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On his own terms

S. R. ASHOK KUMAR chats with the `sagalakala vallavan' on his latest experiment `Virumandi'

ONE OF the much-awaited Tamil films of the year, Kamal Haasan's "Virumaandi" has been released. Prior to its release, the veteran actor was running from pillar to post - tying up the loose ends and giving final touches to the post-production work, when Metroplus caught up with him. He had hardly slept for four days and his eyes were bloodshot. Yet, with characteristic energy, he fielded questions on his new film that was recently a subject of controversy, and his life in cinema - yesterday, today and tomorrow. Excerpts:

At the outset, "Virumaandi" received negative publicity. What is your reaction to that?

I think it's redundant to talk about it now. Much water has flowed and "Virumaandi" has come out unscathed. The public knows that the accusations were baseless. It's very difficult to pin down "Virumaandi"— the man or the film. I don't think any more controversies will be raised.

The film has your inimitable stamp in several facets — script, direction, acting, choreography, lyrics and playback singing. How come you left out camera work?

(Smiles) Well, the idea is simply not to expand one's area of interest and make it a one-man show. Yes, there are filmmakers who excel in all aspects of filmmaking. As for me, I learn with each passing day. But whatever I undertake, I try to give my best. According to me though, there's nothing called perfection. Sometimes, it's merely coincidental. Like my tryst with writing. It's perhaps the outcome of my acquaintance with great poets and writers. I guess, it's associations like these that have had an impact on me.

Coming to the technical terrain, filmmaking is a gradually evolving process. I always think I am graduating from one class to another. I have been trained as an assistant director and I have been writing for well over two decades now. Only, one has to make a conscious effort to improve. As for cinematography, there is excellent talent here. I'm happy with their work, so I stay away from it.

Kamal yesterday, today and tomorrow... Comment.

I can't say I've evolved much. I still find myself struggling in my chosen field. And this I say not out of humility, but because of what I've realised about the world. If I can tell you about tomorrow, my yesterday would have been better and today would have been even better.

Hits or misses, Kamal is still here...

I don't want to be an also-ran. The critic in me tells that the best is yet to come. It's my desire to do a film that will be internationally viable.

Are your eyes set on the Oscars?

Oscars is an American yardstick for distinction. I am aiming at an Indian standard of excellence. And that, according to me, comes with elevating audience tastes.

Film-lovers often refer to you as a genius. But some of your experiments have not clicked at the box-office.

I have not lost anything. I have only gained. I am happy if I am able to get even Rs. one lakh from a film. I've been in the field for 25 successful years. There must be some magic in it. Critics and cynics are there. But I'm convinced I'm moving in the right direction. To me, genius is a relative term. In the context of mediocrity, even the ordinary becomes extraordinary. And the extraordinary becomes genius-like. I'm not a genius, just an extraordinary actor.

About my reel experiments, I am happy. I've always done what I wanted. And that too, I must say, successfully. Many filmmakers are doing what people want them to and failing at the box-office.

Do you think formal training is required to become a full-fledged actor?

Yes. Why not? Acting involves technique. Basically, you need talent. Above all, what the industry needs today is more people with a passion for the art than those looking at cinema as a money-spinning profession.

Which according to you is a difficult role to play?

The role of a hypocrite. That is the most difficult role to play.

Describe Kamal, briefly.

Like everybody, a mix of good and bad!

What makes you angry?

The lack of anger among people makes me angry. I am not talking about a revolution on the scale of the French or Russian ones. But at least, people must express their anger about the goings-on around them, and not just stop with talking or complaining about them.

Who are the major influences in your life?

My family and my late friend Ananthu.

In films?

I am a great fan of Kurosawa. But there are many other great filmmakers whose works I don't miss.

Which has been the most memorable phone call of your life?

My calls to my daughters are the best I make or get.

Do you easily cry?

Yes, I do cry. But not in front of others.

Which single possession means the most to you and why?

(Switching to a philosophical mood) I know that I cannot possess anything. Nothing is permanent here. I feel funny when I say I own a piece of land. Nothing is worth possessing.

What would you like to be remembered as after ten years?

Simply remembered. I think that itself is a big thing in the hustle and bustle of today's life.

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