movie as some would claim.
Releasing on the same weekend as the biggest disappointment of 2007, Sivaji, comes the magnum opus of this year, Dasavatharam. Having heard mixed reactions to the movie ranging from really good to pathetic helped lower my expectations and whether this is a good thing or bad thing I'd not know for it might have jaundiced my view into looking for the positives more than the negatives.
For starters, I wonder aloud the authenticity and the logic behind the claim that the film has no story or a weak one at best. To tie up so many things into one single plot is no mean achievement and Kamal does it without any glaring logical inconsistency. The character of Rangaraja Nambi though the strongest of the lot may be touted as the weakest link. Srikanth defends it with a rebirth angle, which seems to hold credence but seems a bit forced .If true however, it offers delicious parallels between the two characters, 4 if you include that of Asin. The highly religious Rangarajan countered by the atheist Govind, Rangarajan's love for the idol and Govind's looking at it as a mere container of the vial. At the end of the day both there lives become intricately connected with the idols and while Rangarajan while being a firm believer drowns with the God he so loves, Govind is saved by the fact that the idol serves as the safe carrier of the vial and therefore in a sense it is God who comes to his rescue. Asin's parallel's though not as intriguing still makes for interesting interpretations in the way she puts her love for Nambi ahead of the idol in the first place and in the latest avatar she puts the idol before anything else.
If one were to rate Kamal's characters right on top would be that of Fletcher. His mannerisms and body language are top notch and on par with any villain of Hollywood, though some may claim its more inspired than on par, it still is quite a big achievement to carry it off with as much elan as he does. Pairing up with him, in more sense than one is Mallika Sherawat as Jasmine a rather needless character and perhaps the poorest casting of the lot, commercial compulsions being the only possible reason. Both Fletcher and Jasmine are ex CIA agents. Is Kamal trying to make a point here?
Balram Naidu provides tremendous comic relief and showcases Kamal's mastery over comic timing and few of his dialogues have the Crazy Mohan touch to them especially "Osama Bin Ladder" and "Rao odha Rao a sendhu.. " . Kamal does not seem to be able to shirk off the influence of his long time comedy dialogue writer. His interactions with his assistant Appa Rao are reminiscent of the Janakaraj comedy track in Aboorva Sagadorargal.
Another character with heavy influence from Kamal's past movies is Vincent Poovaragan who reminds you of his character in Anbe Sivam, especially the scene where he goes in for talks with P Vasu (yet another disastrous acting performance from him). Though much loved, his link with the main plot is a thin thread. Perhaps one of the wasted characters but Kamal is likely to get away with this one because of the serious role ascribed to Vincent. "Nee enna ulaga Nayagana? " is needless self glorification as much as he tries to cover it up with the ensuing dialogue of how each one is an ulaga nayagan by himself.
Krishnaveni Paati will possibly go down as the most trivial and needless roles that Kamal has essayed in this movie despite him giving it importance to her as the person instrumental in starting the second round of lets-chase-the-vial. Khalifullah Khan as the giant with a kind heart is used to stress upon the viewer the fallacies of the prejudiced view of all Muslims being anti-nationalistic. Shingen Narahasi is used better than expected and his climax fight with Fletcher is perhaps one of the highlights of the movie. And Avatar Singh is perhaps one of the most contrived of the characters. Jayapradha as his loving wife though, is a casting coup. She fits into the role with ease and her dance with Kamal at the end showing how much grace she still retains.
George Bush is the surprise package of the movie. While one expected it to be just a role for the sake of number count, Kamal uses it to rip Bush apart. Right from his faltering speech in the press conference to his enquiry on the possibility of using the Nuke to counter the Bio weapon, Kamal portrays him as the George Bush we'd all love to see , a head of state with little intelligence and even less common sense.
Kamal's performance as Govind, the protagonist can be described in one word, neat.
Of the others, and there are so many of them, only Asin has an extended role and she does justice to it. Her incessant insisting about the need to keep the idol and keep it clean, though irritating set the tone for most of the God vs No God debate and therefore can be excused.
The most noteworthy contribution from Kamal apart from the story and screen play are the dialogues. Witty at times, thought provoking most of the times, they are succinct and full marks to him for avoiding any long lectures, which would have seemed only natural given the heaviness of the topics he's handled. All the dialogues revolving around God are especially noteworthy for their overall neutrality, as at the end of the film neither theism or atheism are claimed to be the superior philosophy. The lyrics department comes out with flying colours with both Kallai Mattum and Oh Oh Sanam being top draw stuff. Himesh's music is seemed to be made better with the visuals and Devi Shri Prasad's background score is neat with him working well within his limitations. It neither adds tremendously to the on screen happenings nor does it distract the viewer. Computer graphics are the biggest let down and at times look very amateurish. Scenes involving one or more Kamals are without any hitch though. The camera work is good enough in most parts and particularly good in the action sequences.
There are a few gems which stand out in the movie and among them is the idea to not involve Govind in the climax but instead let Narahasi and Fletcher fight it out. To have Narahasi, a Japanese point out the arrival of the Tsunami stands out for the thinking involved. And are the birds flying overhead in the climax just an indicator for morning or has Kamal put in the concept of animals and birds sensing natural disasters earlier? I wouldn't bet against the second possibility. "remember Hiroshima.. " lines are outstanding and so are Fletcher's last words. The fact that the boat in which Govind, Asin and Narahasi and the all important idol take refuge in, lands up in a church seems to tell us that God is one, across all religions.
As Srikanth has claimed, Kamal has portrayed Rangarajan Nambi as a sort of a Jesus Christ and this is an interpretation which puzzles me. Also among the many tiny loopholes are the amount of time which seems to lapse between the concert and the Tsunami. Too little seems to have happened to justify 8 hours. Also how does Kalifullah seem to know that Govind has to be protected against Fletcher and how can Balram Naidu not enquire more about the two people who had saved Kalifullah's family especially after K R Vijaya's claims that they were a couple? How the little boy from the Muslim family escapes from Fletcher is also not shown clearly enough. The mix up of the ice boxes in the lift is too contrived and just about passes muster. Also we understand that a butterfly's flutter can cause extensive changes elsewhere in the world, but to keep reminding us with that butterfly on the screen is too much in the face. Agreed that here it is India which saves the world, but so many Indian flags in the background and one of them piercing Fletcher's body proves to an overdose. Asin's sudden love for Kamal and Kamal's affection towards Asin also seems too sudden.
One of the recurring themes of the movie seem to be the good arising out of the bad. Be it the most vital destruction of the vial's constituents due to the tsunami or P Vasu turning into a good man after Poovaragan's death. You notice this again when Avatar Singh's cancer is removed due to the bullet wound and Krishnaveni paati's stress release on seeing Poovaragan's dead body. It can yet again be seen when Nagesh proclaims that had they not been taken for questioning inside the mosque they wouldn't have survived the tsunami. To have Kamal and Asin unite at the beach with all the gloom in the background seems to show that life must move on despite the tragedies which happen around us and maybe even to us.
On the whole, as is this review, the movie is about one man, Kamal Hassan and in this it is easy to forget the fact that the director of the movie is in fact a one Mr K.S. Ravikumar seems inconsequential. But again,as in most Kamal movies it is Kamal's influence which is paramount and not regrettably so. He chooses to explore chaos theory and throws in questions of and about scientific ethics, religion, destruction of environment, the prejudiced views against the Muslims of the world post 9/11 and much more. He just about does enough justice to each of these causes. and all of this in the midst of a chase story. Thankfully this is no wild goose chase.