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November 15, 2001

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Mission: Abhay

Subhash K Jha

Playing a complex psychopath in his latest venture and selling the film in the tough market outside Southern India has proved to be Tamil star Kamal Haasan's biggest challenge yet.

"Right now I see Abhay as the most challenging film of my career. Let's hope our efforts are appreciated," says Kamal Haasan.Abhay

The two versions of the same film -- Abhay in Hindi and Alavanandhan in Tamil -- go into the dark psychotic recesses covered in several earlier films featuring Kamal Haasan, including Bharathi Raja's Tamil blockbuster Sigappoo Rojakal where he played a misogynist murderer.

"Compared with my character of the psychotic killer Nandu in Abhay, the killer I played in Sigappoo Rojakal was a civil gentleman. Unless you saw that character at work with his knife you would never guess he is a psychotic killer. Nandu in Abhay is every inch a whacked out psycho," says Haasan.

The Tamil star, who has done more double roles in his career than any other actor in this country, plays two characters in Abhay as well.

Haasan, an actor, producer, writer and self-appointed production controller who wrote the novel 17 years ago on the sets of Ramesh Sippy's Saagar, while waiting endlessly for his co-stars to arrive, also wrote the screenplay for Abhay.

Sober and reflective, Kamal Haasan explains, "I see Nandu as that scary street dog from my native village when I was a child. The dog got stuck in wet tar while charging towards me and my friends. As it struggled helplessly to free itself, we wanted to help the dog. But we knew it would bite us the minute we relieved its pain. That's my Nandu. He is beyond help."

"I agree the antagonist stands a chance of becoming a cult hero in these troubled times. All of us have a desolate desperate Nandu within us. Most of us manage to keep the madness in check. Nandu can't," says the star.

The film's shooting in Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Chennai and Delhi was extraordinarily gruelling. "But selling the film to distributors in the northern belt was even tougher," says Haasan.

"In Mumbai, the distributors have immovable prices for every actor's film. It doesn't matter to them if my film cost Rs 250 million to make or if we spent a fortune on special effects and animation done by international technicians. They were just not willing to go beyond a certain price," he says.

Looking back on the long and arduous journey towards the completion of Abhay, Kamal Haasan thinks the film has turned out as well as he expected it to.

"But that is for now. Three weeks after the film is released I may find 20,000 things wrong with the film," he says.

About his two leading ladies in the film, Kamal Haasan says: "I worked with Raveena Tandon for the first time. She was extremely cooperative and great fun to work with. Her performance is going to once again surprise many.

"As for the other role, we wanted someone with a certain image to play the seductress. We toyed with the idea of Sushmita Sen, but finally settled for an actress with a dramatic image, that's Manisha Koirala. She is very good."

Not many know that Tabu was offered the role of the young Nandu's mother. She declined the offer. Television actress Kitu Gidwani finally played the role.

Preview audiences are raving about Kamal Haasan's performance in both the roles in Abhay, which is directed by Suresh Krissna.

Haasan's professional archrival and personal friend Rajnikanth saw Alavandhan at a preview and loved the film.

Says Kamal Haasan: "He held my hand and said this was going to be as huge as Indian and Appu Raja, probably bigger. He told me he lost his mother at the age of six. He was able to empathise with the young antagonist's desolation for his mother's loss. I was so overjoyed to hear the Commercial King declaring the film a success even before its release."

Abhay "Rajnikanth knows the business of cinema in and out. His comments on Alavandhan mean a lot to me," he adds.

Kamal Haasan is now on the verge of completing his next film, this time a comedy called Pamal K Sambandham, with satirist Mowli as director and Simran playing the female lead.

Plans are already afoot for the next Kamal Haasan starrer in Hindi and Telugu to be directed by K Ravi Kumar. The film will feature Bachchan and Kamal Haasan, with Aishwarya Rai possibly playing the female lead.

Indo-Asian News Service

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