on the actor's trail

The film ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ is the one time Kamal Haasan said a lot without saying anything at all

The actor delivered one of his most subtle performances in Singeetam Srinavasa Rao’s dialogue-free comedy.

An important element of Kamal Haasan’s repertoire is his mastery over various accents and languages, which complements his ability to play just about any character – even George W Bush in Dasavathaaram (with the help of prosthetics).

On screen, Haasan has spoken Tamil in a variety of regional accents, rattled off English lines in Tamil films and even starred in films in Hindi in during the 1980s and 1990s.

As the celebrated actor and filmmaker celebrates his 63rd birthday on November 7, it’s worth recalling that one of his most celebrated movies is the one in which he says nothing at all. Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s brilliant Pushpaka Vimana, released in Tamil as Pesum Padam and in Hindi as Pushpak, is not strictly a silent film, as the director pointed out. “It is a dialogue-free film, since all the background sounds are there – there are songs coming from the radio, for instance,” Rao said. The movie doesn’t have any songs of its own but includes a lovely background score by L Vaidyanathan.

Haasan plays an unemployed young man who lives in a single room in a lodge, survives on biscuits and tea, and washes the armpit bits of his one good shirt when he goes for job interviews. The unnamed hero stumbles upon an alcoholic businessman (Sameer Khakhar) who has passed out by the side of the road with his hotel room key sticking out of his pocket. Our hero kidnaps the businessman and takes his place at the luxurious Pushpak hotel, where he pursues the lovely daughter (Amala) of the resident magician.

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Pushpaka Vimana (1987).

Major portions of the film were shot in Bengaluru, with the Windsor Manor standing in for the hotel that the hero makes his temporary home. “The location is a character and a part of the film, since it is a tale of two cities – one a very poor area and the other a modern five-star hotel,” Rao said. “Windsor Manor had the pillars, verandas and a royal touch. Its look was very good and we liked it very much.”

The hotel’s management was initially reluctant to let out the establishment for a shoot, but was convinced after the producer, Kannada actor Shringar Nagraj, made a convincing pitch that “the entire world will know about this hotel after the film”, Rao revealed. Most of the cast and crew stayed at Windsor Manor during production. “In my entire career, this was my most comfortable shoot,” Rao said.

The other key location in the film, Hotel Highrise, is the place that Haasan’s character abandons for five-star comfort. Other Bengaluru landmarks include an overbridge near Windsor Manor where Haasan’s character regularly meets a beggar who turns out to have more money than him.

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Pushpaka Vimana (1987).

Haasan was the best choice for the role, said Rao, who has worked with the actor in the comedies Apoorva Sagodharagal (1989), Michael Madana Kama Rajan (1990), Magalir Mattum (1994) and Mumbai Xpress (2005). Since Pushpaka Vimana is free of the torrent of words that beleaguers so many films, its actors are allowed to focus on their expressions and body language. Haasan delivers one of his most perfectly pitched performances, bereft of mawkishness or unearned emotion, especially as the consequences of his actions catch up with his character.

Haasan is superbly backed by Amala, who got a role that Rao said was originally intended for Madhuri Dixit. “I saw her compering an awards function – she was angelic and looked like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and her name was Amala,” Rao recalled.

Since the movie is without dialogue, Rao was free to cast actors from outside the Tamil film industry . Apart from Sameer Khakhar, Hindi film actor and director Tinnu Anand hilariously plays a contract killer who has been hired to murder the businessman by his philandering wife’s lover. For the role of Amala’s father, Rao ambitiously wanted to cast the legendary Bengali magician PC Sorcar, but instead settled for the actor KS Ramesh, whom he had seen in a television show. “Ramesh was actually young at the time, but I made him look old,” Rao said. “For the role of Amala’s mother, we cast Farida Jalal, who happened to be in Bengaluru at the time.”

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Pushpaka Vimana (1987).

Pushpaka Vimana was a huge hit at the box office. “In Bengaluru alone, it ran for 25 weeks,” Rao said. “I met Mr Satyajit Ray in Calcutta, and he told me he wanted to see the film. He called me later and congratulated me and said, you have created a love scene around a dead body.” In the sequence, the Pushpak hotel founder has died, and the characters played by Haasan and Amala walk around his body several times just to spend some time together.

Another irreverent highlight is the delicate question of the businessman’s toilet habits, which Haasan’s character addresses through an enema bag and a nozzle. Pushpaka Vimana soars above the potentially stomach-churning moments, never missing the chance to create a memorable visual gag without a single line being spoken.

Kamal Haasan in Pushpaka Vimana (1987).
Kamal Haasan in Pushpaka Vimana (1987).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.