Fame has its side effects: Kamal Haasan
The characteristic humour and energy in his voice belies his recent shin fracture. “I am limping my way around. I will get better soon and walk without having to announce my arrival,” says Padambhushan Kamal Haasan, revelling in the Chevalier euphoria. “At office, there will be someone knocking on my door every five minutes so can we just chat now?” A conversation ensues amid car-honks.
What was your first reaction when you got the formal letter citing the Chevalier honour?
was receiving it after Sivaji Ganesan and Satyajit Ray. Later, I spoke to a scholar friend and realised that many of them have double honours like this but don’t speak about it as loudly. Fame has its side effects! I also thought of the time I had met Ray. I always thought of him as an ‘angry muni’, who made his films as some kind of an answer to social wrongs. I also felt (rather out of turn) that he should shoot his films in colour. I understood much later that he didn’t have the budget for it. I was shooting at V Shantaram’s Raajkamal Studios Bombay, when I heard Ray was mixing one of his films there. I gathered courage and went to meet him. He smiled at me and said, “Hey Kamal!” I was surprised that he even knew my name. He said, “You’re the ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ guy. I haven’t seen the film but that song keeps playing in the theatre nearby, every night. It’s my lullaby!” All I told him was, “I’m glad you remember something of me!” So that man is a higher Chevalier, much like Sivaji Ganesan.
You take great pride in calling yourself not just Sivaji Ganesan’s heir but also...
Nagesh’s (he completes). If science can find a way to match ‘acting DNA’, you will find Sivaji’s and Nagesh’s DNA in me. In fact, you will find a lot of T S Balaiyah in Sabash Naidu’s character. So you see, when I speak, it’s always in chorus! It’s not my voice (read acting) alone. Hence, any award I receive is taken with all humility because I’ve had good parenting.
Sabash Naidu has seen a lot of delays already, how are you managing production?
Such delays are not new to RKFI (his banner). In fact, we had finished a whole schedule of Apoorva Sagodarargal (1989) and one day I just said, ‘Stop! Something’s not quite right.’ I called Panchu sir and showed him what we had shot. He immediately pointed out to Appu and said, ‘He is the hero of the film not Raju.’ I asked him to tell me a storyline from whatever he’d seen, just off the cuff. He gave me a Manmohan Desai tale of two lost-and-found brothers. I thanked him and said, ‘Now I will make this my way.’
Speaking of collaborations, does a spontaneous creative atmosphere exist now? Do you still seek to work with other writers/creators?
Always! For my current film, Atul Tiwari became busy with another production. I needed the writer to be with me during shoot. Half way through discussion we both came up with the same name - Saurabh Shukla. I chose him because I had already worked with him in Mumbai Express (2005). I came to know in the process of writing the Hindi version that Shuklaji had a Bengali side to him. Cinema cannot be made alone. Every department head in cinema needs a collaborator. Cinema is a truly democratic process but like we see in politics, many disrespect the system.
See, if your ego permits an equally intelligent man, then such collaborations only makes the film better.
Does that mean we can or can’t see you in a film directed by someone else?
Thoongavanam (2015) was directed by someone else! I would love to walk into a set and ask ‘So what scenes are we doing today?’ And the director of Thoongavanam is my Line Producer for this film. I was the Line Producer of Pushpak (1987) and so many other films. Such interchange of work happens all the time in Hollywood.
You are, perhaps, the only actor in the world to start out as a child actor and who is till date the leading man. Is there someone else like that?
Charlie Chaplin, and now, Leonardo Di Caprio. Unless someone shoots him down (laughs), he will be 60+ and still be hero. Sruthi first sang when she was three and she will continue to be a performer even when she crosses my age.