Manikandan, who was recently seen in Good Night, is an ardent fan of Kamal Haasan. Besides acting, he has also written dialogues for films like Vikram Vedha (2017) and Pizza: II Villa (2013) and has directed the independent film Endless. In a conversation with Krishna, Manikandan opens up about five of his favourite Kamal Haasan films and does a deep-dive into the scenes that stood out for him.
We come across different versions of screenplays — of Robert McKee, Blake Snyder and others. In Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” (the American writer popularised the hero pattern in mythologies with his book), he has written about a pattern or blueprint of how a person goes through different things before he becomes the hero or the demigod. When you watch Thevar Magan, andha thiraikadhai adhi arpudhama porundhum (the screenplay of the film will beautifully fit in that pattern). My friends and I used to watch the film and compare it with Campbell’s work. It was almost like a study material for us, so I can’t point out one single scene.
Even if you see the character, he is very naive initially. Sakthivel Thevar (Kamal Haasan) studied in London and when he sees these village people, he finds their acts silly. While the people talk about panchayat when there is an issue, he instead suggests they go to court. Slowly, Sakthivel evolves into someone with a primal instinct and becomes one among them. But he falls deep into the pit and he overcomes those. He carries all the blames and leaves that village — it shows how detailed the screenplay is. It amazes me every time I rewatch it.
I watched four back-to-back shows of Uttama Villain when it was released. In a film within the film, they put up the play of Iraniya Naadagam. Kamal Haasan’s Manoranjan essays the role of Hiranyakashipu (Iraniyakashipu) and Nassar plays Lord Narasimhan. Even though Iraniyakashipu is the villain, he has the right reason to get angry. Because although Prahaladan is his son, the kid tells him, “You are not my father. I am a devotee of Lord Narasimhan.” The same concept can be seen in the film. Manoranjan’s daughter Manonmani (Parvathy Thiruvothu) will be raised by Jacob (Jayaram) and she will call Jacob her father. As the camera closes in on Manoranjan and how he observes his kids, these lines by Iraniyakashipu play in the background - “En udhirathin vidhai, en uyir udirtha sadhai, veroruvanai bhagavan ena poruthiduvena.” (He might even be a god, but how can my kid call him the father). It was a superb correlation.
In the film, Manoranjan will suffer from cancer. In one scene, you can see how much cancer is affecting his life. In the film within the film, there will be a shot of someone fishing. And the camera will focus on how the fish is gasping for air on the land; it has only those few minutes to live and at the same time, Manoranjan’s nose will start bleeding. It is an extraordinary shot.
If someone wants to make an action film where an underdog rises to power, Sathyaa is the one they should watch. The market fight in Sathyaa is a joy to watch. Besides the stunts, the impact an action sequence will have depends on the build-up and how people are made to wait in anticipation of that action. It is wonderful in this film. Everyone will get ready to fight and then they will ask “What is his name?” To which Kamal Hassan will shout, “Sathya da”. That moment is priceless.
Instead of a scene, it is the events that build up to a scene, and the scene choreography that create the impact. In Virumaandi, he will win a game in the village, sing the ‘Kombulae Poov Suthi’ song and ask all of his gang members to eat and leave. The mood of this scene will be amazing. But his grandmother will be sleeping. He will say, “Thoongura maari nadikaatha appathaa, apro naanum nambura maari nadipen (Don’t act as if you are sleeping, I will also act as if I believed it)” and he will continue to tease her. But she will not wake up, and the tension will slowly build. He will also pour water, but she will not wake up. Everyone around will get tensed and when it finally dawns upon him that she is dead, his performance will be out of the world. That build-up to the moment is important.
In another sequence, Virumandi and Annalakshmi (Abhirami) will be walking. The entire dialogue portion will be very interesting. I always talk to my friends about how he flirts with her, with one dialogue leading to another — the whole sequence will be beautiful. For instance, he will say, “vandi la edhaavudhu kolaaru nu paakren (I will check if there is any problem with the vehicle). She will reply, “Kolaru paakura nu kitta varuveenga, plug ah orasura nu, ena orasuveenga, naanga apdiye sokki vilanumo? (Under the pretext of repair, you will meddle with the plug and then with me and I should fall for you, right?) and he will blushingly nod. You can keep watching such scenes on a loop.
Hey Ram is my other big study material. There are many intriguing aspects in the film like how Kamal Haasan (he plays Saket Ram) sings the Hindu song “Raghupathi Raghava” in Namaz style. When Ram is fighting in the soda factory, the firing starts and a few Muslims hiding in the factory die. As he weeps knowing that he’s the reason for their death, he fall on the floor just doing a Namaz. That shot will be wonderful.
Saket Ram and Amjad (Shah Rukh Khan) are archaeologists working in Mohenjo-Daro (this unfolds in 1946). When they are asked to leave immediately fearing communal violence, Amjad sees the drainage system and says, “Even thousands of years before Christ’s birth, this civilisation knew the need for a sewage system. They knew children needed toys to play with, unlike us adults, who use religion to fight with each other.” Later in 1999, a very old Ram, on his deathbed, is taken to an underground shelter. Ram, who feels suffocated, asks them why they aren’t going out and the people tell him about the Hindu-Muslim riots happening outside. He asks, "Inuma? Even now?" And he would get a flashback of his chief during his archaeology days saying, “It is pack up time,” signifying his death.