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 Tamil filmdom better than Kamal Haasan.
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 Robin Williams and the unsung TK Shanmugham.
Most people wouldn’t know TKS. The doyen of Tamil theatre and a thespian of the classic mould, Shanmugam was Haasan’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 Haasan 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, Haasan perhaps chose the referential title to immortalise a man whom he adored.
That brings us to Papanasam, the Tamil remake of the 2013 Malayalam hit Drishyam, starring Haasan. 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 because DK Pattammal, a Papanasam Sivam protégé, was once coaxed by Haasan to sing Vaishnav Janato for Hey Ram.
Another legend held in high esteem by our man is perhaps, SS Vasan. I am tempted to arrive at this conclusion as Haasan has nicked three of Vasan’s titles till date: Sathi Leelavathi, Apoorva Sagodarargal and Raj Tilak. Talk of coincidences.