‘Kamal Haasan’s silent black comedy – Pushpaka Vimana!’

I first saw the movie on our national TV network Doordarshan in the early 90s when it was telecast in a slot meant for Regional movies. I almost missed watching the movie not knowing that it was a ‘silent’ one and the message won’t be lost in translation.

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Kamal and Amala in Pesum Padam                                   Image Courtesy – Memsaab.com

It sounds like an ordinary movie with a typical plot and ingredients – rich husband, unfaithful wife, hired assassin, jobless youth, youth impersonates to be the rich husband, meets a beautiful heroine, some Chaplinesque sequences, some magic tricks and a final redemption where everyone makes amends for one’s mistakes. What makes it so extraordinary is that the movie has no songs or dialogues and Kamal, as is his wont, steals the show. Hats off to Singeetham Srinivasa Rao for offering us this gem that went quite unappreciated in terms of commercial success.

Running just over two hours it was far from being tedious and not many of its sequences proved to be drag. It was mostly with fun moments – taking a leaf from the old story of the thirsty Crow we had Kamal prepare a rather special cup of his morning Tea. It was great fun to watch him get enamoured with the ways of the rich.Tellingly he kicked his old clothes under the bed only having to bend and retrieve them while reverting back to his true identity.

Tinu Anand as a bumbling assassin reminds you of the Charlie Chaplin sequences and his signature moment is his rather innovative murder weapon – a knife made from ice. Kamal initiates a nice game of one-upmanship with the roadside beggar who pulls off a surprise and reveals a small little fortune tucked in his belongings. Rather poignantly the beggar dies in a sequence later on and everyone runs for the fortune they discover while shifting him.

Amala effortlessly slips into the role of a  beautiful girl-next door and in a touching sequence shows interest in some pretty flowers instead of all the expensive gifts Kamal tries to present her. The magician’s tricks too hold our interest and set the perfect background to the hero’s confession on his misdeeds. Rao’s trick of enacting a bit of melodrama would hold him in good stead for his next Kamal movie as well – Appu Raja.

The finale gives a nice message – a reformed Kamal, with possibly as poor prospects as was the case earlier, still has a gleam of determination in his eyes while he stands in a queue looking for a job. He seems to have discovered that there is no better way to enduring success than some good ol’ hard work. And the romance of the star-crossed lovers stays with you as we are quite certain that they are not destined to meet at all in the days to come.

The movie lived up to its billing – a silent tribute to the angst amongst youth regarding unemployment in a moribund economy and the right royal way of hard work and determination to earn one’s fortune.

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