Charuhasan cannot be confined to just cinema. The writer finds out the various facets of this versatile persona
“You are a bit short in your brain if you have never felt love,” Charuhasan says with a smile, his large, intimidating grey eyes softening. Quoting his friend, the legendary Tamil poet Kannadasan, he says, “We have had great debates on this, Kannadasan and I. I would argue that love is stupid; sex is the only reality and he would always oppose.”
Charuhasan is a brilliant speaker, who uses his words with the flair of a master chef seasoning his signature dish. He is stunningly lucid for an 83-year-old; every line is spontaneous, yet perfectly thought out. His memory, he claims, is splotchy. But dates and events are at his fingertips. The only time age shows is during the brief pauses in the conversation, when he seems wrapped in a faint air of distractedness.
He has just completed Joe Eshwar’s Kunthapura, a period film set in British India. “I have spent 17 years of my life in British India. My father was a freedom fighter, who has even gone to prison,” he says. “In fact, we brothers got our names because of a friend of my father’s whom he met in prison, called Yakub Hasan,” says the eldest brother of Kamal Hassan. “Kamal spells Hasan with a double ‘s.’”
For a successful criminal lawyer who is proud of his 30-year-long legal career, cinema was a special love tucked away in a corner of his heart. His roaring practice left little time for pursuing his multiple interests, which spanned sports, photography, economics, politics, radio and even music. His clients were high-profile, including the iconic leader of the All India Forward Bloc, Muthuramalinga Thevar. “But after the day’s work, during nights, I would indulge in these hobbies.” His education in cinema, he says, was from a regular diet of foreign films. “During the late 40s, there were just five to six theatres in Tamil Nadu showing foreign films and they would run just for two days. I used to watch about two movies a day during that time.”
His is a family of actors — brother, Kamal Hassan, daughter Suhasini and neice Anu Hassan. But Charuhasan does not believe that genes have anything to do with it. “It is just a presumption that directors love to make. In acting and politics, there is nothing called genetic inheritance.” He talks about Suhasini’s famous indifference to acting: “She never wanted to become an actress. She studied cinematography and worked as a camera assistant. I had to push her to do her first film (Nenjathai Killathe). It was a super hit.”
When he speaks about Kamal, Charuhasan’s tone takes on a shade of protective affection. “I was already married when Kamal was born. But we have always been friends. Bad friends, I would say. All his bad habits, perhaps, he got from me. I, however, had the wisdom of marrying only once,” he laughs.
The last film he did, Satyameva Jayate, wasacontroversial story of a Brahmin embracing Christianity. “I am not religious. There has to be something in a theme to interest me. Well, I have had radical views on most things, including child labour and marriage.” Conventional education is not an indicator of a person’s abilities, he stresses. “Four of the most interesting people I know, have not had a dazzling record in higher education. M. Karunanidhi became a political worker at 16. Jayalalithaa chose not to go to college; Rajnikant did not go to school. And Kamal focussed all his energies on acting.”
His association with Kerala began before his tryst with cinema, he says. As an amateur radio licence holder in the early 60s, he had visited director Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s house, when he learnt that he possessed a ham radio. “I didn’t know Adoor then. His house is a store house of artefacts,” he says. Radio was a passion Charuhasan cherished. He learnt how to send morse code and by the 70s, was already communicating with people in the U.S. He also imported radio sets from Japan and did experiments on it. “I even built a repeater.”
Charuhasan’s filmography may not exceed 40 films, but the roles he has portrayed have stayed in public memory. He won the National Award for the 1987 Girish Kasaravalli film, Tabarana Kathe, in Kannada.
An accident that happened in France a few years ago left him with multiple fractures. “My right leg has a lot of steel in it. Mobility is a problem now.” At home, these days, he still loves communicating with people, being a part of writer’s fora and sending out and replying to emails. He is also considering publishing a book on his experiences as a lawyer. “You know, when you reach your 80s, you feel it is an achievement to have lived that long. But, it is not enough. Mere ageing will not do.”