Papanasam review: An emotional Kamal Haasan matches cold Mohanlal

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Jul 05, 2015 02:07 IST

Director: Jeethu Joseph
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Gauthami, Nivetha Thomas, Esther Anil, Asha Sharath, Anant Mahadevan, Delhi Ganesh
Rating: 4/5

One of the nicest aspects about Jeethu Joseph's Papanasam in Tamil is the return of Kamal Haasan as we all once knew him, the great master actor. He had, at some point in his career, lost himself into characters larger than life, parts he may not have been comfortable playing -- like those in Uttama Villain and Vishwaroopam.

Haasan -- in this remake of the Malayalam original, Drishyam, also helmed by Joseph -- is riveting as a small town cable-television operator, Suyumbulingam, who more than makes up for his lack of education, having just scrapped through standard four, by learning from cinema. Night after night, he travels through films, by picking up an unbelievable lot of information from them -- at one point enough to drive Tamil Nadu police to sheer exasperation.

Although it may be odious to draw comparisons, one would naturally pit Haasan against the Malayalam superstar, Mohanlal, who essayed cable TV operator Georgekutty in Drishyam in a masterly play of cat-and-mouse, where the rodent is undoubtedly smarter than the feline creature.

Watch Papanasam trailer here:

The essential difference between the two stars is the way they have tackled the script: while Haasan infuses a liberal dose of the emotional quotient into Suyumbulingam, Mohanlal's Georgekutty is cold, calculated and ruthless. Even when he is mercilessly beaten by the cop and left bruised and bleeding, in order to force a confession out of him and his family -- which is present there during this sadistic show of State power -- he smiles if only to instill a certain confidence in his wife and daughters and lift their dangerously sagging spirits. Haasan instead conveys pain and anguish in what is a clear demonstration of emotion, rather than courage or bravado.

Even at the climax, while Drishyam's Mohanlal is composed and amazingly restraint during his meeting with the Inspector-General of Police (portrayed by Asha Sharat in both versions), Papanasam's Haasan is overcome with grief as he makes his admission -- or almost.

My question here would be, would not such an emotional approach reduce the impact of what is clearly a crime thriller -- where the son of the Inspector-General of Police clicks the pictures of Suyumbulingam's elder daughter, Selvi (Nivetha Thomas), and later demands sex from her. Otherwise, the tell-tale clip would go viral, he warns her. The plot -- probably well known by now -- involves a murder and Suyumbulingam's canny moves to protect his family, moves that infuriate the IG to such an extent that she orders the police to go in for a violent interrogation.

Even Suyumbulingam's wife, Rani (Gauthami reappearing on screen after ages, and what a gripping piece of acting) and Selvi are not spared. The methods employed by the cops are extremely painful to watch, and as we see an unflinching IG (whose son is missing) and her rather docile husband (Anant Mahadevan), one can well understand how low a State can stoop to ferret out information -- ways that may be entirely unlawful as we see in Papanasam, as we also witnessed in Drishyam.

The Tamil edition is longer by about 15 minutes than Drishyam, but its 180 minutes do not really weigh on us. For the performances in Papanasam, even those of the daughters, Esther Anil (as Meena) and Thomas, are polished, and the directorial touch of Joseph is seamless. The story and script are his as well.

A must watch for those fans of Kamal who have been waiting to see him as an actor -- not just a star driven to stunts -- and, of course, Gauthami, who would certainly rekindle memories of her great performances.

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