Art & Culture

How Kamal Haasan makes grey beautiful in Papanasam and Uttama Villain

Saranya Chakrapani
Saranya ChakrapaniJul 09, 2015 | 12:40

How Kamal Haasan makes grey beautiful in Papanasam and Uttama Villain

After watching a late night show of Uttama Villain, my fellow movie marathoner and I drove back in silence for almost ten minutes. He suddenly turned to me and asked, “You think he might be actually dying?” I gasped and we hurriedly pulled over to dab on the nearest tree trunk on that empty traffic signal. We tried to comprehend this almost alien impact that was coming off a Kamal Haasan movie; was it Manoranjan’s insatiable drive to outperform himself under a ticking clock, was it in his indulgence (even though a Kamal Haasan staple), as the loved-by-all superstar, or was it the flamboyant Theyyam staged spectacularly by the immortal Uttaman?

Kamal Hassan in Uttama Villain.

We got the answer sooner than we thought we would; Kamal had for the first time – in a long time – played us a character with his guard down and language straightforward. Just over two months later, he seems to be enjoying the mellow he’s so purposefully created for himself, further in Papanasam. Here, of course, Kamal doesn’t even have enough room to be half as indulgent as he was in Uttama Villain, leave alone his other movies, considering it is a remake of the Malayalam film, Drishyam. He’s Suyambu Lingam, who’s so real to his bone, he almost endears you.

As Suyambu Lingam in Papanasam.

He splashes across the verdant Thirunelveli landscape, the attributes we’ve awed at in our aged uncles and grandfathers who spent their childhood in joint families growing within the village. Though not conventionally educated, Lingam is self-made and prudent. As an organic extension to his character, his life begins and ends with his wife and two children. And cinema. As a cable operator, he has movies of all languages at his disposal and even gives himself the privilege of a "Midnight Masala" movie once in a while; another beautifully thought out grey that makes our man true and untreated, it once again reminds me of the beautiful layers of intelligent characterisation that defined Manoranjan in Uttama Villain, as the passionate lover to his young girlfriend as well as the husband who, at his core, helplessly looks out for his wife.


Papanasam gives Kamal Haasan scope to explore plenty of such greys; the husband who would defy his own known clarity of right and wrong to protect his family and systematically teach his children to lie after years of educating them on the virtue of honesty. The climax gives away his vulnerability in shouldering this dichotomy, but he stays true to the self-made, outspoken, nature-loving school dropout who knows his priorities. And as in Uttama Villain, the more grey his character, the more perceptive it is.

We absolutely, ridiculously love this Kamal who had as if decided to "cut the crap and show us how it’s done - hand on heart"; it reminded us of the beige Hanuman, half-knelt and gaping as he tore open his bosom to show us Ram.

Last updated: July 09, 2015 | 14:59
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