Human despair seldom leads to great truths
– Vladimir Nabokov in Pnin, p.338 (Library of America series)
Rarely has a caricature as morbid, as pathetic, as avaricious and as over-worshipped as Kamal Haasan stalked the dark eddies, gullies and nooks of Tamil cinema.
Bad as this perverse apparition and Ulaga Madayan (Kamal Haasan) is when he repeatedly inflicts his ghastly antics in a countless sophomoric films, he’s intolerable in his first film as both director and actor.
In Death, Was Born Kamal the Director
If you believe the rumor-mill, the architect of Kamal Haasan’s ascent as director is the late film-maker T.N.Balu.
You see, Balu gave up the ghost during the making of his Shankarlal (1981) and unwittingly passed the mantle of direction of the unfinished film to Kamal Haasan.
And so the story goes, amidst the wails of death was born a new director Kamal Haasan.
Adding to the confusion and mess that Shankarlal epitomizes in every possible sense, cameraman N. K. Viswanathan claims he stepped in as director at Kamal’s behest and completed the film following Balu’s death.
But it’s hard to believe the restless Kamal Haasan, the hero(es) of Shankarlal, would have been content to play passive bystander and let the cameraman Viswanathan call the shots, literally and figuratively.
Ultimately, the hapless discerning audience ended up paying a hefty price for this bag of drivel Shankarlal.
Kamal Haasan – Double Torture
With his affected mannerisms, phony accents and awful action/stunt skills, Kamal Haasan is hardly tolerable in a single role.
But Kamal in dual roles is a torture compared to which all other punishments pale into sheer pleasure.
Stalin’s Gulags, Hitler’s Camps, the Palestinian settlements, the Taliban villages are paradise compared to the agony of sitting through this amateurish drivel known as Shankarlal.
Kamal plays dual roles, father Dharmalingam and son Mohan, in Shankarlal.
Yes, both father and son look like identical twins in a genetic miracle unique only to Indian cinema.
In a lame effort to make the older “Kamal” look different, they paste a shaggy beard on his chin, a bowler hat on his head, force glasses on his eyes and thrust a pipe into his mouth.
No, it still doesn’t make a difference.
The old man is still a carbon copy of his son. 😉
Dharmalingam (Kamal Haasan) takes the rap for a murder he did not commit after his wife and two young children are held hostage by the villain Chelladurai (R.S.Manohar).
After a gazillion years in prison, Dharmalingam returns as R.D.L.Gum (no kidding) a.k.a. the criminal Shankarlal.
After amassing a fair bit of money through ill-means (by robbing Chelladurai), R.D.L.Gum’s main mission in life is to find his family.
What the son Mohan (Kamal Haasan) does for a living other than treat children kindly or dance with Hema (Sridevi) is a secret not shared with the audience.
Hema, daughter of a wealthy miser (Suralirajan), acts like a retard on steroids any time she’s on the screen. She plays Mohan’s love interest.
Nowhere is she more intolerable than when she tries to inveigle herself into the affections of her kidnapper Chelladurai through silly antics.
Sridevi – Curse
We have no doubt that this thing Sridevi was born during a solar eclipse, under the cover of darkness.
In pink, in blue, in white & red, this numbing piece of trash sucks the joy out of the wonderful Kasthoori Maan song through her crass dance moves and amateurish attempts at acting.
God, how many times have we wished that this creature had never emerged out of the womb.
If this trash Shankarlal has any saving graces, it’s thanks to the music from Ilayaraja and his younger brother Gangai Amaran.
Kasthoori Maan, Thedinen and Elankiliyae have entertained and earned the undying gratitude of millions of Tamils in the three decades this ghastly movie has been out.
But the picturization of Kasthoori Maan and Elankiliyae are horrid.
Elankiliyae is also marred by awful dancing by both Sridevi and Kamal Hassan and hideous lyrics like:
Hello, My Beauty,
Don’t be so naughty.
I am so haughty
but I can’t help it, sweety.
Utterly bereft of even a semblance of artistic merit or logic, Shankarlal is a pathetic piece of trash.
Should you be keen to inflict Shankarlal upon yourself, the full movie is available on Google’s YouTube.
But we do not recommend Shankarlal unless you have an insatiable lust for the sting of the birch on your exposed backside.