MUMBAI—His career is older than the age of A-list Mumbai’s superstars, and when he came to Mumbai at 27 to do his maiden Hindi (notwithstanding his small cameo in “Aaina”) film in the 1981 “Ek Duuje Ke Liye”, this 101st movie of his catapulted him into the big league. He was soon signing films with top heroines and ensemble-cast movies.
However, the films that followed did not measure up, with many shelved after announcement. But after the success of “Appu Raja” (1990), the dubbed version of his earlier Tamil hit, Kamal Haasan opted to do bi-linguals, making a sole exception in “Chachi 420” (1997), the successful comedy.
Today, he is set to release “Vishwaroop 2,” the sequel to his 2013 controversial film “Vishwaroop,” that was a success in its Tamil version, titled “Vishwaroopam.” At the Sun’N’Sand Hotel, Mumbai, we have a freewheeling conversation.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Nowadays there is a trend that sequels are planned in advance, and some sequences for part 2 are even shot along with the first. Has that happened here?
A (Smiles): Absolutely! I am glad you said nowadays because we thought of it all of six and seven years ago. Some shots were taken together due to logistics like available locations, or continuity, like some artistes’ beards. I prefer real beards as the false ones can be made out!
One more reason: the attention span of the audience today is 100 minutes. Our stories need songs and other elements for the audience, and then it is better to tell a story in two parts because of the length that becomes necessary.
Q: Part 1 became rather controversial.
A: It was not controversial at all! What happened was an ugly political controversy that was CREATED. If I make a film on alcoholism, the protagonist must be an alcoholic, so does it mean I am promoting booze? Is “Shor” an insult to a deaf person, “Roti Kapada Aur Makaan” to the Sardar played by Premnath, or “Amar Akbar Anthony” to Muslims?
Q: What about the high voltage action? How easy was it?
A: Action is worrisome right at the writing level, due to the risks, and the cost that will be incurred. Every other film says “No animals were injured during the shooting of this film” – but what about human beings? I am proud to say that not even a bit role player was injured on my sets! But it WAS difficult!
Q: Weren’t you planning to shoot in Afghanistan as per the story?
A: Yes, but we were advised, “You can shoot there, but they will shoot you back!” (Laughs). We did not have the budget of a “Mission Impossible” to shoot in other lands, so we used Jordanian equipment and terrain, real Aghans to play Afghans though, and built a set of the village in Chennai. This was done by a Vietnamese art director named Thor, along with our own Ilayaraja, a namesake of the composer.
Q: Waheeda Rehman plays a role in your film. So does Shekhar Kapur. Tell us about them.
A (Smiles broadly): Waheeda-ji was the youngest among us all! I had the privilege of discussing my favorite film “Kagaz Ke Phool” with her, and when she said that some of my work reminded her of Guru Dutt, it was like receiving a paycheck for “Vishwaroop 2!”
As for Shekhar, we must have discussed endless scripts together. Finally, I told him that either he direct me or I will direct HIM! I offered him “Vishwaroop,” and he sportingly accepted it out of friendship. He did ask, “Why me?” and I told him it was tit-for-tat!
Q: How does it feel to have come so far when others even younger to you have faded or moved on to character roles?
A: Let me answer the last part first – I became a character artiste at 30, playing a father in “Nayakan.” That is because I never respected stars, only actors. And I have always been doing that.
And I became an actor by chance, because at 18, my mentor, Shri K. Balachander, told me that I was star material and should become an actor. I told him that I had come here to become a director. He said that I could first make a lot of money as an actor. I am glad I believed him. As it turned out, he was right. Though I have directed films since even now I am sitting in front of you because of him. There is nothing like a good guru or mentor.
Q: How do you explain your consistent and long success, and how do you cope with it? Is there any secret to it?
A: Success was never difficult, and I have never coped with it. Please understand that I am grateful and not dismissive about it. But I have always been working towards excellence, not success. I want to be respected in my own eyes. I want to be proud of myself.
The only secret is that I have refused to stand down as a film buff. Primarily, I am a film audience, and I will never let go of that status, so that is why they allowed me to sit with them. I cannot be above the audiences! I just want them to enjoy what I play, and I want to enjoy with them too! That is why I enjoy watching my own films!