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Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004

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P. Devarajan

"SAAB, ye multiplex kya hai, (What is a multiplex?)," asked Lachman Singh and my reply was, "Hum ko bhi maloom nahin hai (I don't know)."

Lachman was keen on seeing Amitabh Bachchan in Dev and Lakshya and that too at a multiplex and did not believe me. This writer does not know what a multiplex is, as he has never gone near one. Borivili has no multiplex, no shopping mall, no Barista though it has an outlet of McDonald's which one has never visited as the roadside pav bhaji joint is cheap and tasty. From what one has gathered, a ticket at a multiplex costs around Rs 150 which neither Lachman nor this writer can afford. There are a few cinema halls, and on weekends, tickets are not available except in the black market. These days in Borivili open spaces are being greedily nabbed by builders and contractors to build 30-storeyed housing complexes with a gym and swimming pool attached; every patch of grass is cemented to sometimes accommodate a small temple; the builders provide less space for living and more for car parking with each family boasting of at least one vehicle; every housing society is well manned by guards from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and electronic systems.

The shoddy cinema halls in Borivili are full during weekends and Lachman thinks it is because the television channels have nothing to show. Television channels, like newspapers, look all the same, as the editors seem to have hit a dry patch. An important grievance for this writer, but not for Lachman Singh, is that no cinema hall in Borivili or for that matter in any other suburb runs Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi or Bengali films.

Some years ago, theatres in Matunga did regularly screen Tamil and Malayalam films but that has become rare with the south Indian population moving out to Dombivili and Kerala. One is left with CDs and Tamil film CDs can be easily bought at Dharavi, going by information provided by my friend SP.

Last week, he gave me four CDs, including Kamal Hassan's top class piece, Anbe Sivam. One had heard a lot about the film but had not seen it. When one took the CDs home, the family rushed for the film as they admire Kamal, and for that matter who does not. Talent oozes from Kamal like fizz from a bottle of beer. But one could not join the family.

On Budget day, one was tired of policies and numbers and to be honest one has never understood this annual economic exercise.

For a long, long time, one watched Mr P. Chidambaram on television and at the end of it was no wiser. Later, the exclusive interviews with Mr Chidambaram, beamed by the channels made it worse. Being a journalist, one has to feign economic know-how, pretend to outsmart the Finance Minister and write like an expert though the only clever expert on view that day was the Finance Minister. By late evening, the gimmickry had exhausted one.

One went home, poured a rum and spent the night watching Anbe Sivam alone as the family went to bed. Between Mr Chidambaram's Budget and Kamal's Anbe Sivam one understood and enjoyed Kamal and that not because of the rum. Except for the trademark sex stomp of every Kamal film, the fellow comes out a winner.

The distorted face, a change, which he dons, after a bus accident, is impressively done; the slurred lines from injured lips go well with the facial ticks; and when Kamal breaks into something close to a laugh (or is it a leer?), one clapped appreciatively.

One saw the film twice that night and followed it up with a third viewing the next day. Anbe Sivam was a flop when it was released, SP tells me. There is a strong story line, there are no intellectual touches, but the aam admi did not like it. "Communism may be dead but Marx is a passion," says Kamal and that piece of dialogue had a poetic virtue about it. There is a Marx in everyone of us who lives in us till we die. The film has generated a major debate at home on who is the best actor in today's world of Indian films.

Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Naseerudin Shah, Dr Shreeram Lagoo, Mohanlal, Mammooty are a few against whom Kamal was placed for listing by the audience. For my son Ganesh and Lachman Singh, it is Amitabh while for me it is Kamal, despite some poor displays, especially in Hindi films. One way to list excellence is to gauge one's reaction after watching old films of the best actors. If a Deewar or a Zanjeer still holds the viewer, Amitabh should top the chart. For this writer, it is not so; a Deewar bores this writer today despite an occasional frame though that is not the case with the old releases of Kamal.

This man has intrigued me and will always.

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