30 years of 'Apoorva Sagodharargal': Why Kamal Haasan's film is unforgettable

It's not difficult to make a film like 'Apoorva Sagodharargal' now with the technology that we have, but it's indeed a wonder that a film of such quality was made decades ago.
30 years of 'Apoorva Sagodharargal': Why Kamal Haasan's film is unforgettable
30 years of 'Apoorva Sagodharargal': Why Kamal Haasan's film is unforgettable
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Directed by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, Kamal Haasan’s blockbuster film – Apoorva Sagodharargal hit the theatres in April 1989, exactly 30 years ago. This was a phase when Kamal, post the success of Nayagan, had started experimenting with not just different genres, but also myriad looks for himself in each of his films. Donning the role of a dwarf was one such idea.   

It’s not difficult for an average adult sized person to play a dwarf character in these times of technological advances. But, one must admit that it would have taken a lot of courage to do so in an era when there was no computer graphics to aid the visual effects. Kamal had that in him. I remember Kamal saying in interviews that the making of the film, with all its challenges in those days, could become the subject of an interesting book or a documentary!

In the Hindi film Zero which released last year, Shah Rukh Khan played the role of a dwarf as well. Given that it released in 2018, it was relatively easy to make the actor undergo that transformation by just using optical illusion techniques like Forced perspective and so on. However, in Apoorva Sagodharargal, the dwarf look was achieved in different ways. By folding Kamal’s legs at times, using specially designed shoes at times, choosing deft camera angles in some scenes, avoiding certain camera angles in others, digging up trenches to cover Kamal’s legs up to the knees and camouflaging the same in the frame at times, shifting the focus of the audience to other elements in the frame rather than on Kamal at times and so on. It was not easy and yet the team pulled it off brilliantly.

Though we know today that the film became a super duper hit and endeared itself to the masses, Apoorva Sagodharargal had its own share of fits and starts. The film’s writer, the late Panju Arunachalam, in an interview said that he was roped in by Kamal after the film was started and even shot for a few days. Kamal and director Singeetam apparently were not pleased with the way the script was shaping up and so sent an SOS for him. The ace writer that he was, Panju Arunachalam then came back with the new storyline which had the right mix of masala elements - two Kamal characters - one of average height and the other a dwarf, a typical revenge saga with the dwarf character modelled after the phrase “Moorthi sirithaanalum, Keerthi perisu” and so on.

The screenplay, which Kamal developed, is intelligently written, keeping the two Kamal (Raja and Appu) tracks parallel initially, and throwing in some comical confusion due to mixed up identities, and then bringing the two tracks together in the second half.

The dialogues in the film are by Crazy Mohan. Apoorva Sagodharargal is another addition to the list of the Kamal-Crazy duo hits. This film does not have the usual Crazy’s “laugh by the minute” lines but, had some great dialogues that touched hearts. For example, when Appu alights from the cab after reaching the sub-registrar’s office, the cabbie says, ”Saar, meterukku mela ethavathu pottu kudunga Saar!” To this, Appu replies, “Meterukku melayaa? Naane meterukku keela thaanya!”

There were other talented individuals too who were part of the film. For cinematographer PC Sreeram, Apoorva Sagodharargal was the first film in which he worked under Kamal's banner. As stated before, much of the dwarfing effect for Appu’s character was achieved through PC’s effort behind the camera. The little information we have today about how Kamal became a dwarf on screen has come from PC’s interviews. Those were pre-social media times when clips from shooting spots did not find their way to smartphones via WhatsApp.

It was also a time when the combination of Kamal and Ilaiyaraaja was unstoppable. They were always coming up with something special when they worked together. Apoorva Sagodharargal was not an exception. All the songs were chart busters and continue to be among all-time favourites of Tamil cinema. In one of his interviews, Ilaiyaraaja narrated an interesting back story on the making of the very popular song – “Puthu Maapillaikku”. Kamal was not satisfied with the initial tune provided by Ilaiyaraaja which was more of a melody. He preferred a more peppy number in the mode of the old MGR song – “Naan paarthathile aval oruthiyayai thaan”. In response, Raja came up with the tune of “Puthu Maapillaikku” which has a similar rhythm and beat of the MGR song!

Not just the songs, the film also has a fantastic background score by Ilaiyaraaja. Right from the beginning when the title cards roll out, the background music just elevates the scenes by a few notches. One must also add here that the song, “Raja Kaiya Vacha” shot inside a car manufacturing plant when Kamal dances in a group, is among the top foot tapping scores in Tamil cinema.

Vaali had written the lyrics for all the songs in the film. From writing a very “massy” “Raja Kaiya Vacha wronga ponathilla” to a profound “Unna Ninachen, paattu padichen”, the versatile Vaali was second to none!

In a triple role, Kamal was brilliant all through. One as Raja, a car mechanic speaking what’s known as Madras Tamil, second as Appu, the dwarf performing in a circus, and then the third, as a cop in the initial portions. But apart from Kamal, the film had other dependable performers too. This included Nagesh, Jaishankar, Delhi Ganesh, Naaser, Janakaraj, Mouli, Manorama, Srividya, Gautami and Rupini who excelled in their respective roles. Casting Nagesh as the lead villain was a coup. Both Manorama and Srividya, though in short roles, left an impact. The scene when Srividya reveals the back story of how Appu ended up becoming a dwarf, reminds one of the chemistry between her and Kamal in Apoorva Raagangal.

A Rajkamal production film with Kamal in the lead, ends up being known as a “Kamal” film rather than the director’s film. So is the case with Apoorva Sagodharargal. However, the role of director Singeetam Srinivas Rao in bringing together and managing all the talents is no mean achievement. Also, as we have seen in the later years, when it comes to Kamal, it is not a question of stretching him but limiting him to the needs of the film. On that score, Singeetam has a great track record as his wins with Kamal show.

There are few films which age well and can be watched again and again. Apoorva Sagodharargal is one such film. Looking back, Apoorva Sagotharargal had the perfect mix of story, comedy, pathos, emotion, dialogues, music, songs, technique, acting, action, cast and even choreography. In these days, it is an apoorvam to see a film which has the perfect mix of all cinematic elements.  No wonder, 30 years since the release, it is still among our favourites!

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