When Kamal Haasan wrote a mind-scrambling swansong in ‘Uttama Villain’





Balu is on the cusp of slipping into the opposite world when he’s introduced in a wheelchair on the stage, once they introduce him because the grasp who groomed Sailaja to perfection, in Sagara Sangamam (1983). Tears come gushing, as if the floodgates have opened, upon listening to the rapturous applause for his towering contribution. He pauses, glances on the onlookers and gestures asking for extra — an exterior validation that was robbed off, regardless of him being a outstanding artiste; a dancer to be exact.

All that Balu yearned for was: applause.

This seems to be the de facto precept that Manoranjan, the ageing famous person from Uttama Villain (2015), appears to profess and advocate, on being requested what drives him. What is exceptionally novel about applause when you might have a Bentley parked exterior your home? To start with, you by no means know when an artiste would get the subsequent applause —whether or not or not (s)he could be alive to witness. These two motion pictures haven’t any similarities, barring the truth that each characters had been performed by Kamal Haasan, ensuing in a delicate peep into their vulnerabilities and insecurities.

Manoranjan is conceited; his self-obsession pales earlier than Balu’s selflessness. But behind this obsessiveness, there resides an artiste who’s extraordinarily earnest and at occasions, indulgent about his craft: performing. Tomorrow, for him, exists solely as a concept and one thing that’s far in the long run till he’s humbled by Nature, when information strikes him like a thunderbolt: he’s identified with a uncommon sort of most cancers and is counting his remaining days — you can not assist however marvel how a lot of this ostensibly-ordinary story mirrors with actor Irrfan, who left us not too long ago and whose loss we felt deeply private.

As if to trigger extra harm, Manoranjan involves phrases with the information of his organic daughter. What would his redemption be, in the face of dying? How would he proper the numerous wrongs, given the villainous life he has led? What could be his parting reward for followers? What are the remnants of artwork, in the sunshine of an artiste’s dying? And what’s life with out a becoming conclusion?

Five years in the past, Kamal Haasan wrote what may probably be one of many boldest, riskiest and sophisticated screenplays in Tamil cinema. In the sense that Uttama Villain (directed by Ramesh Aravind) is a style synthesis that’s extra mellow-drama than melodrama, and a semi-autobiographical account of an artiste’s (Kamal) illustrious profession, capturing the glitz and glamour, and darkish and ugly facet of filmdom and stardom. You may additionally argue that it was one of many uncommon events when Kamal nearly-made an artwork cinema.

“The best Kamal Haasan movies are probably locked up inside his head, where they reside in the most perfect possible manner,” reads the review from The Hindu. This article shares a related prepare of thought and argues why the person elements of its screenplay are fascinating, should you take them at face worth.

Self-aware or self-indulgent?

There is a devastating stretch in the center portion the place Manoranjan’s daughter, Manonmani, unmasks her father’s ‘real’ face when she reads out a letter written by him to her mom. She finds him intently listening, standing subsequent to what he calls ‘the tree of life’, a assortment of photographers of his expensive ones. This is precisely what Kamal, the author, has accomplished with the screenplay construction; a collage of reminiscences with individuals who have been instrumental in his life, beginning with the legendary filmmaker, Okay Balachander. Uttama Villain is Kamal’s most private film but and as ordinary, it’s all about himself — as in, he pays tribute to his personal profession, replete with references, dry humour, and supposed digs at his physique of labor.

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’
 
| Photo Credit:
YouTube

For occasion, a character describes Chokku as “in-house alcohol supplier”, paying homage to ‘whiskey supplier’ gag from Sathi Leelavathi. A Thevar Magan-styled passing-on-the-legacy scene finds a place the place Margadarsi (Okay Balachander) asks Manorajan to take his ‘chair’. There is one other nod to Thevar Magan when Chokku says “naan poren” — which is what Sakthivel stated to Periya Thevar. Chokku’s character, in truth, appears to be written after Esaki from Thevar Magan. And each motion pictures are lifeless with out these two characters who had been liable for altering the narrative gear.

Tamil cinema’s oldest trope — dying by a lethal illness (learn: most cancers) — is used to poke enjoyable at Balachander’s motion pictures, significantly Neer Kumuzhi. Balachander’s “badava rascal” from Ethir Neechal is passionately inserted to attest to the Mr Perfectionist picture that Kamal has. Okay Viswanath is credited because the “kaaruvi” that helped Kamal climb up the ladder.

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’
 
| Photo Credit:
YouTube

The film opens with a projection of one other film referred to as Veera Vilaiyattu, the place you see its star and the protagonist of Uttama Villain, Manorajan, romancing a comparatively youthful actress in ‘Loveaa Loveaa’. Is this a vexation towards industrial cinema? Is Kamal mocking himself for having been a part of a model of cinema? Is this a subversion of our masala tropes? You by no means know. But what we do know is that Manoranjan’s son, who bears half his identify, Mano, is consultant of the love-hate relationship audiences have with Kamal Haasan. Because, proper after the preview present, Manoranjan eavesdrops on a dialog Mano has together with his girlfriend — “It’s a clichéd masala movie. He does wheeling and all with the actress. I don’t understand how people celebrate this stuff.”

Later on, Manoranjan has a quiet, heart-rending second together with his son who needs to pursue screenplay writing as a result of he needs to point out Kodambakkam “who his father is”. “What if I’m not there or what if there comes a better actor,” asks the daddy. It is among the many fourth-wall-breaking scenes that Kamal has with followers, purportedly pondering about his personal legacy.

Bending realities

Uttama Villain’s narrative is as sprawling and engaging as it’s irritating. In different phrases, it has three realities; the 21st Century centering round Manoranjan and the emotional associations together with his household; an eighth Century folklore coping with Uttaman who’s a counter to Mano; and the movie’s outward actuality which is Kamal, the star; that bind the movie collectively, distorting the traces of actuality and fiction. Ambition screams out of each scene, each dialogue that, maybe, would possibly put Alejandro G Iñárritu’s Birdman to disgrace.

Let us think about Manoranjan and Uttaman, the dual characters who’re diametrically and morally completely different from one another. In his remaining film, sarcastically titled Uttama Villain, Manoranjan performs Uttaman, an artiste who has defeated dying and is blessed with saagavaram aka immortality.

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’
 
| Photo Credit:
YouTube

To put in context, it’s about a dying artiste who writes a swan music about one other artiste who can not die, to be etched in reminiscence. Confusing a lot? Mutharasan is equally confused when Uttaman says the key to knowledge and immortality is to change into an artiste, to be individuals’s favorite. And what’s the drama that they stage? The ballad of Hiranyan, the asura king who labored out a cope with Lord Vishnu about his dying. Try peeling off its narrative construction and the layers simply hold coming.

Themes, allegories and subtexts

It is difficult to critique a creation like Uttama Villain, merely on the idea of binaries — good or unhealthy, watchable or unwatchable, tolerable or insupportable. What may you say in regards to the shot of fishes writhing in ache written as a subtext to convey the emotional state of Manoranjan’s fish-out-of-water life?

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’

A screengrab from ‘Uttama Villain’
 
| Photo Credit:
YouTube

What in regards to the scene the place Lord Narasimha is used as a metaphor on Manoranjan’s duality (kadavul paathi, mirugam paathi, in Kamal’s lingo)? Why is Uttaman singing reward for the Big Bang Theory and impermanence in ‘Saagavaram’?

Even the Sun, our perpetual supply of sunshine, would perish in the future.

But life would emerge out of the remnants of the burnt Sun.

The particular person elements, as I stated, are fascinating to pause, look past the plain and to attract your personal conclusions. But as they are saying, a thousand rabbits gained’t make a horse.

Art, life and phantasm

The gulf between the hero/villain has engulfed Kamal’s life and has been a recurring motif in all his motion pictures, even in one thing as candy as Panchathanthiram, ever since Mani Ratnam wrote that closing line in Nayakan. Is Kamal Haasan a villain in his private life, or a hero? Is that why he needs to be a hero at the least in this story? Is he projecting himself a martyr for artwork? Is Uttama Villain a heartfelt apology or a cussed justification? Is the film a believable resolution to the raging debate on artwork and artistes?

Let us take the climatic scene, as an example. What is left in the closing shot — which is a pan from the projector, mirroring the movie’s opening shot — is Manoranjan because the charming Uttaman, the artiste inside the movie. Is this how Kamal needs to be perceived? Through artwork? We don’t see the real-life Manoranjan in the movie’s closing portion, however what we see as a substitute is the artiste who has attained a form of eternity — a trace that may be discovered in these traces:

What is imperishable are artwork and poetry.

What is perennial are love and mind.

Even if the artiste dies, the artwork lives on. That appears to be the underpinning assertion that Uttama Villain wished to convey, that appeared to have misplaced in its ardency to assemble a narrative system.

Manoranjan selflessly wished that the world remembers him with a smile. He wished that the viewers, who has come to look at his remaining efficiency, exit the darkroom with smiles, as a substitute of burying their faces in sorrow. But these of us who watched Uttama Villain, which, if I’m not unsuitable, had a delayed launch, left the corridor with a heavy coronary heart.

For, there may be a a part of us that dies together with the artiste, proper?






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