Kamal Haasan talks exclusively to Subhash K Jha on his new Hindi-Tamil bi-lingual and passion for films.
Vishwarapoom, your latest brainchild, was supposed to co-star Sonakshi Sinha. What happened?
There were date issues. We tried to work it out. But there were legal contracts and any delay would have had repercussions. So we had to regretfully move on. But there was no ugliness, no bitterness or ego hassles.
Wasn’t she really young for you?
That was the way it was written. I was playing my age. She was playing hers.
Vishwaroopam is a project whose direction you had to take over?
It was my project and my story. Then time was running out. Sonakshi Sinha’s dates were gone. My dates were also running out. I do one project at a time. If the director doesn’t respect my time, I will have to. I am very clear on this. If my dates are being wasted the project becomes mine. I’ve limited time, what with me celebrating a birthday every year. I wish I could celebrate my birthday like the government, every five years.
Vishwarooopam is said to be inspired by the Anthony Hopkins starrer Hannibal?
After I read that I was really inspired to think about a film based on Hannibal. I may do that in the future. Not this time. Vishwaroopam, I am keeping the theme close to my chest. Here in Tamil Nadu the press has a tendency to jump the gun and draw conclusions and create trouble. For example if I make a spiritual film they’ll say since it’s Kamal Haasan it has to be subversive , so they’ll ban it even before it’s ready.
Where is Vishwaroopam set?
The US, India, UK, Jordon…
It’s being shot simultaneously in two languages?
That’s right. In Hindi and Tamil. My first bi-lingual since Hey Ram. I am happy with the work we’ve done so far. Dasavathaaram got dubbed into Hindi, but the vocabulary was twisted. Unless it’s a really funny film like Appu Raja the dubbing doesn’t work. The culture-specifications come in the way. How do I say Jaise karni vaise bharni in Tamil? That’s why we’re doing a double version of Vishwaroopam and needed a leading lady who had no fear of languages. Om Puri Saab has that fear. He refuses to do a Tamil film. Some people fear the unknown too much. I embrace it.
Your leading lady in Vishwaroopam?
She’s Pooja Kumar, a Broadway actress from New York, Punjabi girl of Indian origin.It’s a big break for her. Vishwaroopam is probably the biggest film being made in Tamil Nadu right now.
You completed 57 years in November. Out of these a good 50 years in front of the camera. Aren’t you exhausted?
The day I start looking at acting as work I would be. Working for money or fame saps you. I stopped doing that 25 years back The only time I am really happy is when I am in front of the camera. When I am not, I start ruminating, restrospecting and brooding. I equate acting to building card-houses which I used to do as a child. I spent hours doing it. My mother used to shout at me, ‘Are you building the Taj Mahal?’ For me it was building the Taj Mahal. Today I feel like Shah Jehan trying to build something taller than me(my career).My work is my card-house. I truly admire what they do on the beaches of Orissa. They create true work of art on the beaches and then watch the wind and the waters sweep it away.
How do you manage to get so excited about your films even today?
Because the first 100 films that I got were market-driven. They were films which everyone presumed were going by the market demand.Actually there was so much I wanted to do. People advised scolded and counseled me about my career.So one day I woke up and decided to nurture Kamal Haasan , the actor.
Your recent Dasavatharam is apparently a huge hit in Tamil?
Yes, the Hindi dubbing was not a great idea. Then I did Manmadan Ambu which didn’t do too well for reasons I won’t go into. So many factors go into the making of a film, not just Kamal Haasan or Rajnikanth.
You are often forced to take over troubled projects. Wouldn’t you just like to focus on acting?
But I was always a reluctant actor! I continue to be that. I announce a project, the camera rolls and I’m happy. I’m fortunate to be doing leading parts even now. Except for my mentor K Balachander for whom I can do even a walk-on part. When he directed his 100th film I just walked in to do a small role. I just clowned around on camera. Balachander is my inspiration. He had a heart problem 40 years back. He has been making films for another 46 years .He can never grow old. My father used to be like that until he suffered a stroke. Then I suddenly realized he was an old man.That’s also true of my brothers Chandra Haasan and to an extent Charu Haasan.I can never imagine them being old.
Your brother-in-law Mani Ratnam too had a heart scare recently?
He is a cool cat. I was surprised when he had a heart problem.Yeah I heard he checked into the hospital on his own. He probably scripted a convenient time for his hospitalization.People think my film with Mani Nayakan is my best work. To an extent it’s true. But I’d like to think my best is yet to come.
Another film with Mani Ratnam?
We keep discussing ideas. But we never get down to it. I don’t know what we fear. We spoke again on my birthday when he came visiting. He wanted to know what it felt like acting producing and directing all at once.
What does it feel like?
It’s easier to move the table on the sets yourself than to ask someone else to do it.But seriously , direction is a lot of responsibility.But if you’ve been trained under Balachander as I have, it’s a lot easier . You have everything down on paper before you start shooting.Alfred Hitchcock used to say he had everything in his script and then he had to begin the boring process of directing it.By now while directing I am experienced enough to know my moves.
There was one character Balram Naidu in Dasavathaaram of a research analyst that became very popular. His speech and personality have become iconic. He was also played by Sanju Bhai (Dutt) in a Hindi film(Chatur Singh 2 Star).So yes, I am returning to comedy. Then someone also wants me to play Tipu Sultan.My hibernating historial Marudanayagam is still talked about.People ask, ‘When are we releasing it?’ They talk of it as their own.
Tipu Sultan was a very controversial figure?
We aren’t taking the political angle at all. Tipu Sultan is now being researched and written.
Are you enthused by Hindi cinema?
Yes, some of it.I am very happy Aamir Khan is now attempting films that should’ve been done ten years ago in Hindi.People attribute this new cinema to the entry of corporate houses in Hindi cinema. . But where were these corporate houses when Hrishida(Hrishikesh Mukeherjee) made his films, and Gulzarbhai made Achanak? Brilliant films are possible in every corner of India and at any time.
Your elder daughter Shruti Haasan has made a career in both Tamil and Hindi?
I’m proud of her because she isn’t doing a product of our home banner Rajkamal Films. The only thing Rajkamal did for her was to give her a chance to do the background score in Unnaipol Oruvan. It wouldn’t matter to me if she failed as a movie actress. But right now it looks like a winning streak.
Do you advise her on her choice of films?
No. When we talk career we get into an argument. I know it sounds clichéd, but we talk as friends. Every father says that. This started 10-12 years back. In Hindi films she is facing the same problems I did. If a K. Balachander hadn’t come along to do Ek Duuje Ke Liye with me in Hindi I wonder what would’ve happened to me!I would have suffered much worse because Shruti is far more savvy than me.
Don’t you want to act in a film with her?
Shruti has been telling me that we should. But I don’t want her to do it just for the heck of it. She is a star now. I want her to act in one of our home productions for the glory of our banner.By the way for the Tamil version of Dasavthaaram she was my coach for my American accent. She had just returned from the US and was the perfect medium to help her father’s Madrasi accent to be transformed into a yankee accent.She was a bully.She made me do many retakes in the dubbing.And after the dubbing she wanted me to correct some more of my accent.Eveyone thought that was taking it a little too far(laughs).
And your younger daughter?
Every time Akshara stands behind the camera and says, ‘This is where I want to be I am reminded of myself.’ I started behind the camera and gradually moved to the front.