Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Theistic Atheist

The patently political Viswaroopam ruckus has pitch-forked Kamalhassan again into the national limelight. For a country used to seeing Tamilnadu as Rajnikant country, this was a rude reminder that there are other superstars in the Southern sky with the mystic power to dodge bullets, defy bans and part the sea of tranquillity in our humdrum lives.

The controversy took Kamalhassan totally by surprise as he’s always presented himself as a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist with a high level of tolerance for religious plurality. The last thing he was expecting was the ungainly taint of ‘anti-islam’ on his radiant secular persona.

Atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris would have proudly worn this badge. But in politically correct India, it never pays to tread on other people’s toes. And for a box-office dependent icon like Kamal with 100-crores at stake, image is everything.

Forget ‘anti-islam’, but is the ‘Ulaga Nayagan’ really a non-believer as he’d like us to believe? Evidence from his enviable body of work is to the contrary.

Ever since he’s donned the hats of producer, writer and director, Kamal has dropped cryptic clues on where his faith lies. The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva keep recurring in the character names - he so carefully crafts - in all his recent productions.

Take ‘Virumandi’. Kamal could have easily given it a rustic irreligious name like ‘Veeramani’ and it would have still worked. But he chose ‘Virumandi’. Is it because of his penchant to opt for god names? For the uninitiated, Virumandi is worshipped in Theni district as ‘Viruman’ or ‘Brahman’.

If one peels the many subtle layers in his films, one can spot a Saivite streak. Sample the names ‘Viswanath’ in Viswaroopam, ‘Nallasivam’ in Anbe Sivam, ‘Avinash’ in Mumbai Express and ‘Ramalingam’ in Kaadhala Kaadhala. Innocuous as they may seem, all are synonyms for Lord Shiva. You’ll be surprised to know that Kamal has used the ‘Shaktivel’ name in 3 movies: Nayakan, Sathi Leelavathi and Thevar Magan!

Add Adinarayan (Kurudhipunaal), Saket Ram (Hey Ram), Krishnaswamy (Mahanadhi), Raghavan (Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu) and the Dasavatharam imagery, to discover his Vaishnavite streak. So, is the atheist role, another stellar performance from the actor we all love?