Tamil Features

A Look Back At What ‘Indian’ Meant To The 90s Audience

Kamal Haasan’s sequel to Indian, is not only well-timed, but could also serve as a platform to air his political ideology – if it follows the lead of the 1996 film


In late 1995, a little after the Ram Gopal Varma-directorial, the colourful Rangeela released, propelling its lead actors – especially the lovely Urmila Matondkar – to fame, director Shankar, then a couple of films old, looked to Bollywood for heroines. Producer AM Ratnam, who had signed him on to direct a movie with Kamal, was quite impressed with Urmila’s role in Rangeela; Yaire Yaire, all youthful energy, was the flavour of the season, and a full-throated Asha Bhosle can be heard off the speakers everywhere.

Urmila Matondkar, who had already starred in a few Telugu movies by then, was cast as the chirpy, insistent, and the all-too-annoying Sapna in what would become one of the biggest hits in Tamil in the 90s. Perhaps inspired by Rangeela, she even had a song to herself: a vivid, bold number that challenged social norms. Urmila, thrust into a character who lusts after Kamal Haasan in Indian, dances away in outlandish costumes in a distinctly studio setup. Akkadanu Nanga was voiced by the glorious Swarnalatha, with music by AR Rahman.

Other chartbusters in the album included Pachai Kiligal Tholodu and Telephone Manipol Siripaval Ivala; the former drew on popular sentiments involving family, and the latter, a duet that compared Manisha Koirala’s (physical) traits to that of several random objects, including Zakir Hussain’s tabla.


At the time of its release, Indian, with its fancy make-up/special effects and pro-India sloganeering, was quite the hit. Its director Shankar recruited Hollywood make-up experts to mould Kamal Haasan into the elderly freedom fighter Senapathi. The effects were perhaps not as immaculate as we are currently used to, but for its time, it was path-breaking indeed.

Made on a budget of approximately Rs 8 crore, Shankar’s love for the vigilante thriller format was exploited to its fullest in this film. As a veteran of the Independence struggle, Senapathi finds himself increasingly disillusioned with the state of the country. Corruption is everywhere, and Senapathi takes it upon himself to help abolish it and return the country to its former glory.

His son, on the other hand, is a street-smart middle man who makes his living through any means possible – crooked or otherwise. Which makes him an ideal representation of everything that Senapathi fights against. Parental love does not prevent Senapathi from sparing Chandru’s (aka Subhash Chandra Bose) life.


For Kamal Haasan, Indian proved to be an iconic film, coming as it did on the heels of Kuruthi Punal. It cemented the actor’s position as a conscientious, socially-aware artiste. It also proved to be a challenging feat for Kamal, as Indian required him to take on two roles at a time. He clearly relished the challenge, for a decade on, he’d take on ten different roles in KS Ravikumar’s Dasavatharam.

Without writer Sujatha’s sharp, incisive dialogues though, this film would remain yet another generic Shankar thriller. The writer gave the film gems such as:

Kadamaiya meerardhukku dhaan da lanjam

Inga kadamaiya seyyaradhukke lanjam

Desiya orumaipaadundradhu indha naatula lanjathula mattum dhaanda irukkudhu

A stinging indictment of the many ways corruption had pervaded society.

While not his best work, Indian was nonetheless a trendsetter in its time. Its intention was to shock, awe and educate the masses. Now, films based on corruption are a dime a dozen, but back then, Indian with its patriotic zeal and fervour, gave way to the pop-culture reference – the ‘Indian thatha‘ [someone who questioned everything immoral].

Curiously, Senapathi is a sort of all-seeing big brother who punishes wrong-doers. Not a far cry from Kamal’s most recent avatar as the host of reality show, Bigg Boss. It doesn’t hurt that, at the time of his planned political entry, the actor has revealed plans to make the sequel to Indian with director Shankar.


Going by the previous film, if the sequel is going to be as preachy, with its plot espousing old-world notions of honour above all, and the idea of rebuilding the nation to be the one our ancestors envisioned, it can well serve as a launch vehicle of sorts for Kamal, the aspiring politician.

And, if it does succeed in the same level as the original, it would certainly boost Kamal’s political ambitions.

If not, there’s always Hey Ram.