As Kamal Haasan steps to the next level with “Vishwaroop”, he tells us what it takes and what to expect.
He is a big draw down South and arguably our finest actor, but when Kamal Haasan landed in the National Capital to promote his latest magnum opus “Vishwaroop”, the reception was rather low key. The news channels which make a beeline for even B-listers and starlets were conspicuous by their absence. It was the day of counting votes for the Gujarat legislative assembly and the public relations in-charge cited Modi as the reason for the low turn out. One asked him, what if it had been Salman Khan? He said special requests would have come from the editors. Was Kamal perturbed? Not quite. He has faith in his audience irrespective of the geographical boundaries. “This is a strange nation. Here, except for the Bengalis, we all sing the national anthem in a language which is not ours. My experience throughout the country has unanimously been the same. When I did bad work they reacted unanimously, when I did good work they reacted unanimously.” Simple.
Made simultaneously in Tamil and Hindi and dubbed into Telugu, the film, Kamal said, dealt with an international subject (terrorism) but it didn’t mean it was not about India. “It is all about India but the story unfolds on American and Afghan soil. The opening line of the trailer says it all. Jung janmati hai jahan, muskate cheheron se hansi noch li jaati hai wahan.”
The theme of terror is nothing new but Kamal said the way he had shot the film, the way it had been edited, it was different. For those who still don’t know, he is not only playing the lead role, he has also produced, directed and written the film. “It will be remembered for its technical finesse and some technicians are already talking about it.” Between the lines, Kamal said, “the film is trying to say how simple it is to start a war and how easy it is to put a stop to it, and how bloody it can get if you don’t find a solution. You will discern it through the process of the film. It is a fast paced thriller and I am not preaching. You can text a message, why make a film? Instead I am exploring the contours of the problem. I make a film so that the issue is talked about outside the theatre and inside the theatre, after the show is over. I don’t make it to garner headlines.”
Kamal maintained that films doing Rs.100 crore business were not essentially helping in improving the standards of the film industry. “The success of one part of the industry is not reflecting on the other part. The people with new ideas are still suffering. If today Mr. Ray were to come back as a young man he would still have to sell his family jewels to make a film. Nothing has changed in that sense. I came from there and I have not forgotten that. What we should think about is content.”
Having said that, he added, if you want to talk about numbers “Vishwaroopam” (the title in Tamil) won’t be considered safe till it makes 150 crores. “I am not hoping, it will have to make as much to become a viable project. But you can’t indulge in number crunching while you are recording dialogues. It is about dedication. Numbers may come or may not come. A cook cannot think about how much he will charge for the biryani he is cooking. He must be worried about whether the meat is cooked well, whether the rice is tasty. Then when he tastes the first teaspoon, he fixes the price. And that’s what I have done by fixing the price of DTH so high.”
He is grappling with controversy after coming up with a novel idea of releasing the film on DTH platforms a day before the theatrical release. Though he later backtracked and postponed the release of the film after theatre owners refused to support him, he defended his point of view.
“It is like a trailer. It is going to compel you to watch the film in theatres. It is like ordering food and going to a restaurant. I don’t think one will affect the other. Cinema going is a culture in India, a habit, and I don’t think it is going to change during my lifetime. And I am not doing it at anybody’s expense. Piracy takes away 50 per cent of a film’s revenue through illegal means. Through DTH, I can take away at best one to 1.5 per cent of the theatrical revenue. You won’t allow a legitimate man to take away 1.5 per cent, which is his right, but you will let somebody walk away with 50 per cent. I was asked why I need so much money. I said if you insist, my answer is I will build theatres.”
The film gave him an opportunity to collaborate with two people with whom he wanted to work for a long time. As he plays a Kathak dancer in the film, it gave him a chance to learn from Birju Maharaj. “I was waiting for this experience for nearly 40 years. I have been trying to collaborate with him for the last 15-20 years. Somehow it could not happen but this time things fell in place. And those were the happiest times for me as a dancer. I am a classically trained dancer but I have been out of touch for a while. He asked me how I picked up so quickly. I told him I have been learning from him without his knowledge for the last 40 years.”
As for Shekhar Kapur, Kamal says both of them wanted to direct each other for a long time. “I said as you are not going anywhere with your ideas, let me direct you first. He has a special role.”
The film also has Rahul Bose and Jaideep Ahlawat in important roles but Kamal insisted it was the amateurs who brought authenticity to the whole scenario. “I have always found amateur people from theatre and films give more to a project than the professionals. Professionals always think about their ego, their lunch and their van. However, if we had shot only with amateurs we would not have been able to finish the project in 107 days. Considering we had a cast and crew of different nationalities, it was really quick and my friends in Hollywood were surprised.”
Up North, people still see him as the boy who brought tears to their eyes through memorable performances in films like “Sadma” and “Ek Duje Ke Liye”. “There is talk about part two of ‘Sadma’ with a happy ending where the girl remembers everything. I think the film was meant to be a tragedy and we should let it remain one. As for remaking ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’, obviously I can’t play the hero, and the only role that is available for me I am not yet ready to play,” he signed off with a smile.
One and Only...
My brief was not literally translating the film from Tamil to Hindi. He told me to understand the thought in each scene and then come up with dialogues. He is the only Indian filmmaker who straddles geographical boundaries with flair. He did it in “Hey Ram” and has done it again in “Vishwaroopam”. Unfortunately, Bollywood filmmakers have not shown such courage.
Atul Tiwari, who has written the Hindi screenplay and dialogues of “Vishwaroopam” and “Dashavtaram”
He recorded my share of Tamil dialogues in his voice and sent the cassette to me one month before the shoot. Somebody else could have done the job for him. I was bowled over by his seriousness and commitment towards the craft.
Actor Jaideep Ahlawat on Kamal