He’s the walking, talking, writing, acting, singing, dancing, eating, breathing, wikipedia of world cinema. He is equally at ease dissecting the craft of Brando, Bergman or Balachander. With a gobsmacking career spanning 54 glorious years spent with four generations of actors, directors and technicians, it can be safely said that no one knows the Tamil filmdom better than Kamal Hassan.
Once in a while, he lets us fan boys take a sneak peek into the kind of giants who shaped him by dropping clues through his lovingly made films. ‘Avvai Shanmughi’ (based on Mrs. Doubtfire) was a tribute to two people – the talented Mr. Robin Williams and the unsung Mr. TK Shanmugham.
Most people wouldn’t know TKS. The doyen of Tamil theatre and a thespian of the classic mould, Shanmugam was Kamal Hassan’s first mentor when he joined his drama troupe as a child artiste. TKS is still remembered for his outstanding portrayal of the lady poet saint ‘Avvaiyar’. The cross-gender performance earned him the sobriquet ‘Avvai Shanmugam’. So when Kamal Hassan tried his hand at playing an old lady, he thoughtfully remembered to doff his hat to the master.
‘Pammal K Sambandam’ was the second instance when the ulaga nayagan overtly paid homage to an inspirational figure like Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the founding father of modern Tamil theatre. Although the role essayed in the 2002 comedy had no connection with the reverential Mudaliar, Kamal perhaps chose the referential title to immortalise a man whom he adored.
That brings us to ‘Papanasam’ – the ‘Drishyam’ Tamil remake starring Kamal Hassan. At a locale-level, Papanasam might make for as good a setting as Thodupuzha in the original movie. At a literal level, ‘Papanasam’ means ‘destruction of sin’ and ‘despoiling of a child’ which is in sync with the theme of Drishyam. But I have one more theory. The movie title could be a semi-ode to Papansam Sivan, one of the foremost music composers of Tamil cinema. Why I am saying this is DK Pattammal, a Papanasam Sivam protégé, was once coaxed by Kamal Hassan to sing ‘Vaishnav Janato’ for ‘Hey Ram’!
Another legend held in high esteem by our man was SS Vasan. I am tempted to arrive at this conclusion as Kamal Hassan has nicked three of Vasan’s titles till date: ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ ‘Apoorva Sagodarargal’ and ‘Raj Tilak’. Talk of coincidences!