Abhay/Aalavandhan (2001): Twenty years of Kamal Haasan’s Magic Realism

There are some films which you miss, despite they hype and your eagerness to watch it. I remember Abhay/Aalavandhan was one of the most awaited films but it meet with mixed reactions when released. But it is a film which always comes up in discussion with cinephiles.

Duality is a theme which Kamal has explored in his previous films too, again he experiments with the same.

So, we have Abhay and Vijay both played by Kamal Hassan. If we look at both characters, they are on different sides of a coin, but if you look closely both are same. Vijay kills terrorists and defends his killings by saying that they are for greater good for the society, while Abhay is on a killing spree to save his brother from what he feels is his duty. It again shows an interesting concept how we celebrate murders and decry them at same time according to our own moral compass.

The film’s second half is one of the best passages which we have seen in Indian films, even though it reminds us of Sigappu Rojakkal, it hints at something more sinister in terms of relationship between the stepmom and the children.

Abhay is the protagonist in the film, if you look at the story, he is the one who is idealistic and genuine, but can the world accept his intelligence? He is the one who wants to save Vijay from the clutches of evil.

The entire first half of the film which devotes time to Abhay’s hallucination is a brilliant stretch where Kamal as usual takes dig at commercialisation right from PVR (Multiplexes) to Mc Donalds (QSR),you name it and it is there. Remember this is was twenty years ago. Before Instagram porn had become a daily part of our lives. The vulgar part of commercialisation and the coin for attention which we have become slaves for.

The violence in the first half is almost comical with cartoon graphics, the aftermath of violence is shown in live action it is as if it is not Abhay but we as a society are violent and have no place for him.

Abhay is someone who has the knowledge of how the world works albeit it might be biased by his personal experience. But the world which wants to see everything in binary it does not have the place for someone like Abhay.

The film takes a strange turn in the last act, where it turns out to be an action set piece, not that I am complaining.  It is still fresh and keeps you engaging, but it seems like somehow Kamal and the director lost their vision and catered to a much larger audience.

The film has all the trademarks of Kamal which we know by now. In a scene when someone asks from where he learned violence, his answer is cartoons. Come to think of it, even most popular cartoon Tom and Jerry is full of violence, but somehow we tend to accept it.

In another scene we see Vijay saying that death and sex are the same for human beings. If you look at it, the toll of reproduction and the cost of death is same for human beings.

While Vijay rationalises violence in order to protect his family, Abhay is doing the same but he is wrong.

Even after twenty years, despite all its flaws Abhay/Aalavandhan is a film which forces us to ponder about life and morality, that is testimony to the fact of the genius called Kamal Haasan.

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