In a scene from Anbe Sivam, Anbarasu (Madhavan) breaks down after the boy for whom he had given blood dies. He says –“These are times when your belief in the existence of God gets shaken”. He looks at Nallasivam (Kamal Haasan), sitting beside him and then re-assures himself, “No, I am not like you. I believe in God”.
Nalla replies “I believe in God too”. Pointing his fingers at a stunned Arasu, Nalla adds - “That heart of yours which shed tears for a complete stranger – That is God!” You do not have to be an atheist to adore this exceptionally beautiful sequence from Anbe Sivam. The writing here worked on different levels. Nalla, through his words, could console the wounded Arasu and bring a smile in him.
Kamal Haasan, who also wrote the movie’s script, used these same words to perfectly sum up the message he had to convey. It was, in a nutshell, the same as the movie’s title – “Anbe Sivam” (Love is God).
Anbe Sivam, which told this stunning story of a man who found God in people who did good things, completed 15 years on this January 15. Over these years, the movie has grown to be a classic, has been watched by people over and over again and continues to be discussed even today.
But when the movie released back in 2003, it was a flop at box-office - this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that people have often found it difficult to accept movies that walked a different path or were far ahead of their time.
What would have been further heart-breaking to its makers was that Anbe Sivam wasn’t acknowledged even in the major awards. It didn’t win any National Award despite the exceptional performances, dialogues or lyrics. Barring a special jury award at Filmfare and a Tamil Nadu State award for Madhavan, who actually won it for also his work in Run and Kannathil Muthamittal, Anbe Sivam was rejected everywhere else.
Today, Anbe Sivam ranks 4th in the IMDB’s list of top rated Indian movies. Much of Anbe Sivam's iconic status and immense repeat value have to do with how brilliantly the film mixed the comedy and poignant moments with thought provoking dialogues that grow on you.
The initial portions where Arasu, a self-centred man, is stuck with Nalla on his journey from Bhubaneswar to Chennai was partly inspired from the American comedy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Nalla’s character was partly based on Safdar Hashmi, the communist playwright, who used street theatre to voice his protests.
Kamal Haasan combined these effectively to impart his own ideologies in religion, communism and globalization. His success with Anbe Sivam lay in doing the same without being over-preachy or offending the viewer’s own ideals. Anbe Sivam told us how certain relationships in life are woven in the most unexpected ways. How Nalla jumps in joy when he meets Sister Vanessa, who took care of him after the accident, is still a treat to watch.
When Arasu starts his journey with Nalla, he keeps trying to avoid him at every possible juncture. But finally, Arasu ends up admitting that he had now found his lost brother in latter. Nalla, on the other hand, sacrifices his love and decides not to meet Bala (Kiran Rathod) after he learns Arasu is about to marry her.
Nalla takes care of the dog that actually caused his bus accident. When Padayatchi’s henchman (Santhana Bharathi) confronts him in the climax to kill him, the only request he has is to leave the dog alone. When he finally sets Nalla free and asks him to never come to the town again, Nalla smiles and tells him that he has once again seen God. This is as much a movie could warm your heart in two and half hours.
Madhan, who wrote the movie’s dialogues, complemented Kamal in every step. Almost every line left something for you to ponder. When Arasu expresses his discomfort when travelling in a bus, Nalla advises him, “You should gel with the crowd in a public place. You will want to make adjustments like a remote control. But this is the world, not a television set.”
In another scene, Arasu says – “Soviet Union has broken into pieces. No Soviet Union means no communism”. Nalla retorts- “If the Taj Mahal crumbles, will you all stop loving?" Arasu replies – “No, because love is a feeling”. Nalla now hits back -“Communism is a feeling too”. The difference that some well written lines can make!
Kamal Haasan, like he always does, “became” Nallasivam. He once again paid utmost attention to change his appearance and body language for the character. The effort he makes to click and open his jaw every third second, is the kind of commitment that puts him in the league of the greatest actors.
Madhavan’s infectious energy and comic timing helped the movie a great deal. It is not easy to match a powerhouse of talent like Kamal Haasan. But Madhavan nailed it in the scene where Arasu gets to know that Nalla doesn't have a family and then asks him to be on his side always as a brother. In response to this, Kamal Haasan pauses for a few seconds, gasps and stutters, when he asks - “But why you didn't tell me this before? ” What a terrific combat between two fine acting moments!
Vidyasagar's music flows like a breeze through the movie and Vairamuthu’s lyrics place pearls of wisdom even in the songs. The detailing in most frames was precise. Some of the movie’s finest moments are when Anbarasu and Nallasivam sit side by side and talk. The camera often showed us the angle from Arasu’s side. This helped us see what Arasu speaks and how Nalla reacts to it, behind him. This was such fine film-making. Sundar.C has never directed a better movie.
After his treatment, when Nalla is leaving the church, sister Vanessa stops him, saying she forgot something. She then goes forward and hugs him. Anbe Sivam is like that warm hug. They say movies have the ability to stir your deepest emotions. For an apt example, you don't have to look beyond Anbe Sivam.