Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dasavathaaram - Movie Review

We watched Kamal Haasan's latest movie, Dasavathaaram (also spelled as Dasavatharam) yesterday. As most people know, Dasavathaaram literally means ten avataras or forms. The movie is so named because Kamal Haasan dons 10 different roles in the movie.

Dasavathaaram's main story-line is about an extremely dangerous biological weapon synthesized in the US by a microbiologist of Indian origin, Govindarajan Ramaswamy. This weapon, contained in a small capsule-sized vial, is coveted by terrorists who send their henchman, an ex-CIA officer named Christian Fletcher to get it. Govindarajan and Fletcher chase each other and the dangerous vial, in a violent and also comic game of cat-and-mouse, across two continents, ending in a dramatic climax. Now, how does this story get mixed up with a sprig-and-stylish US president George Bush, a sharp-witted and bureaucratic Indian intelligence officer Balram Naidu, a Punjabi pop-singer Avtaar Singh, a 95-year-old mentally retarded brahmin widow Krisnaveni, an honest and upright Dalit activist Vincent Poovaraagan, a gigantic simpleton Kalifulla Khan, a martial arts teacher from Japan Shinghen Narahasi, a 12th century staunch Vaishnavite Rangaraja Nambi, the deity of the god Perumal from Chidambaram, a small temple town in Tamilnadu, and also the devastating tsunami which hit South East Asia on Dec 26th, 2004? It wouldn't be much fun if I explained that here. You will have to see the movie to find out the intricate connections between all of these.

Here in the US, the movie ticket price was a whopping $15 plus $1 service charge for online orders. $16 being the highest amount I have ever paid to watch a movie, I was worried about being stuck with another one of those insufferable Indian movies. Fortunately, the movie running for almost 3 hours, turned out to be a non-stop entertainer in the same genre as Michael-Madana-Kama-Rajan, another Kamal movie in which he plays four roles. The story-line involves a series of comic occurences, peppered with witty dialogs and puns galore, several sub-plots that interweave with amazing serendipity, all culminating in an all's-well-that-ends-well climax.

The Dasavathaaram movie page on lists Sujatha as the story-writer and Crazy Mohan as the dialog-writer. The story and the dialogs definitely have the unique stamp of those two gentlemen. Yet, the titles in the movie itself listed Kamal Haasan under "Story-Screenplay-Dialog". Wonder what's up with that! I don't believe that Kamal would cheat Sujatha or Crazy Mohan of credit if it belongs to them. But the story of Dasavathaaram has not been free of controversy.

There are liberal computer effects through-out the movie. Some of them looked very tacky. Wish director K. S. Ravikumar had ensured a better job with computer graphics. Many of the roles played by Kamal are heavily made-up. So heavily that in some scenes the latex-covered faces look more like mannequins than humans. They could have cut down on the heavy make-up without sacrificing the validity of the roles. But then, they could have entirely left out some of the roles, without sacrificing the validity of the movie.

Nevertheless, two of Kamal's roles stand out in the movie. One is that of the fair-and-blond-all-American Christian Fletcher, an ex-CIA bad guy who pervades the movie with Terminator-like single-minded resilience. Unfortunately, this is one of the characters whose face looks like a mannequin in some scenes. Kamal had a great opportunity to show his real acting talent by playing an American with much less make-up. He blew it by opting for a doll-face instead. The other role which really stands out as my favorite role in the movie is that of Balram Naidu, an officer of the Indian intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW). Without too much make up (compared to the other mannequin faces), Kamal has done a great job in this role of the quintessential Indian government officer - bureaucratic, sharp-tongued and cunning, complete with a slight paunch and heavily accented English.

Despite the flaws and the coincidences in the story-line, many of which appear contrived, the movie works as a great entertainer. The story keeps moving along at a steady trot, the dialogs keep you laughing regularly and I thought I got my money's worth. That last part is something I rarely say about a movie.

What did you think of the movie? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Scott Ritter: Pick your city!

Scott Ritter, who used to be the UN weapons inspector in Iraq, says, "Pick your city". Anybody who thinks the US should bomb Iran must watch this video. Heck, all US citizens should watch this two-and-half minute video.

By the way, Scott Ritter is not referring to an Iranian city!

Wedding Attendance by Proxy!

By now, I am pretty much used to being assigned the photographer's role at various events I attend - company events, events at the local temple, events hosted by friends and colleagues, etc. Today might have been my strangest photography assignment so far.

My neighbor, who is alone in his house right now as his wife is on a visit to India, called me over to take a "family photo". I went over and found him dressed formally in a suit, as if he was attending a wedding reception. I was wondering how this guy expected me to take a family photo, while he is the lone person in the house right now.

Turns out that my neighbor's wife is in India for her brother's wedding. They want to take a full family photo at the wedding and they want the family photo to include my neighbor, who is here in the US. So, the idea is to take a photo of him alone here and email it to the wedding photographers in India. They will then paste him into the family photo they snap at the wedding in India.

I can't wait to see how the results turn out.