‘Ulaganayagan’ Kamal Haasan’s Greatest Films, Ranked

Volatile, controversy-ridden, destiny’s own child – you may call Kamal Haasan any of these but it will remain etched in stone that he is one of the great actors that Indian cinema has seen. At the age of sixty five, he still retains that insatiable hunger to reinvent himself as an actor. An accomplished dancer and singer, he often portrays unconventional roles. As a filmmaker, his choice of scripts and vision fuses together to create magic on screen. Started as a child actor, Kamal Haasan eventually went on to star in many films as the lead. As a protege of director K Balachander, he acted in several of his films and won accolades. His versatility is such that he could pull of any role. Be it the gangster act of Maniratnam’s ‘Nayagan’, or the prodigal son of ‘Thevar Magan’ or the silent act in ‘Pushpak’, his range of acting is unparalleled. A person who never minces his word, he is often in the news for his explosive remarks about politics, society and film making. We, at The Cinemawala, bring you 15 of his greatest films ever.

15. Viswaroopam (2013)

It’s a film that broaches the topic of global terrorism, spanning across the seas, from the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Technically brilliant and a gripping narrative that moves in a breakneck speed, that’s the USP of Kamal Hasaan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’. A woman in doubt over her relationship with her effeminate husband, discovers him to be a spy and thus the layers of ‘Vishwaroopam’ start peeling off, showcasing Kamal Haasan’s mastery over storytelling. Released to a huge controversy over showing a particular religion in a bad light, ‘Vishwaroopam’ is one of the finest spy thrillers to have been made.

14. Dasvataram (2008)

A story woven around the concept of the ‘Butterfly Effect’, juxtaposed with the mythological ten reincarnations of Vishnu, the Hindu God is how ‘Dasavatharam’ is conceptualised. An incident that occurs in the 12th century India either by divine intervention or by fate gets linked with an event in 21st century India, through ten individuals. Kamal Haasan decided to enact all ten characters himself, thus creating a record of sorts. Each character had a different personality, accent, look and Kamal Hasaan being the wizard of looks himself, went for extensive makeup to be each one of them. Although at times, it looks dated and the movie falters due to a huge hype created by one man playing all roles himself, it mainly works due to an earnest effort of Kamal and a unique concept.

13. Kuruthipunal (1995) 

At the heights of terrorism, two police officers devise a plan to counter it – Infiltrate the terrorist organisation by placing two insiders. However, when one of the spies gets killed, it becomes important to save the remaining one from getting caught. And while this happens, the terrorists manage to infiltrate the police and try to identify the mole. Made much before ‘Internal Affairs’ and ‘The Departed’, the hard-hitting ‘Droh Kaal’ interested Kamal Haasan and he decided to remake it in Tamil as ‘Kuruthipunal’. He portrayed the role of Adhi Narayanan, the cop who is forced to join hands with the terrorists, despite his unwillingness. This was India’s official entry in the Foreign Films category of the 68th Academy Awards.

12. Gunaa (1991)

‘Gunaa’ is the story of a mentally challenged man, who grows up listening to the stories of a goddess Avirami and wishes to marry her on a full moon day. He ends up kidnapping a girl, who he believes is Avirami. Subsequently, events that follow this, make Avirami develop a deep bond with this man, who will move heaven and earth, in order to protect her. Circumstances and a tryst with destiny culminate in death as Gunaa jumps over the cliff with the body of his beloved, proclaiming that his love, pure and pristine, can never be understood by mere mortals. This film exemplifies the genius of Kamal Hasaan.

11. Virumaandi (2004) 

A movie that uses the famous ‘Rashomon effect’ to tell the story, through the character’s vantage points. Kamal wrote, directed as well as starred in the lead role of Virumaandi, a farmer who’s sentenced to death for murder and rape. A scholar working on the subject of the abolishment of the death sentence meets two prisoners awaiting their death sentences. As she goes through their respective versions of what had actually transpired in the chain of events, the audience is taken back to the events. It’s a bold subject and Kamal, through his writing and portrayal of ‘Virumaandi’ conveys a sensitive message to the viewers.

10. Hey Ram (2000)

A man who sets out on avenging his wife’s murder, at the hands of a mob during the riots. The riots which mostly prevails during the partition perio, makes this man thirsty for blood and he begins his journey of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi. ‘Hey Ram’ is an important film of Kamal’s career, which he wrote and directed as well. As the protagonist Saket Ram he etches his character to have lost his moral compass with his wife’s death but as he engulfs himself into revenge, he sees the other side of revenge, that’s truly losing one’s humanity. Shah Rukh Khan played the pivotal role of Saket’s friend, who is instrumental in changing his views towards life. 

9. Pushpak (1987)

Well, technically it’s not India’s first silent film, rather it’s a film where the characters don’t use dialogues to express their thoughts. Despite of not having any dialogues, this film is rich on content and uses humour to take the story forward. ‘Pushpak’ or ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ as it was known in Tamil is about a man down on luck, getting a chance to impersonate a rich person. Thus he lives his life but also gets his share of troubles. How these experiences shape his views about life, forms the crux of the story. As the film needed no dialogues, it had actors from across India. Two things stood out from the film – The ingenious ice knife and Kamal’s tribute to Charlie Chaplin. One of his best acts on screen, Kamal brings the house down with his antics.

8. Indian (1996)

Shankar is renowned for his larger than life flicks along with cutting edge graphics and VFX effects. So when he and Kamal Haasan came together on board for ‘Indian’, there was magic on screen. A freedom fighter, like many others, sacrificed his life to get the country its independence. But his dreams of seeing a free country is shattered when he experiences corruption deeply rooted in the system. Being the believer of action speaking louder than words, he takes it up to himself to weed out the corrupt officials from existence. A superb Kamal Haasan, playing both the patriotic father wearing prosthetics and the corrupt son gave a thunderous performance. The film sends out a hard hitting message as well as provides entertainment to the masses. 

7. Anbe Sivam (2003)

Two men, while travelling from Bhubaneswar to Chennai go through a series of conversation, while seeking a way out from the flooded city. Travelling through different means of transportations such as plane, bus and train they discuss their lives. Their conversations touches various subjects that affects people. Kamal Haasan starred and wrote the script which speaks of communism, capitalism, altruism, globalisation and atheism. It’s not the average larger than life films, that the masses like to watch. It’s more of a slice of life film, which in its lighter note, discuss issues that impact people. Also starring R Madhavan, though not commercially successful,  over the years, it has achieved a cult status among serious cine goers.

6. Moondram Pirai (1982)/Sadma (1983) 

Featuring one of the most heartbreaking climaxes ever seen in cinema, ‘Moondram Pirai’, which was also remade in Hindi as ‘Sadma’, is the story of a young woman, who loses her memories in an accident and behaves as a seven year old kid. She ends up in a brothel where she meets Cheenu. Sympatheising with her situation, he rescues her from the brothel and takes care of her. As fate would’ve have it, she gets back her memories and doesn’t recognise the man who helped her and now, is hopelessly in love with her. Illayiraja’s music and director Balu Mahendra’s cinematography are considered milestones in the history of Indian cinema. But it was Sridevi and in particular, Kamal Haasan’s performance as a young man, who’s in love with a childlike woman, stole the thunders.

5. Apoorva Sagodhararga (1989)/Appu Raja (1990)

Long lost brothers, reuniting to take revenge on the man who wronged their loved ones, is a concept that has been around for many years. During the nineties, this concept was in vogue. Kamal Haasan decided to give it a twist and made one brother, a dwarf. Playing twins, he had to bend at his knees to play the midget. Kamal’s dedication towards his craft, made this unique movie possible. As a midget who works in the circus as a clown, he showcases his range as an actor. His heartbreaking moments, while getting rejected in love due to his appearance and rage upon knowing the conspiracy of him becoming a midget are some of the brilliant scenes of the movie. This was dubbed into Hindi as ‘Appu Raja’ and was a huge success as well.

4. Avvai Shanmugi (1996)/ Chachi 420 (1997)

Kamal Haasan made his directorial debut through the remake of his own film ‘Avvai Shanmugi’, where he played a dual character of a man and a woman. ‘Chachi 420’ was originally supposed to be directed by Shantanu Sheorey but later Kamal took the helms into his hand and came up with one of the funniest movies of all time. It speaks about a divorced couple and how the father puts up an disguise of an elderly woman to live with his wife’s family, in order to get close to his daughter. An ensemble cast of veterans such as Amrish Puri, Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Nasser and Johhny Walker took this movie to a different level altogether with their zany and witty acting. Above all, Kamal created a madcap comedy with his epic performance as Chachi. 

3. Thevar Magan (1992) 

Perhaps one of the most important film of Kamal’s career, ‘Thevar Magan’ tells the story of Shaktivelu , a westernised man comes back to his parental village. Chain of events forces him to drop his plan of going back to the city or marry his girlfriend and he unwillingly gets embroiled into the land’s politics, after his father’s death. It’s said that Kamal wrote this script in just seven days. The primary essence of a reluctant son getting on his father’s mantle reminds the viewer of the classic ‘The Godfather’. Sivaji Ganesan played Kamal’s father’s role and their relationship played out as one of the memorable sequences of the film. Priyadarshan made the hindi remake ‘Viraasat’ whose script was written by Kamal again. 

2. Mahanadi (1994)

A script that Kamal Haasan wrote, inspired from the paranoia that he faced, as a father. When his daughters were young, he discovered that his entire household staff were conspiring to kidnap them for ransom. The plan was so meticulous that the perpetrators had even done a dry run of the kidnapping. By his own admission, the fear and the urge of protecting his family, ended up as the script of ‘Mahanadi’. Starring himself and Sobhana Vignesh as his daughter, ‘Mahanadi’ is the story of a father, whose life is ruined due to a wrong decision and how it forces his family to go astray. Critically acclaimed at every corner, this is a gut wrenching cinema about child trafficking.

1. Nayagan (1987)

Inspired partly from ‘The Godfather’ and from the real life incidents involving Vardaraja Muduliar, the erstwhile Don of then Bombay in the sixties, ‘Nayagan’ is much more than a movie. Everything in the movie, direction, photography, acting, music, background score talks about a masterpiece. In fact, this film divided the history of Tamil films into two different timelines – The era before ‘Nayagan’ and the era after it. Directorial debut of the maestro Mani Ratnam, this film catapulted Kamal Haasan into a never seen before stardom. Watch this film to know why Mr Hasaan is known as the ‘Ulaganayagan’ which loosely translates to ‘Hero Of The World’.

 

Do let us know your favourite Kamaal Hasaan films in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “‘Ulaganayagan’ Kamal Haasan’s Greatest Films, Ranked

  1. This list is indeed a treasure for cinema lovers. I don’t think any other actor would have such a powerful repertoire of work. Kamal is and will remain one of the most proficient star in the world of cinema. As a North Indian I often feel deprived of Kamal’s cinema, as experience on the dubbed cinema is not the same.

    I wish I could see all his works, but the language barrier has been a road block. I though do cherish the experience of watching Nayagan in a movie hall. I had watched Dayavan and had loved it. My friend recommended me to go for Nayagan and must say that I was mesmerized by Kamal’s performance. Safe to say that it was the best ever performance. Salute to Kamal. I didn’t understand the language and yet was totally absorbed in the experience.

    I would have liked to see Saagar added to the list of Kamal’s great works, for he was simply outstanding as Raja. He made us laugh and cry with him. Kamal is a true-blue Ulaganayagan.

    I too had written an ode to this wiz of Indian cinema back in Aug, ’18. Below is the link. I hope that it would find readers.

    https://scenekyahaisite.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/the-wiz-of-indian-cinema/

    Liked by 1 person

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