Watching Somebody’s Great Performance Is As Good As Performing: Kamal Haasan

Multi-faceted artiste Kamal Haasan speaks about what triggered his entry into politics, how his brother Chandrahasan tried to stop him, and why he’s in the mood to take on everyone in the political battlefield.
Watching Somebody’s Great Performance Is As Good As Performing:  Kamal Haasan

A good artiste admires another's work. And, that's exactly what Kamal Haasan does when  he speaks about admiring the craft of Sekhar Sen during his solo performance Kabeer. Excerpts from an interview with Baradwaj Rangan, where they speak about art, politics and performance.

Like Bigg Boss, the other big dividing line in your career is your entry into politics. Now, a lot of actors have opinions that they keep within themselves, for obvious reasons. At what point did it all burst out? You joined Twitter, Bigg Boss happened and people began to hear more of you, but did it all really begin with the events around  Vishwaroopam?

See, my family is quite perceptive in that manner, especially my brother Chandrahasan — he anticipated my dive into politics about 20 to 25 years ago.

This was in the 90s?

During the time of Thevar Magan. He said: "I don't like the direction you're taking."

Because of the tone of the film? 

Yeah, the tones were slowly changing. He asked me where I was going with this. I said I'm making a film. Then, when he saw Marudhanayagam he understood. He said: "Is it going to be your last film?" I said, "Maybe." He asked me why I'm pitching everything into this, and if I'm thinking of politics. I asked him what was wrong, and that our father was in it. He asked me to not do it. He always brought me down in a rugby tackle whenever I tried to. 

What was his reason? 

He said: "You're not cut out for that, don't go there." I said who will clean the toilet then, if it's all about faecal matter and hygiene, who is going to take care of that idea. He said that it's all hyperbole and that I was worth much more. I could believe it, because it was self-satisfying to agree with something right he said about me. But then, again, with Virumaandi, my mind was set, because they troubled me. It had no reason to get into trouble. 

From the title it became a… 

It was all because they, like my brother, noticed that I had inclinations and wanted to stop me. It started rolling from there. Then, they called me to join the party, discreet messages were sent. I was offered Rs 100 crores, what would I do with black money? Yes, I had six to seven crores in debt, and that increased by six times because of my films. I could have wrapped things up and settled down, but I didn't. 

It invigorated or enraged me, and kept me moving. It was like how Cho became a political analyst. He didn't want to, he was happy. He would've been another creative person, happily doing plays, living with friends, he probably would have lived longer, we don't know. They kept pushing and pushing him, they made him become more volatile as a political critic by chasing him down. He wouldn't have come to politics at all. Very similar to me, but I'm not going to sit on an armchair and comment about politics like Mr. Cho, I'm going to come into the bloody battlefield and take them all.

One of the statements that keeps recurring in your 80s and 90s interviews is: "I am a limelight moth", and you said it very unapologetically. Do you think you'll  miss that aspect when you leave films, as you've hinted you will?

Limelight is fame, that's all. I call limelight an allegory or a symbol. I still am — I want to be called a good man, known like that. How I deserve this is yet to be seen. Probably in the process of attempting to deserve that, and eye the glory, this moth will die. 

Do you think you're a good man?

I do, but I'll have to convince others. If I don't believe in it, I won't be asking for it. When I've settled down, I'll be what I am. 

Many actors who have entered politics were just actors. So, they had to give up just one aspect of acting. But, you've been a sakalakala vallavan — you've written lyrics, screenplays, directed, designed makeup, prosthetics, you've even choreographed dances. Each of these aspects satisfies a creative hunger in you. Have you thought about how difficult it's going to be giving up all this? Will the hunger just go away because you're directing it to another place?

See, you think that it's dance that gives me that thing. Any kind of excellent execution of any form gives me pleasure, and above all, learning the thing gives me the greatest pleasure. Learning a language, again a thing that I do. People don't know that I'm a lyricist — I have 200 unpublished poems. I've been doing this for 40 years now, I could still do it. Now, my friends tell me that I've stopped writing once a week. It's three months since you wrote your last poem, they remind me. Above all, watching somebody's great performance is as good as performing. I've realised this recently, like 10 years ago. A good performance, and knowing the artist…

Could you give me an example?

Shekar (Sen) Sir, he did Kabeer, and it's so simple. It's all about talent. It's all about one man and the audience, and it works for me. No gizmos, no 3D, no animation, not that I'm looking down on these. The sheer brilliance of versatile talent  and how he showcases it is as satisfying as it is when I perform. It moves you. 

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