At the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Kamal Haasan talks to Anupama Chopra about his upcoming film Vikram, the mix up of cinema and politics, his love for guns and working with Fahadh Faasil, Vijay Sethupathi and Lokesh Kanagaraj.
Edited excerpts below:
What brings you to the festival and what do you have planned?
We're dropping the Vikram NFT here and showing the trailer to a few friends at Cannes.
Let's talk about Vikram, which has been generating such massive excitement since the teaser dropped. It's one of the most anticipated films of the year. Are you nervous at all about the hype or because you're such a veteran that like Hitchcock said playing the audience like an organ?
No, I wish I could. I wish they were that playable. I'm not nervous because I've seen the film. I'm only concerned because certain good films don't get good exposure sometimes. Thanks to technology and the web, any film with due diligence will get its exposure. Fans and people on the web take it up as if they have been asked to do it.
What was the set like with you Fahadh Faasil and Vijay Sethupathi? Any competition at all?
I always think of any talent as competition across genders. But for me, the winner should be the film. So, it doesn't matter who gets that topical at that moment. I've been taught by my guru K Balachander to never steal a scene because you will always get your chance. The director is concerned with moving everybody into place and building the film to a crescendo, so don't try to spoil the show by trying to steal a scene. Don't bomb a photograph, don't distract a scene.
I am an obedient scene player and I like comrades who are like that. It's another thing to work with rank amateurs where you have to take care of them and do a little babysitting. These guys are grown-up, they are talented, so all I have to do is take care of myself. Above all, this group in Vikram loves me so much and that's a great booster. You're in good company and it works like a trampoline. You go higher than you can possibly jump.
Rumour has it that there is a fourth actor as well. What are you going to tell us about that?
It's no longer a rumour. We have to put up our hands and say 'Yes'. Suriya is putting in an incredible last-minute appearance, which should take the story a little further. Probably into part three.
Let's also talk about the other star in this film which is Lokesh Kanagaraj. You have done this now for six decades, so as an artist, when you are so accomplished, how do you surrender to the vision of someone else?
It is very comfortable. Either you drive the car or you are being driven. What's more comfortable than being driven in such traffic. Back-seat driving is not the right thing to do, you might end up crashing. I think Lokesh Kanagaraj took to the job very well and shows great enthusiasm.
When the three of you or four now with Suriya are on a scene together, how do you match the Sur (Tone) in a scene, the tonality of a scene? How do you synchronize it?
That will happen, it's like a conversation. You know things are going wrong when someone says something wrong. All have to be careful because finally, the triumph should be that of the scene. So, we all engage in the scene to push it forward and that's what we did. When somebody shouts, it has to be within the tone of the scene otherwise that tendency is very contagious. A loud performance begets a loud performance.
Now that you are in politics, do you mix politics and cinema or do you keep them separate?
I always have mixed them up, I think cinema is a great podium and I have been political right from the beginning. So, my films including my guru's films have it. Ek Duuje ke liye (1981) has a bit of language chauvinism. Zara Si Zindagi (1983) leans slightly towards the left. Thevar Magan (1992), Mahanadhi (1984) and Virumaandi (2004) talk about politics.
So, I think it is the duty of an artist to be political. One should not keep away or shrug his shoulders and say: I'm just an artist and I pander to the masses and don't give any messages. I am of the belief that politics definitely affects your life so you must have an effect on it if you really feel upset about things going wrong. You should do something to correct the pitch and not become too shrill.
From the trailer, it looks like Vikram has a real testosterone cowboy energy in it, is that a correct assessment? Looks like you guys were having a lot of fun with those guns.
Oh yeah, I brought in a lot of guns. I own a lot of them. I don't hunt, I probably do target shooting. As a kid, shooting squirrels with air rifles seemed like fun but as you grow up, you understand that they are not worth hunting for food. Target shooting is more fun, it's a sport. I'm not good at it but I'm a fan. All my films that have guns, like some of the Bazookas and the explosion in Vishwaroopam – are very realistic. The cameraman said the camera shook because of the explosion.
Does this Vikram have anything to do with the 1986 Vikram?
Except for one incident, no. That incident is: My story for the first Vikram was considered to be too maverick. It didn't have any songs and moved in a mysterious and unpredictable way. Lokesh came back and said, 'I want to call it Vikram, to do something not necessarily in that genre, but more that kind of action.' I casually told him about my idea and he said he liked it and he would develop it. From there, he's added in his own style, taken the story in a different direction. It's the search for the protagonist. You'll see the first scene and say, 'Wow! How are they going to take it forward?' It's a very Quentin Tarantino kind of film.