July 24, 2002 
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Kamal Haasan
A skirt-chaser with panache
Panchathanthiram is a barrel of laughs


Ram (Kamal Haasan) is a pilot in Canada and an irredeemable skirt-chaser. In course of a midair hijack situation, he meets Mythili (Simran).

They fall in love and marry. Ram's four closest buddies Nair (Jayaram), Iyer (Yugi Sethu), Hegde (Ramesh Arvind) and Reddy (Shriman) are present at the wedding --- minus their wives.

Comes a day when Ram helps a damsel in distress. Wife Mythili misinterprets, presumes that he is two-timing her, and flies off to India to her parents' home. And Ram goes chasing after. The friends follow.

By way of a treat for Ram's birthday, they drive him down to Bangalore and fix him up in a room, complete with toy girl Maggi (Ramya Krishnan). Ram won't have any of it. He gets into a fight with Maggi, then dashes over to his friends' room. To salvage the situation, Iyer hurries off to Ram's room and finds Maggi 'dead'.

Panicked, the friends dispose of the body and then Ram discovers a cache of diamonds inside the dead girl's cell phone.

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A traditional festival has the wives of the four friends plan a get-together with Mythili as guest. The twist comes when the supposedly 'dead Maggi' lands up, demanding her diamonds back. Ram with help from his friends, their wives, and the film director --- has to resolve the tangle, exacerbated by the fact that Mythili thinks he's been up to his tricks again, this time with Maggi.

As a story, the Tamil film Panchathanthiram is derivative as so many of Kamal Hassan's comedies are. The inspiration is the 1998 movie Very Bad Things (writer-director Peter Berg making his debut).

In the original, Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) and Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz) plan their wedding. The groom's friends (Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven and Leland Orser) throw a bachelor party with a prostitute as centerpiece. Drugs, drinks and high jinx follow. One of them takes the girl off to a restroom for some impromptu sex and a twist in the tale sets up a story of repeated attempts to cover up an unintentional murder.

Kamal Haasan with Simran in Panchathanthiram Here, the story unfolds via a mother telling her nine-month old a bedtime story, with the help of an illustrated pop-up book. As each illustration unfolds, it morphs into a scene --- an innovative, if a touch gimmicky, way of telling the tale.

The film is an out and out comedy and Crazy Mohan, Tamil cinema's premier purveyor of laughs, delivers, in the form of snappy one-liners interspersed with situational comedy. The four friends play their roles with casual ease, and are genuinely funny. Jayaram and Urvasi, as a couple with a kid, turn in a particularly noticeable performance. Veteran comedian-turned-character artiste Nagesh has a part to play and does it with usual skill though you wonder why he noticeably slurs his lines in this film.

Ramya Krishnan as the bimbo is brilliant. You wonder why she has never really clicked. And then there is Simran as good as, by now, you expect her to be. What is interesting about her is that, increasingly, she does not rely on glam outfits for her appeal thus, while she does dress to thrill in the song sequences, the clothes she wears the rest of the time suit the character she plays, a refreshing change from actresses who play, say, a struggling, unemployed girl yet dress in designer togs.

The centerpiece is obviously Kamal Hassan but for once, he does not give in to his penchant for stealing every scene. Thus, the laughs are distributed among Kamal and his friends. Kamal has an acting vocabulary that is comprised largely of props and situations. Thus, if there is a door nearby he will bang into it, if there is a stool around he will trip over it, if there is a person adjacent, he will find ways to use that person, and the space between them, to comic effect. Those tricks are all present and accounted for, here. There is also a very 'Kamal' scene, where he rattles off the four languages of his four friends with ιlan.

Kamal Haasan with Simran in Panchathanthiram When reviewing a film, it is sometimes difficult to know whether to include, or excise, off-screen events --- in this case, the real life relationship between Kamal Hassan and Simran. This movie, or so urban legend goes, brought him closer to Simran. For the film under review, the two were shooting in Canada. Kamal had his emotional burden to bear, by way of the separation.

Simran, for her part, got the news that sister Monal had committed suicide. Deciding that work was priority, she continued shooting. How is all this relevant? Perhaps not at all. Consider, though, the situation of an actor who has to be funny while feeling that life is anything but.

Interestingly, Kamal looks fresh and nicely toned --- a contrast from Pammal K Sambhandam, wherein he looked jaded and dumpy. He plays the skirt-chaser with panache, and Simran as the chic love interest matches him scene for scene.

Director : K S Ravikumar
Music: Deva
Dialogues: Crazy Mohan
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Simran, Jayaram, Urvasi, Ramesh Arvind, Shriman, Nagesh

'I'm working to clear debts': Kamal Haasan

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