Kamal Hassan Interview on CNN-News18

Film Heritage Foundation Mani Ratnam, Kamal Haasan, Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Founder Director of FHF flagging off of partnership of Viacom 18 and FHF
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Interviewer: Mr. Hasan you’re 63 today, but I remember an interview that you did when you turned 50. In which you said you need about 40 years more as a film maker. 

Mr. Hasan: Ya!  But, I’ll change my thing now and say I need 60 years more, but I don’t have that time.

Interviewer: You recently announced your political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam. You’ve been quoted having said that “You’re giving up the movies”, that you are bidding an adieu to the movies for politics. What change in the last 13 years?

Mr. Hasan: Nothing has changed, but I think priorities have changed for the country, which has done so much for me and my art. I have not given back anything. And if it’s not today, it will never be. So, it is late and I can only apologize now and say sorry and get on with the work that has to be done. It should have been earlier, probably the last interview that we had I should have spoken about that and then I would have been a 13 year old politician by now. Not that I am any younger as a politician, because my films were about politics. So, I was talking but now, I am walking the talk.

Interviewer: You said that you joining the politics, that decision came from a cynicism, from an anger actually, from an anger from where we were as an Asian. 

Mr. Hasan: Skepticism, cynicism, anger, angst all turn to actual logical thinking and the only to go about it is to is to act upon it. Change is what you become.

Interviewer: Do you have an agenda for what you want to do

Mr. Hasan: Absolutely, absolutely! And, it is not a complicated agenda, not rocket science, though we call it the neo – polity, the culturist, as we want to call ourselves. But, that’s all rhetoric, but what I think needs to be done is we have a robust constitution, and we must pursue that, we have already written it down and we’re not practicing it. Freedom is in work in progress not a completed edifice.

Interviewer: Right! Right! You know few people in the world started acting as early as you did. You started at three, you have been acting for 60 years. Do you worry whether you know life or a career outside of the movies? I had imagined that most people would have a crippling fear of stepping into the unknown. 

Mr. Hasan: No, but I have been always constantly stepping into the unknown. They never sort of went away from it. Sridevi for example, she was always a movie star. But, there was a time about ten years ago when I was a common man and I never left that situation and I am a reluctant actor. I never wanted to become an actor, so that part of it I’ve kept open to experiment purview and explore life. I’m very grateful to the digital era, and I able to watch the world which actors don’t get to watch. Yousuf sahab lost touch with life, Chaplin lost touch with life and they were in this ivory tower. But, unfortunately the tower could be ivory but it’s still visible, it’s glass. Towers are now made of glass and its almost reachable, breakable, and the trolls of today will reach you wherever you are.

Interviewer: You know Vishwaroopam 2, the new film is the sequel to Vishwaroopam, which of course came about five years ago in 2013. At that time it was banned by the Jailalitha led Tamil Nadu government. It only released in the state two weeks after its international release. What did that experience teach you?  

Mr. Hasan: That you should not give the handle to the tyrants. If you give that, if you don’t challenge that position, because they rule tyranny because they are scared, they are not confident people. It’s not valour that makes them tyrannous, it is the fear of unknown, the fear of losing the seat that makes them tyrannous.

Interviewer: You know, Vishwaroopam was not the first film of yours that had this.

Mr. Hasan: I didn’t realise where it was coming from. The idea, later on, I found out that she had a better vision of my pursuits because I had a political mindset and an inquisition that I was starting with the people. “Hey Ram” was indicative of that and she was seeing that trajectory. Probably, that was what she was trying to impede and I did not understand because I was naive.

Interviewer: You know, given the trouble that “Hey Ram” had, given the trouble that “Vishwaroopam” had; you’re not stranger to bans, to political troubles that your films have been running to. Most people would become cynical to politics and would be kind of disillusioned.

Mr. Hasan: What ails me and what ails politics, its not an incurable disease. So, it is not wrong for common people to indulge in it, that’s my philosophy.

Interviewer: Rajnikant and You are old friends, as actors and superstars your parts are entwined and now it seems like the two of you are entering politics at the same time. Have you discussed ideologies? 

Mr. Hasan: No, that’s the only thing we didn’t discuss which is probably the most essential point, the very base of the relationship. But, yes I had told him because had a quite secret meeting, because I hadn’t told anyone probably my brother was not anymore there and I had no commitment of telling anyone about what I’m doing, so I thought I should tell him. He was quite surprised, but I told him I am coming in and was just an information.

 

Interviewer: Do you think you both are in it for the same reason, or for the right reasons? 

Mr. Hasan: I hope so, because I know my thing. I haven’t discussed it except briefly with him. And, the approach is not the same, the trajectory is not the same, probably the goal is the same. I don’t know, I would have to talk. We are now in the process of completing our manifesto, people are working, people are critiquing what we are doing. Ours is a centrist sort of a philosophy that’s rising around the world now, so we are probably the only asian centrist party if you look at the  net. So, we are proud and also cautious about how we introduce it to people because they will apart from misunderstanding, they shouldn’t misuse the thing. Centrism is not being in the middle and being inactive. So, that should not be mistaken for that.

Interviewer: You know, in the past few days have been filled with the news of DMK chief, Karunanidhi’s health scare. He is regarded as one of the pioneers in the relationship between cinema and politics, a writer of used his penmanship to political relations. What do you see as his strongest contributions?

Mr. Hasan: See, it started with Annadurai actually, he is senior to him. But, in my opinion, screen trade-wise Karunanidhi bettered that thing. I don’t know about the screenplay part, but for his time, his understanding of cinema was astounding. When I asked him, he said that because he worked with people like Ellis R Duncan, an American, and godfather of Tamil cinema. And, it’s so strange that an American gentleman who cycled his way through Europe and into India became the father of us at an old company called modern theatre and he was the director for “Meera”, of all the film but “Meera” which was done in Hindi and Tamil, he was a national director and I met him. He has directed three chief ministers of Tamil Nadu including Mrs. Janki Ji

Interviewer: I want to talk about the films. Last week, Mr. Hasan, the Tom Cruise starrer Mission Impossible followed release. One can’t help but see the similarities. Two ageing superstars helmed these films, both spy thrillers, both men with this indefatigable energies, insistent on doing their own stunts. Where do you draw line when it comes to the action? Would you jump of a plane 25,000 feet in the air? 

Mr. Hasan: I have in this film. But the thing is, before I’ve done stuff and I’m sure when it comes to fractures, Mr. Cruise can’t afford to match me. And the man who can beat me is Mr. Jackie Chan. So, the last time I met Mr. Jackie Chan, he asked me, “how many fractures?” And, I said 37.., “OH you’re catching up, I must do some more!”…that kind of a conversation.

Interviewer: You’re trying to woo his trophies! 

Mr. Hasan: But, we are not as trained as Mr. Jackie Chan, it’s like my Bharatanatyam training. So, that helps and the speed with which Mr. Tom Cruise runs is commendable and is clear proof of his good health.

Interviewer- Your maternal uncle worked with the intelligence bureau, what were some of the stories he told you and did they make their way into Vishwaroopam?

Kamal Haasan: What happened was we were all looking for fun and games and xxx and girls, bond but he sort of dampened all of that, none of that happens it’s a traumatic life. I was 12 years old and I asked him, how come bond has all this, he said these are collections of stories, one incident in bond will make for a Post traumatic syndrome for the rest of his life. As a matter of fact it was in the hospital I used to sit with him where used to tell me where he went. He was hurt and he was recovering in the hospital. So I used to go and meet him and he dint go to a military hospital but a private hospital but I think the government paid for that and but I was wondering why he wasn’t in a military hospital. It was deliberately kept as a secret. Later on I think it was in the 70s and they were a part of making Bangladesh.

Anchor- Do you still struggle with Budgets? the general perception is Mr. Kamal Hassan makes expensive movies…

Kamal: No I don’t. Actually vishwaroopam is not an easy film to pull off in the budget that we pulled it off, it us costly. When you become ambitious it costs, you ride faster you burn fuel…

Anchor- Your film Apoorva Sahodarargal which of course we know in Hindi as Appu Raja in which you played a dwarf came out nearly 30 years ago in 1989 that’s interesting cause Shahrukh Khan is shooting Zero which is a story of a dwarf and I asked him if he is going to be tying up his legs and walk on his knees…

Kamal haasan: No he doesn’t. He doesn’t have to.

Anchor- He says there’s no way he can do that his knees are in no shape, he said CGI at that time was in a much more nascent stage 

Kamal Haasan: No, it was all in camera we had no CGI…

Anchor- it was all practical, do you have memories?

Kamal haasan: Of course, I designed it. So I sat down the first idea was to do a dwarf. We didn’t have a story it was just an idea. Then nobody believed me. I did tests on my own with video cameras and angles, and its wire and rubber band technique so the moment i showed it and saw excitement in people’s eyes then we went back to screen writing. We wrote once and failed…

Anchor- was it physically very taxing?

Kamal haasan:  Oh yeah, and we failed so the first 10 days was crap. Full schedule, camera, full money, and breakfast everything went down the drain. People thought I was going off the center, eccentric and they said you can’t allow this. This is film business. My brother admonished it and I said it’s not for that I know how it works but what matters is that the screenplay doesn’t work for me. You had commissioned, I said yes it doesn’t work. Would you rather let the audience say it or hear it from me? The director is open minded, young man 20-25 years older than me but he was willing to listen to that and go back to the drawing table and he allowed me to write the screenplay. He said you go ahead you seem to have a handle on it. You know the technique. Because they were all worried about stretching the character of Appu. They wanted it to be Raja Appu I wanted it to be appu raja because this is the protagonist. So that they were scared to do for practical logistic reasons but I changed that and it became even more difficult. So when we finished we looked at each other and said now is the time to start because we know how to do it. But the picture was done and we had to live with what we had.

Anchor- You landmark film Nayakan turned 30 this year. Your fans and cine-philes believe it is your best film. Have you watched it recently? What do you think holds up so beautifully? 

Kamal haasan: I think both Mani and I can find flaws because we have grown from that time. But it’s not about the textbook quality of the film. It’s the spirit and the passion and the time when we did it. That’s what matters, it’s something we need not have done. All of us had the passion and all of us were like Salmons riding against the tide to go and nest in a particular place. Which according to us was a coveted cove where we wanted to go. So we dared all the trials and tribulations and reached it. So even now it is satisfying when i talk about it, 30 years back because. It was something that had to be done, we were all sat in the wall talking about a film, talking about godfather the book. We didn’t even know Cappola was working on it at the time. There were a group of us, one of them was Mani Ratnam one was me, were working in groups and we were talking these things. It was a time of sergio liu and it affected Ramesh Sippy ji. That’s what Truffio did, what we wanted to do, what cinema. We did it without publication. We wanted to do something like that and we achieved it. It’s a small step but for us it mattered. It the same year we did Pushpak also. It was another team but i was fortunate enough to be a part of both the teams.

Anchor- you spoke out about the decision against Amma, Association of Malyalam artists to reinstate actor Dilip inspite him being accused in a sexual violence case. Are you surprised that they dint take a firmer stand?

Kamal Haasan: Who?

Anchor- AMMA…

Kamal Haasan: Firmer stand yes, they should have consulted. It’s not about being firm or not firm. This is a malady and social malady and we are part of the fabric and we can’t exclude ourselves, especially now in my mindset where i feel actors are a very important part of sensitizing the society while media is being coerced into behaving differently… The Onus is on the democratic media. It is also a business but it’s a balloon filled with water. You can’t solidify it, it will burst. The government is aware of it so that is the point it is a very malleable point and you cannot in this internet era. That is another kind of media. Cinema has now jumped from the theatre into the computers.

Anchor- Finally Mr. hasan, you have famously said even though you were a reluctant actor, you enjoy acting so much because of the applause you get. What are your thoughts about that today?

Kamal Haasan: See applause is of various kinds. What I do now is not a vicarious enjoyment anymore. I’m not appu of appu raja who is getting the applause by proxy. Directly they look into my eyes and we are having a dialogue which I’ve never experienced in my life.

Anchor- interesting you say that because most people would say in politics you can never please anyone its only brats mostly. 

Kamal haasan: No thats true for an actor especially an experimenting artist like me. I mean hail Chaplin and then what happened to King Luo. He had to come and shoot in London all his expertise were lost and he could see young actors mumbling the opposite person’s lines because they dint have time to rehearse. Chaplin’s rehearsal time was taken away by Hollywood.

Anchor- Thanks Mr. hasan. Seldom have we seen someone this passionate about movies. it’s hard to believe that its the end of an era. Hopefully not.

Kamal Haasan: I’m a great fan of Mr. Gavaskar, its nothing new. He has done it. It is possible and it should be done so that more masters come into the industry. Not that I’m calling myself one but its time Indian cinema has more masters, they are waiting on the sideway and I am happy to pass it on.