He’s a film buff, too

Universal Hero

He became an actor by a happy accident. He wanted to become a director, which he did later on. “Because of Balachander-saab, I am sitting here giving this interview,” says Kamal Haasan. He is back on screens with Vishwaroopam 2, a film he has written and directed as well.  

Nowadays, films like Bahubali and other franchises are planned in advance, and some sequences for part two are even shot along with the first part. Is that true in this case as well?

On form and craft 

“Absolutely. The trend is new, but we planned it this way six years back,” he replies. “A story has to be complete, but we have to shorten it for the audience, who I think doesn’t have an attention span of over 100 minutes today. And we have to use songs and other things that are necessary, but may delay the story.”

Therefore, filming the movie in two parts is an ideal solution according to the actor. Shooting the second part along with the first was done for logistical reasons, like location and hairstyles or looks adopted by the actors. 

So, how does he manage to handle all the action in both capacities — as an actor and a director? “Action is worrisome even at the writing level, as we know that risks and costs both escalate. And, it is difficult to pull off.  It is easier to say ‘No animals were harmed during the making of this film’, but what about human beings? But I am proud that not even a junior artiste was injured on my sets,” he replies. 

When we ask him about the secret to the longevity of his career, he says, “I have refused to step down from my position as a film buff.  Primarily, I am an audience, and I’ve never let go of that status, and that is why they have allowed me to sit with them for all these years. I cannot be above the audiences.”

And, how does he manage to play the lead when other actors of his age are doing supporting roles? “Oh, that’s simple too,” he chuckles. “It is because I became a character actor at 30 when I played a father in Nayakan. You must understand that I’ve never respected a star but the actor. So, whatever roles I did, I just wanted the audience to enjoy them. I also like watching my own films.’’

In this film, Waheeda Rehman and Shekhar Kapur are seen in key roles. How was it working with them?  “Waheeda ji was the youngest of our lot,” he grins. “We got a chance to discuss my favourite film Kagaz Ke Phool, and when she told me that some of my work reminded her of Guru Dutt-saab, it was like getting my paycheck for Vishwaroopam 2.’’

As for Shekhar Kapur, Kamal Haasan and he have been friends for 35 years, during which they discussed umpteen scripts. “So, I finally told him that if he did not direct me, I would direct him as revenge. But he sportingly did Vishwaroopam and Vishwaroop 2 out of friendship,” says Kamal.

For key sequences, Kamal Haasan wanted to go to Afghanistan and shoot in real locations. He chuckles, “But they advised us that ‘you can shoot but they will shoot back,’ we decided on other terrains. Since we did not have the budget of a Mission Impossible, we recreated the village in Chennai through a Vietnamese art director. We then went to the Jordanian army for equipment and terrain, but we shot with real Afghans,” he adds. 

What does he feel about the controversy that had erupted at the time of Vishwaroopam? “That was nothing but ugly politics,” he answers. “It’s like stating that Amar Akbar Anthony was an insult to Muslims, or Shor looked down on the hearing impaired. Come on, if I make a story of an alcoholic, does it mean that I am promoting booze?”

Kamal Haasan grew up in an atmosphere of art, because his lawyer-father fostered it. “Without such a catalyst, there would be no Kamal Haasan, the actor,” he declares. “My father had built a huge house on a huge plot and allotted half the grounds for an open-air theatre where there would be many private performances. My sister was a dance teacher, and I was a captive audience. It was only after she married and left that I decided to learn dance and trained in kathak, kuchipudi and bharatanatyam.” 

The actor is set to finish his bi-lingual film Shabhash Kundu in which he stars with his daughter Shruti Haasan. How does he look at himself as a parent to daughters Shruti and Akshara? 

“I am no K Balachander for them,” he maintains. “To tell you the truth, we take the credit for raising children, but that’s our arrogance as parents. Don’t orphans grow up? Our children are like trees, and we are lucky and honoured to have them and nourish them like watering a tree. But the tree actually grows on its own.”

Donning a new avatar

What does he have to say about his new passion, politics? “I am a modern world citizen and my patriotism cannot shrink to being for a village or a country,” he states. “ ‘Vishwaroopam 3’ is a love story called India, and I need your permission to allow me to go there. It is my most difficult role. Politics is not an easy ride, which is probably why I have waited so long. But there is some fantastic traction. People are cheering me on and I am feeling the waves of emotion coming and hitting me. I am touched.”

He goes on, “I am a scavenger who will clean whatever I can. Yes, I know that I cannot change the world overnight, but I know that I will have started the change, and will die a happier man.”

About being the legend for whom all this has been made possible, he concludes, “I am grateful and not dismissive of success, but I was always working towards excellence, not for success. I want to respect myself when I look into the mirror. I worked for the last 35 years and it was like a paid holiday. Now, I am going to go on a holiday with the people and will refuse payment.”

 

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He’s a film buff, too

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