The reason Kamal chose to make Dasavatharam (and indeed a plethora of multicharacter films) is very interesting. I believe there are 2 significant reasons.
1) He has no charisma by himself. I love his efforts as much as the next guy, but seriously the guy doesn’t have the on screen presence to carry a movie by himself. Could you imagine him in Sivaji? Even the Shankar movie he did, he had to hide in order to be stylish. The plain fact is not many like Kamal as Kamal.
You seem to be referencing Vettaiyadu where he played a “weary cop”. I don’t think he did this on purpose at all. He wanted the cash so he gave the performance of someone completely disinterested. Surya was more stylish in the precursor. To be outdone more by a newcomer is something Kamal would not like, so he did what he did best make everyone forget all about it.
We’ve all seen PKS and 5thanthiram. Funny in parts sure, but even in that Kamal had to change his facial appearance and so on, just to differentiate himself. Do you see Rajini doing that? Before you all accuse me of sacrilege, no I’m not saying Rajini is better or anything along those lines, but I am saying Rajini has much much much more on screen presence, and whenever Kamal tries to emulate that sort of presence he falls flat.
The director of Chachi 420, (before Kamal had a falling out and took over) expressed similar opinions. I will try to get the article, been out of all this stuff for ages you see.
The other aspect is that Kamal himself wants to play all sorts of roles, he knows he can’t do them all properly, so he appeases himself by doing this.
2) Ever since Michael Madana... and surely even more so since Indian and Avvai Shanmugi, people expect every once in a while to be treated to Kamal’s versatility. The multiple role Kamal movie has come to mean a sort of festival, a deepavali of sorts. It is this goldmine Kamal is mining in the hope of it leading to further riches.
I also think it’s high time we cleared up some of the myths surrounding Kamal. For most of us Tamil film aficionados he represents one of the few director/actors willing to push the envelope, willing to experiment and who has a resume as varied as India itself. However I think the Kamal mythos has been propelled to heights unworthy of him by us as well.
Many in the Tamil film fraternity often relate to Kamal as someone who will bring them fame from outside the country. Kamal himself has expressed this sentiment on a few occasions. However the question needs to be asked in all sincerity, is this “title” justified? Just what has he done to declare himself the world hero? He may say he thinks little of the Oscar, but his songs (surely the most pitiable form of self flattery “Oscar duuram illai” – unless of course he meant his redoubtable producer who poured money at him like a priest would pour Milk on a lingam) and his constant egress towards that direction says otherwise.
In the Kamal canon, personally I find there to be maybe a dozen worthy films, surrounded by trash. There are many films in which his efforts have come to the fore (take Salangai Oli, sure he danced well and the film was above average) but is the film truly exceptional? Is it a masterpiece?
The Kamal snowball effect, which really has been propelled by NRIs who feel he is closest to Hollywood thanks to his loveable liberalism and his atheism. Kamal now stands for something better than he really is. Symptomatically, the expectations are sky high. Thanks to people like Philip Lutgendorf (and of course a search engine which shall not be named), Hey Ram has become a film worthy of study. To many this has translated into Kamal being a worthy academic figure. But is he really?
Hey Ram is a masterpiece no doubt. Aalavandan itself is good enough to escape being canonised as an experiment gone wrong. Anbe Sivam contains enough sappy red blooded (pun not intended) sentiment to work quite well to. Virumaandi contains astute direction but I just wonder if it would have been a real boon if someone besides Kamal had played the title character itself.
And that is the true indictment Kamal faces. There is no two ways about it. He is on a self funded ego trip here and has been for at least 15 years if not more. It is high time the Kamal of old returned. The one we saw in Nayagan who looked at that photograph of his daughter in Nasser’s room, moved his facial muscles ever so slightly and made us subliminally cry. Efforts like Vettayadu, while a step in the right direction, was for the wrong reason. Gautham Menon expressed (I think in your interview) that Kamal thought of them as a “group of boys”. What exactly does he think of himself then? A master auter who has scaled every pinnacle? A Kiarostami? A Kurosawa?
Lastly, Kamal has to learn to accept and use the art of suggestion. The love making scenes with Abhirami in Virumaandi were cringe worthy. Perhaps I’m alone, but they were not in the slightest bit romantic, they were revolting. This isn’t to say the ones in Hey Ram were, but he’s aged and he has to accept that. The less you see, the more you really know. The less you do, the more you really see. Maybe at this juncture of his life, Kamal (atheist and all), should start adopting this mantra.