6 decades of Kamal Haasan

The hero of innumerable hits is where is he is today because of his passion to get it right each time, his co-stars tell Showtime

An innocent Kamal Haasan, then just four years old, emoting as an orphan in the song ‘Ammavum neeye, appavum neeye’ (you are mother as well as my father) in the Tamil film ‘Kalathur Kannamma’ (1960) is an enduring image of his six-decade-long career.

After 60 years, four National Awards, 19 Filmfare awards, a Padma Bhushan and innumerable classics that placed Indian cinema on the global map, Kamal, now 65, remains the man obsessed with perfecting the art.

Over the decades, he has acted in 200-plus films, encompassing all South Indian languages and Hindi, and celebrations have begun in his ‘karmabhumi’ Chennai and will culminate in a gala event on November 17.

Over the decades, he has acted in over 200 films, in all South Indian languages and Hindi.

Earning the sobriquet ulaga nayagan (global hero) for his courage to experiment with ideas without bothering about their commercial success, Kamal is a versatile artiste.

He is one of the very few Southern actors to make   an easy transition into Bollywood, where he unleashed his charm. In Hindi, he made the path-breaking film ‘Hey Ram’ (2000) about the touchy subject of the partition and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

Kamal wouldn’t have been what he is today had he not been a perfectionist — he dubbed for his own roles and sat through gruelling long hours for makeup to bring his characters alive — as a dwarf in ‘Aboorva Sagotharargal’ (1989), a man playing a woman in ‘Avvai Shanmugi’ (1995) and in multiple roles in ‘Indian’ (1996), ‘Dasavatharam’ (2008) and ‘Vishwaroopam’ (2013).

Kamal played a man playing a
woman in ‘Avvai Shanmugi’ (1995).

Kamal used cinema to highlight social evils, and when several producers shunned his scripts as commercially non-viable, he floated his own production house.
His big break came in 1973 when his mentor K Balachander cast him in ‘Arangetram’ (1973) and ‘Aboorva Raagangal’ (1975). On the set of the latter, he met Rajinikanth and forged a long-lasting friendship that has flourished despite a strong artistic rivalry.

Kamal’s commitment and ability to convert his ambitious  ideas into reality is what made him survive in the highly competitive film world for six decades, artistes who have worked with him say.

“Lasting two Fridays is difficult, forget about making an enduring impact for 60 years. Kamal Haasan enjoyed such craze in the 1970s that every teenage boy, including me, wanted to be like him, while every teenage girl wanted to marry him. He has been a force not just in my life but in Indian cinema as a whole,” popular actor-director Ramesh Aravind says.
Ramesh, who worked with Kamal in 10 films, including the popular comedy ‘Rama Shama Bhama’, a Kannada remake of the Tamil ‘Sathi Leelavathi’, says the “unique selling proposition” of the legendary actor is his commitment to excellence in whatever he does.

“It is commitment that sets him apart from others. Be it dubbing his own voice or posting a picture on Instagram, Kamal Haasan means perfection. He possesses huge talent and is extremely innovative, but what made him stand out is the way he adapted himself to his work,” Ramesh says.

Popular Tamil and Malayalam actress Urvashi says Kamal’s eagerness to be a “student forever” is what has brought him to where he is today.

“He considers himself a student even after spending 60 years in the field. It is this unique nature of Kamal sir that has made him the personality he is. It is not easy to keep learning and being open to ideas even while you have achieved what many haven’t,” she says.

Kamal transcends geographical and linguistic boundaries — he was popular in Kerala much before the Tamils began celebrating him as a star.

Kannadigas call him their own for his stellar performance in movies like ‘Rama Shama Bhama’, in which he spoke the Hubli-Dharwad accent of Kannada.

Kamal has worked with the many geniuses of the Tamil film world and the team that he built proved enormously successful — be it in comedy with funny dialogues by playwright Crazy Mohan or the music of Ilaiyaraja.

He was inspired by Sivaji Ganesan and comedians Nagesh and Manorama, with whom he not just worked in several films but also developed a great personal rapport.

Some of his fans who entered the industry inspired by him got to work with the actor very soon because all that mattered to Kamal was talent, wherever it was.

One such actor is the Malayalam star Jayaram, who calls himself a “die-hard” fan of Kamal. 

Kamal in Apoorva

Talking to Showtime, Jayaram recalls how he was moved by Kamal’s performance in the 1978 Malayalam movie ‘Vayanadan Thamban’. Kamal was only in his 20s then.

“I keep telling Kamal sir that he should have acted in movies like ‘Vayanadan Thamban’ 40 years later. I watched this movie when I was in school and can’t get off his stellar performance even today. I vividly remember the entire school turning up at Perumbavoor near Kochi to have a glimpse of Kamal Haasan in the late 1970s when he had come for a shoot. I saw him from a distance,” he says.

And to work with Kamal Haasan in films together, Jayaram says, is an “unforgettable experience” that he will cherish for a lifetime.

“I never thought I would work with Kamal sir and develop a friendship with him. I have known him personally for 30 years. He is a very easy-going person on the sets and is jovial with his co-stars,” Jayaram says.

Kamal never has any problem letting his co-stars overshadow him if the character is so warranted, without bothering about him being pushed to the sidelines.

Urvashi, whose character Thiripurasundari over-shadowed Kamal’s in the 1990 comedy film ‘Michael Madana Kama Rajan’, says it was the totality of the film that mattered to him.

“That is because he is not just an actor but an artiste. There is a distinct difference between an actor and artiste — the artiste views the film in totality and Kamal sir does that. He would never say no to endless rehearsals even if it is a fight sequence. That is what makes him stand apart from others,” she says.

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