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After Rajinikanth re-released his 2002 film Baba in 2022, which unfortunately became a damp squib again, like 20 years ago, his peer Kamal Haasan is set to come back with a digitally toned-up version of his 2001 film ‘Aalavandhan’, also a box-office dud back in the day.
The film’s producer Kalaippuli S Thanu and director Suresh Krissna say that after getting a digital makeover Aalavandhan will be released in over 1,000 theatres all over the world shortly.
Producer Thanu’s tweet announcing that Aalavandhaan ‘velluvaan, pughazh alluvaan’ (will win and garner glory) is quite optimistic, considering his lament over two decades ago that the film had caused him a loss of crores of rupees. “The story narrated initially to me was different from the one that was shot and finalised,” he said in an interview, remarking, “Kamal was always way ahead of his time and could have produced the film himself, but instead he made me produce it.”
The film’s Hindi version Abhay too received the same cold reviews. For instance, film critic Taran Adarsh commented that the film was very poor and “appealed to neither classes nor masses.”
Unlike Rajini’s Baba, Aalavandhan (One who came to rule) was a technological wonder and yet was not something even Kamal fans relished, let alone the general audience. Perhaps, the movie-going audience of the early 2000s was not digitally-savvy enough to enjoy the manga and anime sequences that were part of the film’s VFX.
The film’s producer Kalaippuli S Thanu and director Suresh Krissna say that after getting a digital makeover Aalavandhan will be released in over 1,000 theatres all over the world shortly
However, the brickbats that the film received at the time turned into bouquets down the line. The belated appreciation by cinephiles changed the film into a Kamal cult classic. That’s when people began to understand that it was not without reason that the film had won the National Award for Best Special Effects. The film was also shown at the 2016 Fantastic Fest, an annual film festival in Austin, Texas, winning kudos from the US audience as well.
Back in 2001, ahead of Aalavandhan’s release for Deepavali, there had been a lot of hype about it, triggering overconfidence among the makers of the film and letting the fans go gaga. Like never before, the largest number of prints were made for over 650 theatres all over the world. The film had used a motion graphics camera for the first time in Asia as well. Special stunt choreographers were brought in from abroad to work on the film.
Kamal who played the dual role of twins – an army officer and a psychopath – made the two characters look completely different in terms of physique, expressions and costumes. One was stocky, with a fully shaven head, strong arms and toned-up muscles, sporting a tattoo of a slithering serpent and riding roughshod over others, the other was an ordinary man who was calm, composed, decent and dignified. This kind of stark contrast between the dual roles played by an actor was a first — something that past heroes including thespian Sivaji Ganesan had not attempted before.
*Spoilers ahead* Going to the VFX, the anime sequence of the schizophrenic Kamal killing his lady love Manisha Koirala is quite affecting. Paranoia had driven him to mistake her for his dead stepmother in a moment of hallucination and it completely changed him into an insatiable murderer.
It was these manga frames that metamorphosed two years later in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) into the iconic animated scene of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) killing her paedophile boss who had slaughtered her parents. Tarantino is a master of non-linear narratives and an Oscar winner at that, and he was inspired by Kamal Haasan’s use of anime in Aalavandhan/Abhay to portray a horrifying scene in a novel manner.
Tarantino himself admitted that ‘Abhay’, the Hindi-dubbed version of Aalavandhan, had inspired him to shoot the anime scenes of Kill Bill Volume 1, according to Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap. Kashyap who had once met and spoken with Tarantino quoted him as saying, “Yes. I saw this Indian serial-killer film which showed violence as animated.”
The story narrated initially to me was different from the story shot and finalised,” he said in an interview, remarking, “Kamal was always way ahead of his time and could have produced the film himself, but instead he made me produce it
Aalavandhan is also special in that it is based on a novel ‘Dhayam’ that Kamal Haasan himself wrote in 1984, which was later serialised in journalist Maniyan’s Tamil magazine ‘Idhayam Pesugirathu’. It seemed to have everything going for it, but could not connect with the audience who expected Kamal to perform as he had done in his past blockbusters such as Sakalakala Vallavan, Kakki Chattai, Thoongathe Thambi Thoongathe.
But the audience didn’t quite get Kamal’s character, riddled by insanity, having had a tortured childhood and an obsession to exact revenge on his cruel stepmother, and who was driven by his hallucinations.
Where was the fast-paced and well-structured narrative edgy enough to keep the viewers glued to the screen? The audience had probably thought on these lines. The story of someone with paranoid schizophrenia was too heavy for an audience that perhaps craved light entertainment those days. The result: Aalavandhan was rejected as sub-par and the reviews trashed it. So, Aalavandhan, like Kamal’s 2000 venture Hey Ram, also did not make the mark in terms of box-office collections.
But the same Aalavandhan, modified and refined according to the demands and tastes of the present day’s audience who have by now got used to high quality VFX, comes calling. The expectations of success this time stem from the roaring success of Kamal’s Vikram in 2022 and the resurgence of his market value.
Having always been way ahead of his time in terms of storytelling as well as filmmaking, Kamal’s serious experiments have taken time to be accepted by his audience. So Aalavandhan, which was not rightly assessed back in the day, may finally win the appreciation it deserves this time around. The audience sure has become much more mature after being exposed to a lot of world cinema in the past 20 years.
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