I call Sundar C to discuss Anbe Sivam. He says he “couldn’t believe it has been 16 years since the film got released.” I ask him more questions, he politely refuses to answer. “Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to talk about my own films. Either the press asks me about Rajinikanth and Arunachalam or Kamal Haasan and Anbe Sivam,” he smiles.
But the director insists that I talk to others who were associated with the film. “I want the rest of them to open up. It’s better that way!” he tells.
So, here goes.
Kiran Rathod, actor
Even today people talk about it, and precisely why Anbe Sivam is special. Also, I think this is the only film that I’m really proud of. Sundar C is like my family, and I’m thankful to him for the opportunity. (Pauses) What do I say about Kamal sir? He’s a thorough genius. I’m a huge fan of his since Ek Duuje Ke Liye days. Anbe Sivam is an experience in itself, and I hold those memories fresh in mind. Kamal sir was quite particular that I kept my looks natural and used to chase me with tissues to wipe my makeup!. (Laughs)
Uma Riyaz Khan, actor
Anbe Sivam is an experience I’ll never forget. I was pregnant with my second child, and everyone treated me so well on the sets. The film got released in January, and I delivered the baby in March — the same year.
Working with Kamal sir, in fact, was the best thing ever. He always takes additional care to make his co-artistes comfortable. There was this lengthy scene between Kamal sir and me where I propose to him, which was deleted on the second day after Anbe Sivam hit the screens. I wish it was retained. He explained the nuances of my character in such detail, I didn’t have to act, I just had to be my character.
My husband Riyaz Khan has acted with him in Aalavandhan, but I never thought I’d get a chance eventually. I travelled with Kamal sir throughout the film and could relate to my character. It was a bold one, and I had to ride Rajdoot. I remember they shot that scene first, and it wasn’t easy. I had to ride the bike with Kamal sir, who was a pillion rider. I feel happy that the makers chose me for the role because someone was originally approached for the same. Though Madhavan and I didn’t have combination scenes, we still keep in touch.
Pa Vijay, lyricist
I got to pen the lyrics for “Mouname Paarvayai”. Though it wasn’t retained in the film, I enjoyed the process of writing the song. Even today, you can listen to the song play in FM stations. You don’t know why a film actually fails. The same works for success. You don’t know why it succeeds. But Anbe Sivam is a fantastic film, and it’s unfortunate that the audience failed to celebrate it then. A failure film doesn’t always mean a bad film.
Sriram Parthasarathy, singer
The music is quite amazing and the credit goes to Vidya Sagar, who gave us tremendous tunes. “Poovaasam” is an important song in my career. It’s not often that you get a raga-based song in a mainstream film, but Anbe Sivam provided that platform. I’d say it’s a rarity. After many years, I got another raga-based song “Varalaama” in Sarvam Thaala Mayam, which is yet to release.
Besides a terrific performance, Kamal sir has contributed a lot to the music. He has sung three songs, and all of them are incredible. I performed the same in Kamal 50 event, and he had good things to say about the song. Vidya Sagar sir told me that he wanted a song in Dujawanti and that raga is his all-time favourite. Anbe Sivam deserves to be celebrated more for its rich content and a unique screenplay.
I did a cameo appearance in Anbe Sivam, and I don’t know how many cameo roles like mine are remembered even today. Nothing was rehearsed in prior. Would you believe if I say I’ve got a fan club just for those two scenes that I was a part of? Such was the reach of the film. Kamal sir said my role should be somewhat similar to the character done by Nagesh sir in Thillana Mohanambal, and that was the drive. Also, he said I was his alter-ego in the film.
My character (Uthaman) is a conman who had to indulge in sweet talks to deceive Madhavan. Uthaman refers to someone who doesn’t lie. But my character is anything but that. I knew of a couple of real incidents based on whatever I played in the film, and gave Kamal my inputs. Madhavan was pretty much impressed with those stories and suggested that they accommodate more in the film, but Kamal jokingly said the audience would only notice my performance.
Certain films are meant for the television audience, and Anbe Sivam belongs to that category. You don’t realise the potential of a story at one go. But when you repeatedly watch it, you understand what the film is all about. Take Panchathanthiram for instance, it wasn’t celebrated in a big way when it was released. But the television audience made the film their own years later.
Sujatha Narayanan, script assistant/costume designer
Anbe Sivam is a milestone film for all of us, despite the lack of publicity material or promotional support then. It’s a cult classic in many ways. It’s the first film in Tamil cinema to show a beautiful bond between two male friends who come from extreme backgrounds and embrace different ideologies. One (Nalla Sivam) is a communist, and the other (Anbarasu) is a product of capitalism. Though Nalla is differently-abled, he spreads happiness wherever he goes. You’ve to give it to Kamal sir for the extraordinary screenwriting because you’ve to take a stand while narrating a story; at the same time have a balanced approach to achieve it.
Priyadarshan was supposed to direct Anbe Sivam, and Sundar C was roped in at the last moment. The role played by Kiran was supposed to have been done by Nandita Das. Similarly, Uma Riyaz Khan’s character was meant for Shobana.
Someone who has a huge fan-following like Kamal sir plays a character with thick glasses, facial scars and a dislocated jaw in the second half is not a thing that a hero usually does. It’s a difficult role, and he’d have played it with so much ease. Only Kamal sir is capable of pulling off such layered roles with finesse. The climax scene is quite poignant but was taken in single shot.
Another interesting thing is that Anbe Sivam is the first Tamil cinema to show a scene where two lead characters discuss something important in a bench setup — a trend that was prevalent only in English films back then.
The film is what it is because of other reasons too. We treaded on human emotions in the finest way possible. Every character was in perfect sync. This concept (You’re-God-so-am-I and Love-is-God and you-are-God) might sound simple on the paper, but it took a lot to translate the ideology on to the screen.
Kamal sir should have won the National Award for Anbe Sivam, but never mind, the film has its own loyal set of audience. Anbe Sivam has an unusual casting, and we wanted to prove that actors who don’t have the mainstream appeal can also pull off a fine film.
Anbe Sivam tells us that even unrequited love is love. Mehrunissa (Uma Riyaz) loves Nalla Sivam (Kamal Haasan), but Nalla Sivam loves Bala (Kiran). Though Bala loves Nalla Sivam, she ends up marrying Anbu (Madhavan). That’s life.
If there were digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter in 2003, I’m sure Anbe Sivam would have gotten more visibility. But again, making a film alone isn’t important. It’s similar to a product. You need to know when to release, how to promote and so on.
Prabhakar, art designer
Kamal sir’s writing is in top gear with Anbe Sivam, and it’s one of the most satisfying films I’ve worked on so far. He’d have told the story to me at least thirteen times before we started the shooting. Which is why we still think about the film after 15 years and it is still relevant and fresh. In a scene, Nalla asks Anbu, “Do you know what a Tsunami is?” That was the first time we ever heard that phrase in 2003. Years later, we had a Tsunami in India, and that’s Kamal Haasan for you. He’s like a scientist who predicts things in advance. Maybe, you don’t understand his films because they have been always ahead of its times. To accept, digest and understand an idea, it does take time. It could mean even years. (Smiles)
Kamal sir gave me absolute freedom to design the sets. Except for a song that was shot in Orissa, everything was shot in Chennai, to be precise in Vadapalani at Vijaya Vahini Studios (now the Green Park hotel). I created a tank-like set, which I worked on for 25 days, and shot those flood-related scenes. Every single idea that Kamal sir had in his mind found its way into the making, and that’s something unbelievable, we did, as a team.