At 67, Kamal Haasan refuses to stop — rather, he has entered politics by starting his own party. As his film Vishwaroop 2 releases today, he shares his philosophies about cinema and politics with us. Excerpts...
Was Vishwaroop 2 conceived when Vishwaroop was made or the story developed over the years?
Vishwaroop was one full story that I had conceived and the film was to be completed in three or three and a half hours. However, I did not feel like editing it to shorten its length. The idea is to tell a story and it doesn’t matter whether you tell it in parts or as one single film — this happens in books and serials too. So this was my concept seven years back.
Does the film come with a message? When Rajinikanth did Kaala, he tried to give a political message...
I think it is wrong to compare one filmmaker or actor to another — each has his/her individual style. As for me, I try to have a dialogue with people; the message is the byproduct. My concern is that it needs to be received by them well for which I need to place my argument in front of them properly.
I have always been different and dared to make politically relevant films. To make political comments, imitate politicians and crack jokes is satire, however I’ve tried to go beyond that — I have made a point of view that I have strongly felt as a citizen of India and as an artist. My attempt has always been to sensitise my audience. If you look at most of my films — Mahanadi, Hey Ram, Virumandi, Thevar Magan, Dasavathaaram, they have a geo-political thriller touch to them. Vishawaroop is the insertion of my ideas, beliefs and direct impartation of what I think is troubling me globally.
What is your take on the current movie industry scenario?
It is better than what it was — new blood is flowing freely and it is incredible! Another interesting change or transition that is commendable is that unlike in the olden days when there was a clear difference between art and commercial cinema, the lines are blurring. My belief is when you sell tickets, it is commerce and when you make a film, it is art and for the past 40 years, I’ve been argumenting on this. This distinction between the two (commercial and parallel) became like a caste system — one wouldn’t touch the other — which I didn’t like at all. Oscar-winning filmmaker, the late Satyajit Ray, didn’t have any qualms admiring Sholay.
He said, ‘I won’t make a film like Sholay but I appreciate it for its technicality.’ And that’s what was needed. Having said that a bond between different kinds of cinema is happening today, I will only be satisfied if this transformation speeds up.
After joining politics, you said you will quit acting. Will you also stop making films?
I have given the largest portion of my life to cinema and when I say this, it is not an exaggeration. Whatever is left, I’m giving it to what made me, what I’m and what is everybody’s duty too. As for acting, there will be many more players. The space will be occupied by others and we must graciously move out of it. If I don’t do what I am doing now, I will never be able to rest. I will be complaining about the potholes but what have we done about it? I am a scavenger who will clean what I can. It cannot happen overnight but I have started. I am seeing slow and steady social change. I see guiltless happy young people who are passionate to come forward to push the country forward. I feel we have been critics — when critics are asked to make a film, they invariably fail, very few critics are able to prove their point. So that’s what we want to do — we don’t want to be commentators, we want to be players.
And when it comes to making films, M G Ramachandran, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu continued to make films till he was an MLA, but when he became the party president, things changed. He had to take on a lot more responsibility as a politician. If I take up a position politically or occupy an office as a politician, this might happen with me too.
How would you trace your journey as an artist? How successful have you been in fulfilling your dreams?
Sach yeh hai ki koi bhi artist apna sapna pura nahi karta, sab doosre artists ke sapno ko jeete hai. S/he only rehearses on stage and someone else stages his/her dreams. I’m only living Sivaji Ganesan’s, Guru Dutt’s, Raj Kapoor’s dream — they rehearsed for me and now I’m rehearsing for someone else. Someday, someone else will stage my dreams.
Has age ever perturbed you or taken a toll on you?
It is all in your mind and how you are training it. Jackie Chan is still flipping back and forth. If you look at Charlie Chaplin in the limelight, he could do a split even at the age of 67.
If a biopic is made on your life, who do you think can play your character well? Will you agree for a biopic to be made on you?
Anybody! Because he is an actor. Women actors have played Bob Dylan. If Sir Ben Kingsley can play Gandhi, anybody can play anybody. All that matters is what does s/he bring to the character and on stage/screen.
I may not agree to a biopic being made on me because if an actor is mimicked by another actor, it is the audience who laughs and not the person who is being mimicked! (laughs).
What is your concept of patriotism?
Patriotism is towards the world. I cannot shrink it to a village, city or a country. I am a modern world citizen because of which I understand and respect the Khilafat movement. My desh bhakti is not desh bhakti but bhoogol bhakti.
What is your approach towards cinema as a medium?
Movies are entertainment but you cannot reduce it to just business. We have a responsibility, we are important catalysts of sensitising society and making them understand their values. We are like the court announcers, ushering an era of reason. We should inform people, not just as politicians but also as artists. We should reflect hope in them.
Are you happy with the response to your political debut?
We got a fantastic response. People are making me do the right thing. I am prone to become emotional though, that’s a part of my profession. But I have become humble as a man now. I have realised their potential and mine and I am touched by the richness of the people of my country.
But rural Tamil population likes you as an actor more than as a politician...
They don’t know the history as yet. So they won’t know what I am as a politician. It is my duty to make them like me.
What political message would you like to give Indians as you are gearing up for 2019 elections?
The 2019 election is one pertinent message in itself for people to remember. We’ve always distanced ourselves from politics and refrained from participation. But politics shouldn’t be treated like lavatory cleaning.
We have delegated it to too many people as we have everyday things to do like catching a bus, watching a cricket match, etc and we thought politics isn’t our responsibility.
People have this notion that a creature called neta (leader) will come and s/he will take care of it. We are a neta, we make a neta and we could be that neta, but we never think that way. Before Independence, we were our own leaders and it was not just Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) who was the leader, but everybody in the Indian National Army was Netaji himself and that is why he was willing to lay down his life for them.
During the Satyagraha movement, everyone thought that they had the DNA of Gandhiji in them, that’s why we call him the Father of the Nation.
It might look to the world that South India is trying to be an island and talking about separatism, but let me tell you, every state has that kind of mindset. Can you find Chakravarti Rajagopalacharis in North India? The answer is none. But you come to Tamil Nadu and you will come across dark-skinned Dravidian men named Subhas Chandra Bose, Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, all named after these great men — that is the nation we aspire to create. In fact, Tamil Nadu possesses the great quality of wanting to belong to one nation and I come from that DNA. I truly believe that I’m the great great grandson of Gandhiji. It is easy for someone like Gandhiji to say ‘My life is my message’. For me, messages are not long because I know now my life is very limited. So, my messages are short, and meaningful.