Growing up in Tamil Nadu and being a huge fan of films meant that you had to make a few choices, starting 4with the most difficult of them all: Taking sides in the Rajnikanth/Kamal Haasan debate. And since I’ve always had a tendency to choose the less-popular in most cases, I lent my allegiance to Team Kamal. (This has become something that defines my identity since I chose Rahul Dravid while the rest of India glorified Sachin Tendulkar.) Not that this was ever in doubt. I come from a family where you choose actors for their art rather than their popularity. My father was a die-hard Sivaji Ganesan fan and spent much of his youth catching the legendary actor’s films in theaters. The same goes for my mother who was, at first, a Sivaji fan, and then a Kamal fanatic. Given the adulation she showered on Kamal, you could say my choice was an inevitability.

Be that as it may, I would be lying if I said I “grew up” with Kamal. By the time I was in my teens (early 2000s), Kamal was much more than just an established star. He was one of the few people who had become synonymous with Tamil cinema. Not to mention there was an entirely new generation of stars taking over from the old guard. Yet, having always been somewhat inflexible, I chose to identify myself as a Kamal fan. Whenever someone asked me who my favorite actor was, the immediate response would be Kamal. This has since changed to Surya, who I see as Kamal’s heir, not talent-wise (which is impossible) but more devotion-to-the-art-wise. Nevertheless, when it comes to cinema, Kamal Haasan has always been my first love.

Borrowing a theme from fellow blogger Balaji, I wanted to celebrate Kamal’s 57th birthday by paying a personal tribute to him. However, having decided that, I realized my personal Kamal filmography wasn’t really vast enough for me to make a list of any kind, be it films, song sequences, romances, or anything else for that matter. It is constantly evolving as I try to catch up with much of his film history. Talking about my favorite ever Kamal performance was also out of the question, partially because it felt like a huge undertaking since I have limitless things to say about that.

And then it hit me, there was one gaping hole in my film-viewing history which needed filling with immediate effect. It is one that has caused me great shame in conversations I’ve had with other Kamal fans like my mother. What better way to celebrate his birthday than by talking about his 100th film; the first he produced on his own; one of his first out-of-the-norm films which failed to strike BO gold (this has been followed by countless others); and which also happens to be one of many films he has delivered that has been so far ahead of their time. With that, I imagine no more clues would be needed. I am, of course, talking about Raja Paarvai.

Without further ado, Happy Birthday Kamal!