What does it take to pull off a great performance? Maybe good actors, a great story, a passionate crew and well written characters. But the most significant factor is the actor’s ability to manipulate the audience into thinking that their on-screen appearance is different from the actor we know outside the theater. Otherwise known as the “Avar nadikkala, vazhndhu rukkaru” attribute! It takes nothing short of being a magician or a trickster to do that. There are many aspects that contribute to this magic trick. One such or perhaps the most important factor are the eyes!
Actors often make us laugh and cry with their acting skills but only a few of them can emote these feelings through their eyes alone. One such actor is Dhanush whose eyes have this indistinct feature of maintaining subtleness during heightened emotions. Another example is Kamal Haasan who happens to be a master at this. He can act with his eyes and evoke a million emotions without having spoken a word. My favourite scene of his is from Hey Ram where SRK pleads on his knees and Kamal just looks at him with a gun in his hand. That look of pity and concealed despair is priceless! Saketh Ram (Kamal) wants to listen to Amjad (SRK) but he cannot since he has devoted himself to a greater purpose and his eyes emanate this emotion. The eyes of such actors are captivating and do more than just express. They manipulate us into feeling what they want us to feel which indeed is a magic trick.
I was always intrigued by well-staged long takes like the climax scene in Angamaly Diaries or even the fight scene in Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, where the chaos is always within a continuous frame. What fascinates me is the idea of organically consuming a scene/shot without having to cut in between. Now let’s compare the long takes to an actor’s eyes. I believe that a great performance lies in between two blinks. Too many blinks and looking into the camera deviates the audience into thinking that what they are seeing is not real.
There are exceptions to this like the last shot in Memories of Murder that still haunts me. Looking at the camera is often considered a distraction. But Memories of Murder proved that it can also be used as an effective way to communicate with the audience otherwise known as breaking the fourth-wall. Norman Bates looking at the camera in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is another iconic example of this technique. My fascination with eyes began when I saw that for the first time.
As an eighteen-year old, there are many more EYE catching moments in cinema that I haven’t figured out yet. But I firmly advocate that glamorous eyes that exist outside of the art are not aesthetic. The subject of importance [for me] is how eyes contribute to the art. Ultimately because “When words fail to articulate, the eyes express.”
- Lokesh KP