Film Review: Dasavathaaram (Ten Avatars)

BOTTOM LINE: One actor playing 10 different characters in a senseless spectacle of masks and mad chases.

CHENNAI, India -- The much-hyped Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan's "Dasavathaaram" opened worldwide with approximately 1,000 prints and to packed houses in India, where fans anointed huge wooden cutouts of his with honey and milk. But the film turned out to be a silly spectacle in which Haasan plays 10 different characters, including a 90-plus-year-old granny. If he would have got the slightest nod from the producer or director, he might have also done Asin's dual female roles as well.

The plot is as skimpy as Mallika Sherawat's costumes. As the sidekick of ex-CIA agent Christian Fletcher (Haasan), she interprets Tamil for him as the two chase U.S.-based scientist Govind Ramasamy (Haasan) to India. He flees with a vial of a potentially deadly virus he discovers when his boss tries to sell it to an enemy. An endless cat-and-mouse game ensues during which Ramasamy meets a variety of people ranging from a Telugu intelligence officer to a Punjabi pop singer to a Dalit leader – all acted out by Haasan himself.

Barring the first 15 minutes when Haasan is brilliant as a 12th century mask-free Hindu priest fighting religious factionalism, his remaining nine present-day roles (including one of George Bush) appear unconvincing mainly because they are nothing more than caricatures. Some are positively hideous. Oscar nominated Michael Westmore's makeup of Haasan suffers from a serious flaw. The cake of mud on the actor's face may effectively disguise him, but cuts out the possibility of emoting. Even as Ramasamy, the only other time he does not wear a mask, Haasan fails. Asin as the priest's wife, Kothai, is engaging, but as Andal fleeing with Ramasamy, she is high-pitched irritation.

Computer graphics work well in some parts, but in the final Tsunami sequence they disappoint. In any case, they are no substitutes for a good script. The movie serves little else than pandering to the not entirely novel idea of seeing an actor perform many parts.

Opened: June 13
Production company: Oscar Films
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Asin, Mallika Sherawat.

Director: K.S.Ravikumar.
Screenwriter: Kamal Haasan.
Producer: V. Ravichandran.
Director of photography: Ravivarman.
Production designers: Thotta Tharani, Sameer Chanda, M. Prabhakaran.
Music: Himesh Reshammiya.
Costume designer: Gautami Thadimalla.
Makeup designer: Michael Westmore.
Editor: K. Thanigachalam.
No MPAA rating, 166 minutes.