As a self-confessed, unabashed Kamal Haasan fan, I look forward to his movies with a great deal of interest and curiosity: what will the man do next? On that note, perhaps Dasavatharam was bound to be a disappointment; for here was a movie where the gotcha factor was no longer present. Despite that, I hoped that Kamal's exemplary story-sense and screenplay writing skills (his outings as a screenplay writer feature the likes of Guna, Mahanadi, Thevar Magan, Anbae Sivam and Virumandi) would somehow justify this whole gimmick. Alas, that is not the case either. IMO Dasavatharam is merely gimmicky, and also shockingly unintelligent.
First the positives: some of the action sequences and special effects are extremely good. The whole Nambi sequence is superb, but also detrimental to the movie as a whole since it raises your expectations (btw, with the whole skin-piercing thing and all that, Kamal takes yet another cue from Mel Gibson's book of torture). The various cues to mythology (especially the characters of Vincent Poovaraghan, Gothai/Andal and Govind) also work, though I do not lend credence to the emails being floated around linking every role to an incarnation - that's just taking things too far. That said though, there is an effort by Kamal to tip his hat to the mythology, as can be seen in Vincent Poovaraghan's entry and death scenes, the throwaway scene to the monkey named Hanu, strong hints that the characters of Aandal and Govind are but re-incarnations of Gothai and Nambi etc). And of course, as with other screenplays by Kamal, the names of characters tell a story of their own - Gothai/Andal & Govind, Govind's father is Ramaswamy Naicker, the monkey named Hanu etc for instance. Some of the dialogues are pretty good too; sample this for instance:
Now for the negatives:
For a lot of the roles, the makeup was quite bad - the role of Krishnaveni patti being a case in point. Unfortunately, the patti is nowhere near as endearing as Shanmughi-maami was; she is pretty irritating most of the time, and without the baggage of the 10 roles funda, would probably have been chopped off at the editing table. The same goes for the role of Bush (though the makeup was marginally better), despite the attempt to be cute with utterances of nucelar in a lousy accent. But the worst makeup was certainly for the guy on stilts, he looked like something out of LOTR - the absolute pits. Was there a 'foot in mouth' reference somewhere in the introduction scene, btw? I think there was, bu did not quite the context there.
The next casualty is the screenplay. The one thing I expect from Kamal is a compact, intelligent screenplay. Much to my dismay, Dasavatharam had gaping holes all over the place. Despite the whole idea of the movie being fashioned around the 10 roles, I expected Kamal to tie together these roles in a much better way. For example, MMKR had the 4 roles bound together in a tight, cohesive screenplay. From forced humor (Kamal tries too hard to imbibe the Crazy Mohan style of wordplay here, maybe he should search for his own brand of humor) to utter tripe (the Hiroshima-Pearl Harbor reference was just pathetic), Kamal the screenplay-writer stoops lower than ever before. Also, there is an attempt to be cute by trying to invoke the butterfly effect etc - its once again nothing more than a gimmick, especially with the fluttering butterfly on screen; they could as well have erected a stupid board that said 'Butterfly Effect in play here' or something. Subtlety is something that the whole movie seriously lacks, I am afraid. And of course, Kamal needs to stop harping on the same topics film after film - religion, atheism, idol-worship, hypocrisy - its become darned boring and repetitive. He needs to write a movie that talks about none of these things!!
The performances - nothing to write home about. Each of the 10 roles Kamal does is reminiscent of something that he has done before. With the possible exception of the Nambi character and the Telugu guy (who was pretty much the same character as SPB's CBI character from Guna), every other portrayal is a letdown from the lofty expectations one holds for a Kamal movie. Even the supporting characters have nothing much to do, once again unlike other Kamal screenplays. Asin is a far cry from her charming Ghajini-self here; annoying and shrill as hell, the only laudable aspect of her performance is that she manages to evade the 'clutches' of Kamal :).
The worst part of the movie, though, had to be the whole cancer-curing episode. At a time when even Rajni-Mithun jokes about such things are stale, this was an absolute cropper. It wasn't even a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, which is what makes it even more cringe-worthy. Crap like this happens in Rajnikanth movies, not in Kamal Hassan ones!!
I might be too harsh on the movie, you could argue. For instance, while Mohanlal dons the shoes of the caring brother for the umpteenth time in a Balettan and a Madambi, and Mammotty exalts his newfound comic skills in utter tripe like Annan Thambi and Thuruppu Gulan, surely Kamal Hassan is afforded a Dasavatharam - especially after a good movie like Anbe Sivams at the B.O. But that is precisely why ones admires the heck out of Kamal Hassan - he is the one actor in the industry who refuses to compromise, irrespective of B.O success. When even Kamal compromised and assembles something like Dasavatharam with a clear eye at the B.O, it certainly is a disappointment in my book. Let us hope Marmayogi has no more compromises from Kamal !!