20 Years of Indian: When Shankar and Kamal Haasan Created History

Let’s go 20 years back, to the day, May 9th, 1996, when the epic masterpiece Indian released and how it has stayed strong in the history of cinema.

Just like how today cinema lovers are in frenzy with the excitement of waiting to see how a young director Pa. Ranjith is going to direct Superstar Rajinikanth in Kabali, back then after the announcement of Indian with Shankar going to direct Kamal Haasan should have created the same excitement. As after all Shankar was the happening director in Tamil Cinema with two back to back blockbusters Gentleman and Kadhalan, who had arrived in cinema with a bang! Another notable coincidence between Shankar and Pa. Ranjith is that their third film is with Kamal Haasan and Rajinkanth respectively !!!

Indian PosterTaking a social issue, adding grandeur and bringing out in a commercial format has always been Shankar’s strong forte where he’s proved himself as a king with that formula till Sivaji. After dealing with under employment (not unemployment) in Gentleman, Shankar this time choose corruption which was and is even now a bothering problem to Indians. Shankar showed, how corruption will have a terrible impact on a common man, aided by Kamal’s epic performance.

Indian was totally an uncompromising commercial film where there was no big introduction scene for both the Kamals and no introduction song also, that too in a big star film. Right from first frame, the film started off seriously keeping in tact with the theme with Senapathy silently going and killing a government officer easily! Kamal Haasan under performing in a freedom fighter cum social crusader’s avatar as Senapathy and as the corrupt Subash Chandra Bose roles was a major victory for his outstanding performance who was nowhere dominant as an actor and was completely under Shankar’s direction. Kamal’s acting as Indian has given spine chilling moments to the audience through his ‘Varmakkalai’ ancient art.

Nedumudi Venu gave a dignified performance and some of his investigations are logical, building the seriousness to his hunt of Kamal. His intellectual techniques for figuring out that the killer is an old man by handwriting analysis shows that Shankar did his homework seriously.

Indian has one of the most outstanding screenplays which had two crucial flashbacks which are completely opposite in scope and was handled in a brilliant fashion by Shankar. These two flashbacks are very crucial for the film and with deft editing by V. T. Vijayan- Lenin, the flashbacks had ample space in between. The pre-independence flashback was to show who was Senapathy and the family flashback was to show why he became Indian? Even the ending of the film must have been planned cleverly by Shankar, who gave Senapathy a mysterious escape like his mentor Subash Chandra Bose during World War II

Indian Still 1Sivaji Ganesan had set a benchmark in freedom fighter’s roles of Veerapandiyan Kattabomman, Kappolathiya Tamizhan, etc in Tamil Cinema. After a long gap it was quite refreshing to see a pre-independence portion in Tamil Cinema. The pre-independence was picturised on a grand scale in black and white with special effects enabling Kamal Hassan to appear in the same frame with Subash Chandra Bose which was truly a goosebump moment for the audience. Cinematographer Jeeva must be appreciated for shooting in black and white, using stock shots, since most of the audience connected nicely to the pre-independence days through black and white images and visuals right from olden days. This was like the audience being taken back to those days in retro style.

VFX by Venki, deserved a huge respect who with the avaliable footage of Subash Chandra Bose, merged it in the film making Kamal walk beside Subash Chandra Bose was a epic stuff in 1996 itself.

Thotta Tharani’s sets in the pre-independence portions deserved a National Award especially for the British soldier effigy in the beginning of Kappalyeri Poyachi song where it infuses patriotism in the audience intelligently.

Another main reason for Indian becoming a masterpiece was the bullet kind of dialogues by the great Sujatha where he wrote many hard hitting dialogues and making Kamal say it enabled a good reach among the people. During Kamal’s conversation with Nizhalgal Ravi in the tv studio, the dialogues by Sujatha just gave the film a new feel and came out as hard hitting on the audience’s face literally.

Indian Poster 2Indian was a trend setter in Tamil Cinema which started the corruption theme trend in the films. Later on films like Citizen, Ramana, Anniyan, Kandasamy were made on corruption theme.

If Gentleman had a Chiku Buku Raile song and Kadhalan the special effects as strong attractions for audience, in Indian, Kamal’s make up by Micheal Westmore, was a huge attraction for the audience to see the film. Kamal Hassan is unrecognisable in the realistic makeup and transforms himself into an old man with his voice, walk and gestures. He also displays the Varmakkalai art stylishly when he murders the treasury officer and during the fight with Venu which is played to the mass audience fantastically. It was a thoroughly deserved third National Award for Kamal.

Like Gentleman’s Manorama and Vineeth death scenes, here Kasturi’s tragic death scene set a good platform for the protagonist to go full blazing on the corrupt system.

A R Rahman again proved that he comes up with his best tunes for Shankar with a variety of songs that suit the occasion. His background music played a huge role in the screenplay and has enhanced many scenes to greater heights on the screen. Pachaikili song choreography was fantastic and very beautifully showed the bonding, happy times, funny moments, emotional attachments in the complete family of father, mother, son and daughter using a song and was executed nicely.

Indian was a much needed commercial blockbuster for Kamal. Nearing to the release the film had huge craze and expectations among the audience. The box office had sold out tickets for one whole month setting a unbreakable run continuously. Indian set a new box office records running 175 days in South India, Bollywood and did a fantastic business in overseas too giving Kamal Haasan a new career peak in his career. ‘Indian’ placed Shankar on the Indian Cinema map and from there on Shankar has been scaling greater heights with every outing in his career.

Amar Nath


  1. Rasik says:

    I don’t like the film as much as you do, but must say it is fun to watch a few scenes on tv. Kamal is terrific. I miss the Shankar of Indian and Nayak.


  2. Ranjit says:

    Very nicely written article. I remember seeing Indian as a kid and being fascinated by the older Kamal and how he went about killing people! This article bought back some old memories.


  3. Wonderful write-up. Had seen the film when it was dubbed in Hindi as Hindustani.Because back then I didnt really went to watch South Indian films in theatres except for rare instances and didn’t know the concept of subtitles. The combination of Kamal and also Shankar had created quite a buzz for its Hindi version too. Shankar by then had became a name to look forward to thanks to Kadhalan which became a rage in its Hindi version too – Humse Hai Muqabla.

    It definitely is one of Kamal’s best performances in recent times and also one of Shankar’s best works. On the flipside, the dubbing in Hindi was jarring at few places including the lyrics for most of the songs. The makeup of Sukanya as an old lady also seemed artificial. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise great and a technically proficient commercial film.

    Welcome to MAM and hope to see you writing here more often.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.