At 67, Kamal Haasan remains the supreme master of his craft


Be it entertaining masses by acting in films, or hosting a demanding reality show such as ‘Bigg Boss’, or managing a political party with the ambitions of the ‘Makkal Needhi Maiam’, Kamal Haasan has proved beyond doubt that he is a genius who can excel in any field that he chooses to make his own.

It is not without reason that he is hailed as the ‘Ulaganayagan’ (or world leader) by those in Tamil cinema.

The master craftsman, who has fine-tuned his acting skills to the point of perfection, has earned the admiration and affection of scores of not just fans, but also actors and professionals from across all film industries.

From the time he began his acting career as a young adult in ‘Kalathur Kannamma’ (1960) till ‘Vikram’, the first look of which was released on November 6, Kamal Haasan as an artiste has continued to impress consistently.

What’s more, he seems to be getting better and better, outdoing himself each time he becomes a part of a project.

Kamal’s expertise in acting needs no introduction, nor any explanation. The level of skill that the actor possesses was best explained by director Shankar in an interview several years ago.

Shankar said: “Kamal sir observes everything while we narrate a story to him. When we read out a scene to him, he knows what the director expects of him. We don’t need a trolley, or a jimmy jib, or any extra addition for a Kamal Haasan shot. You can take the camera and zoom in on his face. Irrespective of the length of the shot, he will be able to hold your attention. You can keep a close-up, or have a lengthy shot. All you need to do is just watch and admire!”

To most people, the significance of this statement would go unnoticed. Close-ups are kept only when a director is supremely confident of the actor’s skills as there is very little room for error on the artiste’s part when such a shot is placed. Add to this the fact that the shot is a lengthy one and you have an idea of the level of consistency an actor has to be able to deliver.

Kamal Haasan is as fascinating a thinker as he is an actor. The passionate actor is a voracious reader whose extensive knowledge on a number of topics, including history, leaves you dumbfounded. Kamal doesn’t stop with just reading. He goes on to think about what he has read, accumulating and building on the information that he has acquired.

During the course of an interview, this writer had once posed a question on his unfinished historical drama, ‘Marudhanayagam’, a story that the actor has been dying to tell the world.

Marudhanayagam’s story was not known to many, even in Tamil Nadu, until Kamal Haasan began making a movie on his life. It was Kamal who pointed out that Marudhanayagam’s revolt against the East India Company began almost a 100 years before the Rebellion of 1857, which is also hailed as the First Indian War of Independence.

The actor went on to explain that what the British had to spend to get rid of Marudhanayagam was more than the amount that the US had to expend to vanquish Saddam Hussein. The Indian warrior from southern Tamil Nadu is said to have infuriated the British so much, that after hanging him, they had his body dismembered and his body parts displayed on the principal gateways of the city of Madurai before sending it across to other places as a warning.

During the course of the interview, this writer pointed out to the actor that there were three different versions of the warrior’s life. One, by the English, one by the French, and one by the Indians, almost half-certain the actor wouldn’t have heard of the other versions. Kamal nonchalantly replied that he had gone through all the versions and had picked the one of the English, whom the warrior had fought.

It was then that this writer realised what a voracious reader he was and how he had managed to associate other events to what he had already read and point out what really had to be highlighted.

When you are as gifted as someone such as Kamal Haasan, settling on his life’s mission can be a problem for him. But then, the actor also has the ability to prioritise.

Several years ago, when he was first asked what he would want people to remember him as, Kamal said, “I want people to remember me as a good artiste.”

Several years later, the same question was posed to him during an interview by a different media outlet. The actor recalled his earlier reply and then said he had evolved. He said, “What I want to be first remembered as is as a good human being. And then, maybe as a good human being, who could also act.”