Kamal Haasan completed 60 years in the film industry recently. The 64-year-old movie icon has dedicated his life to the craft of acting and making films since the time he was less than four years old. On August 12, 1959, he made his screen debut as a child actor with Kalathur Kannamma. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The 100 plus years of Indian cinema would not have been the same without Kamal. His contribution to the film industry both on and off-screen is insurmountable. He pushed boundaries of filmmaking, set high standards for cinema in India, goaded the audience into appreciating good cinema and artists. Not all his noble efforts fetched desired results. Most of the films were way ahead of their times. Hence, several of his films were declared failures.
Anbe Sivam is one such of the gems from Kamal’s impeccable resume that was underappreciated and underrated when released in 2003. Years later, the film developed a passionate fan base after it was repeatedly aired on television. What’s a better way than re-watching this film as a tribute to the passion and the hard work of a true artist.
Director Sundar C has made the film from Kamal’s script. The film reminds us of the power of compassion and the battles we can conquer by empathising with fellow human beings. By the look of it, it is a road trip/buddy comedy/coming-of-age film. But when you dig a little deeper, you unearth a layered, meaningful and philosophical drama.
Anbarasu (R. Madhavan) has a problem with his name. He doesn’t like ‘Anbu’ (compassion). He has rechristened himself as A. Aras, an ad-filmmaker. In the film, he represents capitalism. He is one of those guys who judge a book by its cover. A man-child from a wealthy family, who is completely detached from the ground-reality of his home country. Little does Aras know that his bubble is about to be popped by a hard-core communist, Nallasivam alias Sivam (an inspiring Kamal Haasan).
Sivam bears several scars on his face, his right-hand does not function normally and he walks with a limp. He is an uncomfortable presence in the “clean” and “pure” world of Aras. Notice the television advertisement that was shot by Aras. It is for a glass brand, which highlights, of course, “clean” and “pure” aspects of the product.
Aras mistakes Sivam for a terrorist, no less. And he even informs the cops at the Bhubaneswar airport. After getting a clean chit by the cops, Sivam confronts Aras. But, not with vengeance or hatred. He goes to Aras and makes jokes about the incident.
Due to torrential rains and heavy floods, the flights are cancelled and Aras is forced to stay back in Bhubaneswar. As fate would have it, Aras has no option but to share a hotel room with Sivam. Thus begins a journey of self-discovery of Aras.
In the course of his journey with Sivam, Aras is exposed to brutal human conditions and harshest realities of human existence. In short, he is in hell. Say, Aras is Dante in The Divine Comedy and Sivam is the stand-in for the Roman poet Virgil, who guides him through hell and purgatory before he takes the hand of his lady love and steps into the heaven.
Traditionally, in mainstream cinema around the world, the heroine is killed off, so that she won’t slow down or hinder the hero on his journey. Kamal, the writer, however, subverts that trope by “killing” the hero in this film. In a freak road accident, Sivam barely survives and his love interest Balasaraswathi (Kiran Rathod) moves on thinking he is dead. And, Sivam goes forth on his own as he doesn’t want to pull her back or hinder her journey.
The accident leaves scars on his face, causes irreparable damages to his body, and his love is taken away from him. He loses everything. Or does he?
Sivam is reborn from the accident, takes on a new shape and restarts his journey, which is enriching the lives of others.
Evil capitalist Kandasamy Padayatchi (Nassar), who orders murders in the same breath he remembers God, guilt-ridden stray dogs, rebellious and outspoken women, a gullible corporate slave, Kamal fills up the film with wonderful characters, that have deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. The entire film is, more or less, a non-stop negotiation to find a middle-ground between capitalism and communism.
The film ends with an image of Sivam walking away with his pet dog after guiding Anbarasu to safety. I could imagine Sivam continuing his journey of changing the world one person at a time.
Dear Kamal, make a sequel to Anbe Sivam already.
Anbe Sivam is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play Movies.