ANBE SIVAM (2003, d. Sundar C.)
Although he is more known outside of south India for his rather more lame Hindi films (such as the Mrs Doubtfire remake, Chachi 420), in his Tamil-speaking homeland, actor/writer/director Kamal Haasan is deservedly revered as an Indian film legend. But whereas his likewisely popular acting peer Rajnikanth is listed in his screen credit as a ‘Superstar’, Haasan is billed as a ‘Super Actor’. And therein lies the difference between he and so many other Indian cinema stars. While the likes of Rajnikanth, Shah Rukh Khan and even Amitabh Bachchan have stuck to less artistic, but far more commercially-viable vehicles over the years, Haasan has instead used his massive popularity as a tool to bridge the gap between arthouse and mainstream Indian cinema. Though these attempts make little waves at the masala-soaked Tamil box office, they have solidified his reputation of being a hugely diverse, masterful and ballsy performer and filmmaker.
This black comedy drama from 2003 is a perfect showcase for Kamal Haasan’s talents and while he wasn’t sat in the director’s chair this time around, his fingerprints were clearly embedded in the film’s story and script. Awash with his trademark wry humour and bursting at the seams with left-wing political statements as well as his own, real-life views on religion, Anbe Sivam (‘Love is God’) is the tale of two strangers - one; a wise-cracking, disfigured communist (Haasan), the other; a cocky, young yuppie (well enacted by Madhavan) - stuck together on a long journey home to Madras. As they learn a few lessons in life along the way, the movie takes a break for a flashback sequence that rather pointlessly tries to pander to a wider audience with the use of some overly-melodramatic scenes as well as a dreadful, Jackie Chan-in-slow-motion-style fight sequence (it didn’t work - the picture still flopped). Nitpicking aside however, this nonetheless thoughtful and undervalued film is essential viewing for Indian cinema lovers. As is the case with much of Haasan’s work, and indeed with most geniuses’, Anbe Sivam is flawed yet brilliant stuff.
Opposites attract: Kamal Haasan and Madhavan in Anbe Sivam
Tamil DVD distributor Ayngaran International have released a two-disc set of typically exceptional quality - the film being offered with a crystal-clear 5.1 Dolby track on the first and with equally pleasing DTS audio on the second. No extras are included, but the superb picture quality more than makes up for it. Sadly, all that is lacking is a decent subtitle translation as the track featured is marred by awkward wording and a lightning-fast pace at times.