Kamal falls... hard!
What happens when an exceptionally talented actor develops an inexplicable urge to delve into the dark side of the human psyche, and worse, decides to paint the town red about it?
Well, for one, you get a film called Abhay (Fearless).
With the vision that hindsight provides, I wouldn't be far off target if, in a rare bout of self-pity, I describe myself as being the real Abhay for having sat through the almost three-hour-long film.
For someone who has grown up deifying Kamal Haasan's histrionic talents, whether as the simpleton in Moonram Pirai (dubbed as Sadma in Hindi), as the do-gooder godfather in Nayakan, or as the mentally challenged Guna, his portrayal of Abhay is sterile and without soul, to put it mildly.
Padmashri Kamal Haasan, as he has chosen to introduce himself in the credits, seems to be afflicted with the typical Hollywoodian obsession with technology, and it shows in the delusional sequences of Abhay, numerous fight scenes, and the countless pyrotechnics the twins (Abhay and Vijay) engage in.
No wonder it took close to Rs 25 crore to make.
But like Godzilla and countless other gizmo-heavy movies, the film falls with a mighty thud, proving yet again that nothing can substitute a good story line and great acting.
True, the film does have its moments, but they are more like its '15 seconds of fame'.
With a double role, Kamal should have delivered a double whammy. In an ironic twist of fate he manages to deliver it, but it hits you where it hurts the most: your innate logic and sensibilities.
I am still wondering how Abhay throughout the film manages to get hold of jazzy costumes when he has just about managed to escape from a mental asylum and is constantly evading the police and his twin brother Major Vijay Kumar.
There are many such scenes, which place incredulity at a major discount. At the end of it all you are left with the sick feeling of having been sold lemons -- extremely polished ones, but lemons nevertheless.
The scene that takes the cake is the final fight sequence, where Abhay, after a murderous but a vain attack on Tejaswini (Raveena Tandon), jumps out of the hotel room, flies through the air, and lo and behold! lands miraculously on an advertising balloon in the air, which carries him, of course all coincidentally, to the next building and safety.
Even as you are scraping your jaw off the theatre floor, his twin (Major Vijay Kumar) shows that what Abhay can do, he can do better.
And the story? Ah...
Twins: one evil, one good. The evil one, through a process of logical deduction that puts the word convoluted in the shade, gets it in his head that the good one's wife is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world. The rest of the film is one massive Kamal vs Kamal megalomaniacal tussle, and surprise, surprise! the good one wins. Yawn. Zzzzzzz
Now, such a story doesn't merit more time than you have already spent reading it.
But Kamal, in an exemplary display of how to stretch a four-line story into a three-hour film, comes up with a screenplay liberally embellished with inane songs, tech-laden but completely out of sync delusional sequences, and extra-strong fight sequences.
Even the little somethings that Kamal is famous for in his characterisations -- remember the gruff voice and the stoop he used in Nayakan or the amazing makeup in Indian? -- are quite jarring in Abhay.
The long sniff and sudden twitch of the head that Abhay does before indulging in a bloodbath or entering drug-induced dreamland leave you irritated and wondering whether his doctor had actually made a wrong diagnosis, and all Abhay suffered from was a bad bout of spondylitis.
As for the rest of the cast, except for Raveena Tandon, who is Major Vijay Kumar's better half -- literally so -- they add nothing more than ornamental value to the film. Raveena holds her own against Kamal, and at least once comes out on top when she 'out-acts' Kamal in a post-nuptials scene.
Manisha Koirala (Sharmilee) breezes through the film, leaving you aghast at the waste of such a talent, and wondering why she was needed in the first place.
But, Kamal, for all the brickbats thrown at him, deserves wholehearted credit for having had the guts to break out of the usual cinematic routine of the 'sati savitri, no premarital sex' girlfriend/wife characterisations.
Major Vijay Kumar's girlfriend Tejaswini is a no-holds-barred mediaperson who has no qualms admitting that she enjoyed having sex with her boyfriend. Neither does the major have any problems getting his girlfriend pregnant before marriage and voluntarily taking full responsibility for it.
In a major departure from the Bollywoodian script, neither do Tejaswini's parents (Navin Nischol and Smita Jayakar) react with 'oh the world's all but crashed' attitude, nor does Vijay's uncle (Vikram Gokhale) raise any moralistic ruckus about the issue.
The film's saving graces are the excellent cinematography (Thirru) and the stunning visual effects (George Merkert, Scott, Ian Johnson and Krishnakant Mishra). Both put together manage to push it to the higher reaches of filmdom, which very few Indian films have touched.
Now for the big question. Should you go and see the movie?
For all the disappointment that Kamal has dished out, I would still say a big Yes.
Why? For the sheer technical wizardry of the backroom boys, and for those with a dark sense of humour, to see a demigod fall.
After all, it isn't often that Kamal Haasan fails.
The ABHAY special