On Kamal Haasan’s birthday, here’s a look at his best work spanning five decades

As Kamal Haasan turns 63, here’s a look at my favourite films of the actor and the parts he played.
Kamal Haasan’s looks in Punnagai Mannan, Nammavar and Virumandi.
Kamal Haasan’s looks in Punnagai Mannan, Nammavar and Virumandi.
Updated on Nov 07, 2017 01:35 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Kamal Haasan as an actor is a treat to watch on the silver screen. Since his debut in Kalathur Kannamma in 1960 as a child artist to Thoongaa Vanam in 2015, Ulaganayagan (world class hero) has essayed some unforgettable roles in a career spanning 57 years.

Not only as an actor, he has also impressed film aficionados with his direction. Be it Hey Ram, Virumaandi or Vishwaroopam, he has given us a taste of world-class cinema.

It is hard to choose the best of this actor’s work. Some of his best films including Aval Oru Thodar Kathai and Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu were directed by K Balachander. Maro Charitra directed by C Rudhraiya set Kamal Haasan set on a path not taken by his contemporaries. Here are my favourite films of the actor from each decade since the 1970s.

Kamal Haasan in Aval Oru Thodas Kathai.
Kamal Haasan in Aval Oru Thodas Kathai.

Kamal Haasan of the 70s: Aval Oru Thodar Kathai, Avargal and Aval Appadithan

In the 1970s, the best Kamal Haasan films were directed by K Balachander and many of them were centred on a woman and her perspective of life. One of my favourite films is the 1974 movie Aval Oru Thodar Kathai which portrays a woman who decides to support her family by sacrificing her desires. Kamal Haasan was not the star of this film, but he had one of the best parts to play.

Avargal in 1977 was yet another film which was dedicated to a woman’s perspective on relationships. It had Sujatha, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan playing lead roles.

Aval Appadithan, directed by C Rudhraiya is about Manju (Srividya) and the hurdles that she comes across in life because of romantic relationships. Her outlook on life turns cynical, and the film is today considered one of the best movies of Tamil cinema. At the box office though, it was not successful

Kamal Haasan in Nayakan (left) and Sathya (right).
Kamal Haasan in Nayakan (left) and Sathya (right).

Kamal Haasan of the 80s: Punnagai Mannan, Nayakan and Sathya

Many might wonder why Moondram Pirai (Sadma in Hindi) is not listed. While Sadma received national popularity due to its emotional climax, I somehow enjoyed Punnagai Mannan a lot more. The 1986 movie had Kamal Haasan in double roles - Sethu and Chaplin Chellapa. The film was about a couple (Sethu and Ranjani) who decide to commit suicide because of their star-crossed love. Sethu, however, survives and the film is about his life after love.

The 1987 Mani Ratnam-directed Nayakan is a gangster drama. It was apparently based on the life of Bombay underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar. It is one of the well-made gangster dramas in Tamil cinema.

In 1988, Kamal Haasan starred in Sathya, a remake of the Hindi film Arjun. In this, he portrayed the role of a disillusioned youth. He and his group of friends start meting out justice and become vigilantes in the society.

Kamal Haasan in Thevar Magan(left), Sathi Leelavathi(middle) and Kuruthipunal (right).
Kamal Haasan in Thevar Magan(left), Sathi Leelavathi(middle) and Kuruthipunal (right).

Kamal Haasa of the 90s: Thevar Magan, Nammavar, Sathi Leelavathi, Kuruthipunal, Kaathala Kaathala

Thevar Magan is one of the best films made about caste-based riots. Directed by Bharathan, the 1992 film also had Sivaji Ganesan, Gautami and Revathy in lead roles. The National Award winning movie about a family feud, riots based on caste and how people led their life in rural Tamil Nadu was beautifully made.

After that came Nammavar in 1994 which had Kamal Haasan playing the role of an unconventional college professor who is intent on teaching students about the important things in life and not just the syllabus. His unconventional methods of interaction leads to a row with a group of students but he eventually managed to win them over.

The actor also tried his hand at comedy with Sathi Leelavathi and Kadhala Kadhala. While the former was about two married couple and how one deals with infidelity, the latter was about two friends and their relationship with their girlfriends. The humourous take on how the two friends try to convince their girlfriends’ families is a rib-tickling watch.

Kuruthipunal, which released in 1995 is, however, considered one of the best action-thrillers of the decade, and was directed by PC Sreeram. Kamal Haasan plays an intelligence officer in the film.

Kamal Haasan in Hey Ram(left) and Anbe Sivam(right).
Kamal Haasan in Hey Ram(left) and Anbe Sivam(right).

Kamal Haasan in the 2000s: Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam, Virumandi - the underrated three

In the first decade of the millennium Kamal also happened to work on a series of films like Pammal K Sambandam and Panchathanthiram. They were great, but what stole my heart was Hey Ram followed by Anbe Sivam and Virumandi.

Hey Ram, set in the time of Partition and loosely based on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, was simply world-class cinema. But even with a seemingly perfect star cast it turned out to be one the first few underrated Kamal Haasan films.

Anbe Sivam starring Madhavan and Kamal Haasan again was another movie that did not work commercially. The film with large political overtones was not successful at the box office. However, like the many other well-made films, this is today considered a cult movie.

Virumandi is about the life two prisoners, one of whom is on death row (Kamal Haasan as Virumandi) and the other is serving life sentence (Pasupathy as Kothala Thevar). Rohini, a human rights activist who is pursuing her PhD, speaks to prisoners and when she hears the two different versions of one incident, she realises how corruption has condemned Virumandi’s life and tries to reveal it to the world.

Kamal Haasan in Uttama Villain(left) and Manmadhan Ambu(right).
Kamal Haasan in Uttama Villain(left) and Manmadhan Ambu(right).

After 2010 - Kamal Haasan and mixed response

After 2010, Kamal Haasan worked in a slew of projects like Vishwaroopam, Uttama Villain, Papanasam and Thoongavanam. Currently, he is working on the sequel to Vishwaroopam and the spin-off from Dasavatharam titled Sabash Naidu. If I had to watch his film after the 2010s I would choose Uthama Villain, an intense drama where he plays an actor with terminal cancer and Manmadhan Ambu, a comedy.

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