Dasaavathaaram (2008)

To start with, if you want an entirely unbiased review of this movie that highlights all its pluses and minuses, go read this review from fellow blogger Balaji Balasubramainum. I am a very ardent Kamalhasan fan and have been expecting this movie for quite some time, so don’t expect my review to be devoid of bias.

First of all, a word to casual movie-goers: The movie has been getting a lot of mixed reviews around the web from various sources. Most of these sources are highly respected, so I am not bringing into question their worth or somesuch. All I want to convey is a regular moviegoer’s perspective. Once an online friend of mine -- who was also a movie critic for sometime -- told me that the problem with being a critic is that you watch a truckload of movies and begin to note each of them with a critical eye. He also went on to add that you go in to the theatre to get the whole view of the film and, thus, find all its flaws and somehow, sometimes could forget that moviegoing is just about having fun. Maybe Dasaavathaaram is getting hammered by critics for the same reason. It has been hyped a lot and has disappointed in some of these aspects, but, overall, it provides lots of fun.

The problem with Kamalhasan is that he can never create a movie to please both critics and regular moviegoers alike. When he released Aalavandhan, Hey Ram and Anbe Sivam, all wonderful pieces of cinema, critics praised him and the movies were critically appraised but all those movies bombed at the BO. People called him self-indulgent and that he created those movies only to appease himself (even the same critics who praised such films mentioned these flaws too). So, he comes out with Dasavatharam, a movie that is critically getting only mixed reviews but is a hit with the general public. Its story is a bit light and the screenplay is not tightly paced, but since the movie is taken with commercial intentions, it is so entertaining that the general public is having a fun time. Maybe after taking many movies where he pleased critics, this is Kamal’s time to please his devoted fans and provide some entertainment to the masses. Because that is what watching movies is all about – Entertainment. When you pay Rs. 150 of your hard-earned money, you want to come out thinking you have eaten a full-course meal, not thinking you have had only appetizers; a fact which is especially true for the B & C centers of Tamil cinema. I can certainly say that my money was absolutely well spent.

Now that the "rant" is over, we can get on with talking something about the movie itself. The story starts off in the 12th century in the middle of an era where the Shaivites were discriminating against Vaishnavites. The King of the land, who is a Shaivite, asks Rangarajan Nambi (Kamal) to say Lord Shiva’s name to which he doesn’t oblige and ends up inside the sea along with an idol of Lord Vishnu. This sequence has no real connection to the rest of the story but still ends up being enthralling with the Kallai Mattum Kandal… song to add to it.

The movie then moves forward to the present day and follows the story of Govindarajan (Kamal), a scientist working in America in the research for biological weapons. When he finds out that a vial containing the chemical that his team has researched is extremely dangerous and is about to fall into the wrong hands, he steals it and goes on the run being chased by ex-CIA agent, Christian Fletcher(Kamal again). Revealing further details might spoil some of the fun, so it best left undisclosed. However, the way the screenplay does tie some interesting aspects together at the end is particularly satisfying.

However, since I am a Kamal fan, I could not get myself to be bothered about these aspects of the film. Since the movie does feature him in 10 different roles, that was one of the main reasons for most of the press hype (as well as personal hype). And I can safely say that the actor in Kamalhasan has not disappointed at all. He has done his bit to bring out every difference about the 10 different roles right from voice modulation to walking style to general body language to even minute details like the way the lip moves and such. There is just so much painstaking effort visible in each frame of the movie that I found it hard not to overlook certain other flaws that the movie had. So, if you are like me and were hoping that Kamalhasan has gotten the 10 roles right, then by all means go ahead and watch the movie because he certainly has.

Asin doesn’t have a whole lot do in terms of bringing out her acting talent but her great comedy timing (which one could see in Ghajini) is put to good use in the second half. However, towards the end of the movie some of her antics did get so irritating that I wanted to reach into the screen and just give her one tight slap, at the same time wondering why the hero was not doing the same (even though that is a lot of exaggeration, it does tell you how annoying the character is). And only Kamal can explain why he chose Mallika Sherawat to play a part in this movie -- a very minor one at that. As Balaji’s review aptly put it, “She does her bit (pun unintended)”. All the other actors perform their roles quite well and, overall, the acting department does not leave anything wanting.

However, the same cannot be said for the visual effects department. Even early on in the movie, in the 12th century scenes, you can see certain aspects of the scene as being graphics clearly. The movie was hyped up to be up to Hollywood standards but fails to capture the same sense of awe and splendor. In most scenes, you can clearly make out what part of it was the responsibility of the visual effects department. With that being said, the tsunami scenes do provide a visual spectacle for the average Tamil viewer who will be used to crappy graphics in half-baked God movies and the visual effects can be forgiven for that.

There are other quirks with the film as well. The overall music is quite average saved only by Oh Oh Sanam… and the final Ulaganayagane… song which unabashedly sings Kamal’s praise. Also, in most of the getups when Kamal appears, you can make out that he is in the scene because he will be so visible because of his makeup. However, these are just minor quirks. If you want to see a great actor in top form in a good movie and want to get entertained for about 165 minutes, you could do a lot worse than Dasavatharam.

Finally, on a more personal note: Watching Kamal in 10 different roles in an above-average film is thousand times better than watching a mediocre actor in one role in a decent film. At least, that is the way it is for me.

Assassin's Creed - Final Impressions

When I picked up Assassin’s Creed last week, it was only because I had to play something till the release of Mass Effect. To be honest, I was not even intending to buy it because of all the negative press it got, what with repetition and all that. But I did go ahead and buy it and, in the end, ended up enjoying it a lot. Free-running is one of the best innovations in recent times. Obviously, the game has borrowed a lot of concepts from the new Prince of Persia series – even more so because both games come from the same development teams – but still Assassin’s Creed took the concept of free-running to a whole new level and it kept me quite involved with the game till the end even though there were lots of other flaws in the game. The game’s presentation really made free-running as fun as it was. I loved the way citizens would pause and say stuff like, “He is going to get hurt and when he does, I won’t help him” and so on which made the whole world very immersive and realistic.

Apart from free-running, I loved the game’s story and was absolutely pissed with the ending which blatantly leaves it open for the, as of yet unannounced, sequel. I really liked the unique two-faceted approach to storytelling and the game did quite a commendable job in keeping me interested in the plights of both Desmond Miles and Altair. Albeit, the main focus was obviously on Altair and I did become quite attached to him over the course of the game. Even more impressive was Altair’s characterization. Altair starts off as an arrogant, over-the-head sort of guy who thinks the assassin’s “creed” is below him and this gets him in trouble. However, as he completes each assassination and hears the confessions of his victims, he gradually becomes softer and it felt as if he was constantly maturing throughout the course of the game. I cannot wait for the inevitable sequel to move the story forward. The ending does pose some interesting questions as to Desmond’s bigger role in the sequel and it will be interesting to see what Ubisoft can pull off with it.

I found the missions themselves to be quite interesting. The investigating to be done before the assassination was fun for a bit but it got repetitive and boring by the end of the game. However, I did like doing these missions just for the heck of it. Following the victim to a secluded place before beating the heck out of him to get the info and then silently doing off with him was intensely satisfying each time. I also liked pickpocketing because it was always funny to watch the people’s reactions after they have been picked off. The assassinations were a bit of a disappointment for me personally. What was a bit of a downer was that you always had to move through the crowd and fight the battle, there was no means for silent killing. In 2 or 3 missions, I got on buildings and waited for a few minutes for my target to show up before realizing that you had to be within the crowds before the memory actually began. That being said, I did have a few surprises. In one of the missions, the vigilantes that appeared when I saved a citizen took hold of my target and I took a big leap before driving my hidden sword into his neck which was intensely satisfying. I also did quite a bit of planning as to which escape route to take back to the Assassin’s Headquarters which was also a lot of fun and helped me overlook the game’s repetitive nature.

The extras were also fun to achieve but it was also sad that they did not have any bonuses attached to them. I did not go out of my way to collect all the flags or kill all the templars. Both of those, I did whenever they appeared in the place I had run to. Still, jumping inside a narrow street after becoming anonymous only to find a templar waiting was quite satisfying. I did, however, try to save all the citizens and did visit almost all the view points in each of the cities, which was also a lot of fun to do. It was pretty sad that even the architecture of the viewpoints started to repeat over time and even across cities as well which took away from the immersion a bit.

There were other issues with the PC version such as an overly-long exit process (thankfully, Atl+F4 worked fine for me) and the fact that the game was always displayed in 16:9 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio issue was more annoying for me because it caused a lot of letterboxing at my resolution (1280x1024). There was an unofficial fix for this but it started crashing with the 1.02 patch, so I played without it. However, I did not really notice these issues once I really got into the game and, overall, I found Assassin’s Creed to be one heck of a fun game. It was not without its flaws but then what game is. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to anybody who is looking for a quick way to pass time and run riot within three cities during the crusades for the Holy Land. For more, I have posted a review on the Gamespot reader-review pages here.

To finish it, here are a few screenshots of my favorite viewpoint in the game. I really liked climbing this one, mostly because it was very different from the rest of them and it offered a wonderful view of the whole city of Acre.