Kamal Hassan multitasks in Dasavatharam playing ten characters with and without the aid of digital doubles. It’s an old actor’s tradition to attempt to create completely different personae within one piece, a practice that began in the theater. While playing multiple roles onstage was often borne out of necessity due to a small troupe, in the movies it’s become a way of stretching one’s acting muscles.
Digital technology makes it easy for actors to play against themselves today, but it wasn’t always the case. In the Victorian-era tale of murder and rejection “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949), Alec Guinness plays six characters all in one scene (and two more people besides). A complicated system involving a frame with six painted glass windows was used to film Guinness as each character. The film was then wound back to shoot each successive character with different windows open.
In D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), Joseph Henabery played 14 characters; Lupino Lane acted 24 parts in 1929’s “Only Me”; and in the 1913 Queen Victoria biopic “Sixty Years a Queen,” Rolf Leslie played a whopping 27 parts. So Kamal has to beat Rolf Leslie by outwitting him in 28 roles. But the multifaceted actor who has the capacity and determination will definitely do it in a period of time and find his way into the Guinness book of records.