Candid take on his life and times

Multifaceted artiste

I wouldn’t have been anything else if given a chance. I would like to be the rationalist that I am,” says Kamal Haasan. The versatile actor has dedicated his life to the art of cinema and its creation, made films which landed into controversies and won innumerable awards including the highest civilian honours – Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.

Says the actor, producer, director, screenwriter, playback singer, lyricist and choreographer, “People say that one day you start believing that everything will change and it doesn’t change. But mine is a very charmed life. My political philosophy, my aesthetic beliefs all were sculpted by the right kind of people. I’m very grateful to them.”
A retrospective of his films at the Habitat Film Festival brought Haasan to the city. Musing over his past, he spoke candidly to Metrolife about his life and times.

First in a family of lawyers to take up acting, Haasan says most of his family members are connoisseurs of art.

“They like music, dance, admire great actors and there is constant talk about good acting. Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar) Sa’ab, Dada Muni (Ashok Kumar) Sa’ab… why were they good, and what made them better than most–all these I have heard as a child.”

His personality speaks volumes about his hard work and the humble artiste says he is himself surprised at his life. “I have seen other lives, sufferings that so many talented and aspiring people go through. And it all amounts to nothing. And then I feel grateful on how quickly I made my climb and how fortunate I was in finding the right path.”

With every project Haasan pushed his limits to accept new set of challenges and come out of his comfort zone willingly. Opting for an NDA crash course to play an Army Major in Aalavandhan is just one example.

“The reason is, I am a high school drop out,” he confesses, adding, “I never settled. I never had anything such as an SSC, BA or MA certificate which I could show. I constantly believed that I would fit in a ‘Kala Niketan’ kind of place, where it’s more about your curiosity than your academic excellence.”

Even without a degree, his work redefined Indian cinema as Haasan mastered one art after another. Comedy, meanwhile, became very close to his heart. Mention the genre and thoughts go back to the visuals of very popular Chachi 420 and the less popular Mumbai Express.

“Comedy is a very serious business and comedians are very angry people,” he is quick to comment. “I myself get into comedy when I can’t say things seriously enough. What I mean is ‘serious rebuttal’ through all the social ills. You will see that in Chachi 420. There is a constant heckle in Hindu-Muslim harmony in the whole film. It’s about making fun of ‘Chaturvarna’ and speaks for the Dalits. Mumbai Express is one of my favourites too. It didn’t reach out well but it’s a very funny, happy film.” Indeed, as probably in no other Indian film would there be a sub-plot dedicated to a horse and its act of biting humans! “I come from a very rich heritage of funny writers,” says Haasan who has often faced flak from critics for his remakes. “Remakes reach a larger audience. Right now I am making a remake, a French film. I like it. Somebody has done a good job. It’s like me wanting to take Ramayana to Russia. People have not seen it there. Imagine, somebody speaking to you in your vernacular. You do understand the jokes better. Subtitles won’t make you laugh that much (sic).”

It is indeed not just the critics, to whom Haasan gives a tough time, but even the state. Government authorities stop his films from release and later reward him with awards. “I think they have sentenced themselves by awarding me, much worse than what I would put them through,” he says laughing aloud. “They have ridiculed themselves. It’s very wrong to assume that a man who wants his audience so much, would do something that would affect a large demography of an audience. Why would I do that? Just because I am a rationalist…”
Whatever may be the reason, one cannot deny his ability to be the ‘first’ in almost every respect – be it receiving the first big pay check in the country or introducing modern science fiction to India.
“And I am primarily an audience. So I like to see things more. Equally, fervently as you are willing to, wanting to see more things and it is all part of that experiment. And from past 25 years I have got nothing but raise from one film after another till my recent film. Probably, I manipulated it in such a way but my remuneration has kept increasing and I have never stayed on any one remuneration for more than a year. I’m very honoured and I pay my taxes regularly.”

The laughter fades when one mentions the projects that he left midway. Even as he struggles to disassociate himself from his loving creations, he admits, “I have to move on.”

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