Rinku Ghosh talks to the superstar Kamal Hassan, where he shares his vision and goals, some of which are the core of his party and some of which are also woven skillfully in his film.
Before we meet Kamal Haasan, we are told to keep to his latest film Vishwaroopam II and not delve too much into his role in politics. But when we meet him finally, he voluntarily shares his vision and goals, some of which are the core of his party and some of which are also woven skillfully in his film. In between demands of publicists and phone calls, the multi-talented artiste is unperturbed and collected. He shares his views on nationalism, state of the nation, the need for respect in politics, creativity, his penchant for research and his role model, Gandhi, with Rinku Ghosh
You are attempting another film on an epic scale with Vishwaroopam II. Given the litigation issues and controversies of the first one, how come you persisted with what you call a prequel cum sequel?
People don’t dream big anymore. We’re in a stagnant pool of creativity whereas we should have been growing in a knowledge society. The film industry was at one time about visionaries like Raj Kapoor and storytellers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar sa’ab and Basu Bhattacharya. People today have no aesthetics. Everything is now about number-crunching in the backrooms and it is only figures which are pushing the industry. In the process, we’ve gotten confused. This mathematical reduction has happened throughout the country across sections. In media, the vendor has started fixing the editorial. Content and inner core have become visionless. The marketers gave us the menu and we became fast food. We didn’t respect our teaching institutions like FTII. I simply try.
You have consistently pivoted your films on the sensitive subjects of terrorism, Islamophobia, nationalism and patriotism. In the process you have ruffled quite a few feathers along the way. How do you deal with such sensitivities?
Let me clarify that I have been attacked across the spectrum. It was a Congresswoman who went against my film Hey Ram, not the BJP. She hadn’t even watched the film and assumed that it would be anti-Gandhi. How uninformed?
Talk of nationalism elicits extreme reactions. How come you have repeatedly made it a core of your stories?
I think nationalism is within us and you do not need to scream it out loud. You don’t have to evangelise it and you don’t belong to anything, it is only the impedance of other new players who have come to twist the story. They have been on the sidelines for nearly 50 years. They’re frustrated and just jumped in. It’s a dance of neo-victory which is becoming a romp now. You see keeping people on the edge of fear is also a way of doing politics. Everything else is rationalised on the basis of an imagined Doomsday. Religious crusades have been premised on the belief that the world is indeed coming to an end. This is just one way of looking at things. The other way of looking at finality is this, “Don’t worry, you have a greater kingdom to go to.”
All your films have this global sweep, Vishwaroopam itself traverses many countries. What inspires this canvas?
I know a global citizen who is my invisible mentor. His name is MK Gandhi. And it was because he was a true man of the world that he was able to write a letter to Hitler and was able to think of the khilafat movement. That’s why everything, including America, concerned him. Some called him a British agent, others a protector of the minorities. The fact is he was talking with equipoise. He brought in political decorum as we know it even as a young man. As he got older, he got wiser. Some of his visions were eccentric but why should everything be centric? He delivered something to us, bequeathed a legacy. And I will take that while accepting his flaws. Our duty is to stand on his shoulder, not grovel at his feet. He just wanted people to see the world from a better vantage point.
For me, he’s not the infallible Mr Gandhi. I won’t nitpick on his flaws but will cherish what he’s given us. Any human is prone to making mistakes and emerges through them. He was a captive of his time but his visions were futuristic and are yet to be realised. What kind of peers he had, including Rajagoplachari, Ambedkar sir, caustic critic. And with great pain he had to take a call on his son and Bhagat Singh. For him, it was a strange place to be.
People mockingly say, ‘you like him because you’re an actor and he was an actor too.’ Agreed he was perhaps an actor but unless you gesture loudly, some people won’t understand. Make big faces, roll your eyes and he did that with aplomb. Without that, it would be difficult to make people understand that one such man lived among us. Gandhi was not inimitable. He was imitable. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I find the false humility, that nahin woh toh Mahatma hai attitude unrealistic. I don’t want him to be a mahatma. I want him to be Mr Mohan, whom I can emulate. I can reach out and almost touch the young Gandhi of 1907. That is why I have, not audacity, but authority handed down. I feel I can talk.
Somebody asked me once, ‘How would we know that you’re an earnest politician?’ I said at the peril of sounding pompous, and peril of pitching myself at par with Gandhi, my life will be my message. Why not? What Gandhi wanted was a life that could be pursued by all. That’s why he made it simple.
As a director, scriptwriter, producer and actor, you pull along multiple roles. Yet you have been fairly detailed in each aspect of filmcraft. You have researched the intelligence and terror network in a very in-depth manner in Vishwapooram II. What were your references?
This multi-tasking has become easy because I have been doing this for a while now. Now I have a receptive and collaborative unit that is not looking for instructions. We rehearsed ad nauseum. We improvised.
As for my fixation with spy games, my uncle was in the Intelligence services. My research is, therefore, nearly 50 years old. I was fascinated with the Indian secret service, simply because it is truly secret and you don’t feel the presence of its agents. They aren’t like James Bond but actually are all about British underplay. Most of our early secret service training is from our colonial masters. So that was my leitmotif. But things like choosing a nuclear oncologist or details of technology, which has become the driver of terror networks, have been included to give it a contemporary feel.
I had researched the terror economy so well that I had factored the death of an Osama Bin Laden-style character in the script even before his death. I spend a lot of time on inputs so that the reference points for the actors are real enough to execute. And a thriller genre is never successful unless the scenario is real.
Do you plan on making Vishwaroopam and Indian a Hollywood-style franchise?
I think there can be a franchise though I will be too busy with the next phase of my life as a public servant. Somebody else can surely take over. Even Sean Connery handed over the franchise. Besides, some stories, despite the age of digital precision and shortness, need to be told with detail and depth. Which is why the Godfather was a series, the Lord of the Rings is a series. This is what I meant by vision. A good story merits all the time, attention and space. And Vishwaroopam II didn’t happen because of an encashable Hollywoodian trend of franchises, it was written along with the first part.
Finally, are you confident of effecting change by becoming a politician? Do you think you can do this alone without alliances and strategies of realpolitik?
Left alone as it is, Tamil Nadu will head towards doom. People are already describing Chennai as the new Detroit and I don’t want that descent to happen. Tamil Nadu’s problems are not because of outside interferences but poison inside. Once again, I will cite the analogy of Gandhi. First thing he started was cleaning toilets. Somebody has to start. Swachch Bharat is not just about external cleanliness but also cleaning the system from inside. I think the times are changing. I think decorum will return to politics and the younger people are changing it. Much to the chagrin of the old guard. In my conversations, young people are keen to become stakeholders in governance and challenge the status quo but a government order restricts such dialogue in the name of arresting politicisation of the campus. There’s an order that stops me from speaking in colleges. The prospectus in certain colleges bans political discussions. And yet the campus is the best place to speak politics as young people can shape its future. Students ask me, “What do we do sir? Institutions are threatening us.” I say threaten them back. That’s because higher education is a business, some institutions being run by senior politicians themselves, who are scared of these places becoming disruptive.
Most importantly, we must develop a healthy culture in politics where we may differ with our opponents but respect them. We have our ideological differences with the BJP but there is no animosity.
We are 70 years old but still behave like a two-year-old country. I have formed a party with a purpose and at the moment I have not considered any alliance with any party. This country has given me a lot. Time to give it back.
Why don’t we see you participate in more TV debates?
You see TV debates are much like knitting. You wrap one thread over the other and by the end of it, you make such a warm sweater that nobody hears anything.
Finally, what about your take on DMK patriarch M Karunandhi?
Karunanidhi, to me, was the teacher of all the actors. I have been inspired by his writings. He political career spanned 70 years. His mistake in politics and his success are both a lesson for us.
Would you classify the Vishwaroopam series as a global film?
It is a global Indian film because try as we may this won’t interest Hollywood. This is a film for our people settled across the world with a Western-style finesse but relatable content. The West is looking at our culturally content-driven films, not the mainstream kind we make. But that does not mean we should not give Indians everywhere an international film on a desi template.
Writer: Rinku Ghosh
Courtesy: The Pioneer