Yeah, we know Padayappa is a landmark Tamil movie in Rajnikanth’s stellar career — it celebrates its 20th year this April- the movie that increased his fan base in the unlikely location of Japan as well.
So what is the role of Kamal Haasan in the movie?
Well, as the story goes in Kollywood, when Padayappa, directed by KS Ravikumar, was ready, after the shooting and post-production work were done, it reportedly ran close to 235 minutes. To put it mildly, it was lengthy.
Rajini and Ravikumar sat down and discussed as to what could be done. After some brianstorming, Rajini suggested that they could have two intervals- something along the lines of Mera Naam Joker.
Ravikumar wasn’t sure. He had reservations about the two-interval idea, as well as the fact that Mera Naam Joker had been a flop. In a superstition-ridden industry, the latter was a bigger clincher.
Rajini and Ravikumar eventually came to the conclusion (which anyway should have been their first and only choice) that the film needed trimming.
But what to cut and what to retain? It proved to be an emotional decision, as it was their baby. They were so close to its making that they couldn’t come to any meaningful resolutions. After some time, the two came to the idea that it would serve the film well if a third person had a look and decided.
Since Padayappa also featured the thespian and movie legend Sivaji Ganesan, they wanted to progress cautiously. They wanted someone who would understand and appreciate the heft that Sivaji brought to the film.
After discussing random names, they eventually arrived at one that all the three (Rajini, Ravikumar and Sivaji) had huge respect for and good relations with. It was none other than Kamal Haasan.
Rajini and Kamal go a long way back. They were friends right from their formative years under K Balachander. Of course, Kamal saw Sivaji as his inspiration; the latter too kind of saw him as someone carrying forward his acting legacy.
Ravikumar, too, shared an excellent equation with Kamal. At that point, Ravikumar had already helmed Kamal’s tour de force Avvai Shanmughi. They were to later do films like Thenali, Panchatantiram and Dasavatharam.
Industry sources are still not sure who first spoke to Kamal. Did Rajini call him personally? Or did Ravikumar reach out to Kamal? “The whole episode is not very clear. In fact, it is hardly known that Kamal had a role to play behind the scenes in Padayappa. Rajini, Ravikumar, or even Kamal, have never spoken about it,” says an industry hand.
“Things just happened matter of fact, as Kamal and Rajini are thorough professionals, and gentlemen to the core.”
Once Ravikumar sat down with Kamal to prune the film, things moved fast. Kamal’s film sensibilities are well-honed. He understood Rajini and the movie industry, and so he was able to suggest to Ravikumar what to retain. Sitting with him, Ravikumar got better clarity, and he soon cut the film to around 3 hours and ten minutes. Still long, but one that passed muster.
As it happens, the deleted scenes, running close to 45 minutes, were later reportedly destroyed in an accident at Ravikumar’s office.
Padayappa released on April 10, 1999, and was instantly lapped up by Rajini fans and the general audience. It, at that point of time, was the biggest Rajini grosser.
Rajini had set much store on the movie as his previous film Arunachalam had had only middling success.
He also had an emotional attachment to the movie as it had Sivaji Ganesan too. This was his first film with the great man in a decade after Viduthalai (the Tamil remake of Qurbani.)
The film’s story and the performances are now a big part of Tamil movie industry annals to deserve any elaborate re-telling now.
The movie, if it were released today, would receive brickbats for its ‘regressive’ views on what a woman should be. Many lines in the movie are outright misogynistic. But this is the film that also delivered Ramya Krishnan as an high-voltage actress to Tamil cinema.
Padayappa will be as much remembered as a Rajinikanth starrer as for one of the most iconic performances of an actress in a villainous role. Ramya Krishnan as Neelambari walked away with all the acting plaudits. Her role developed into a powerful one, because Rajini was very clear right at the start that the antagonist’s character is what adds vital layers, even in a masala movie.
Rajini’s flair for comedy also shone through in the movie. AR Rahman’s sensational catchy music was another attraction, and all the songs still retain huge recall value.
Rajini’s massy ‘punch dialogues’ in the movie are, of course, legendary. En vazhi, thani vazhi (My way, it is a unique way) is now etched in the collective consciousness of the state’s people.
That this film may have had problems if not for Kamal- Rajini’s deemed rival as a hero in the industry- is what add a layer of allure to real-life stories.
Indeed, Rajini’s vazhi is thani vazhi.
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