The Kamal Haasan we get to see in Papanasam, the Tamil remake of Malayalam blockbuster Drishyam, is the actor that made him a legend; an acting idol for many contemporary and upcoming actors.
Not the star he has grown into in recent years trying to don multiple hats to direct, write, sing, and produce all at once. And it had become a major concern not because Kamal is bad at these things, but mostly because it made the actor we all love overpowered by the star. So when Kamal, in Papanasam, showcases what he can do when he concentrates on only acting, plain acting, it's a treat to watch him on screen, even if it means for three long hours.
For those who've watched the original, its faithful remake Papanasam doesn't come as a surprise, yet Kamal's presence along with the flawless ensemble performance of the supporting cast makes it a riveting thriller.
Kamal plays Suyambulingam, a cable-TV operator and a cinematic fanatic, whose world revolves around his family; his wife and two daughters. If one of the joys of watching Papanasam is to see Kamal, for once, just act, the other is to see the ease with which he slips into the shoes of a villager. Because it's been a long time since he has played anything close to what we see of him in this film. And it's terrific to see Kamal play a role that doesn't require you to brush up your basics about bombs, chemistry, world economy, terrorism, chaos theory et al.
Papanasam is a thriller as much as it's a family drama. It's about two families and how difficult it is to raise children today. For instance, when Gautami eavesdrops on a conversation in which her daughter talks about being photographed by some kid in school, her instant reaction is funny, but totally understandable. There's also a wonderful stretch where Kamal feels bad for making his children do things they are not supposed to do and feels guilty about it, only to quickly realise anybody in his place would've reacted the same way.
In another beautiful scene towards the end, members of both the families meet and talk about their children. While one family admits to have not raised their child well, the other talks about how selfish they were to save theirs.
The film also focuses on so many other things like class divide, abuse of power, police brutality, and finally on the impact of cinema on our lives. In cinema, it's tough to differentiate between a truth and a lie because everything that's shown is mostly taken for granted. We get exactly that in Papanasam, in which Kamal is the creator, who makes everybody around him believe the lies he shows them.
The film also has a few lovely meta references like the onscreen romance between Kamal and Gautami, who are real life partners. Like Suyambulingam, Kamal too has two daughters and is an avid film lover.
Director Jeethu Joseph needs special mention for bringing back the Kamal we love watching onscreen and also for extracting stellar performances from other actors such as Ananth Mahadevan and Asha Sharath. Ananth's scene with Kamal in the end is one of the reasons why the film shouldn't be missed. Nivetha, who missed being part of the original, is terrific.
Papanasam is the best and the most faithful remake of the original. It shows what Kamal Haasan is capable of doing when he's at his best.