S. SHIVA KUMAR

Gautam Menon, after the big hit Kaakha Kaakha, is crossing his fingers over the Kamal Hassan film Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyadu, releasing today

"I walk down the road and people want to kiss me. I'd never do all that to anyone. Not Mr. Bachchan or Mr. Rajnikant. The exception is Kamal. I asked him if I could touch him when I first met him," said Shahrukh Khan during the shooting of Dil Se. "He has an amazing sense of using space. When he plays an old man his gait and the way he stands is enough to convey his age. He doesn't need make-up. I find him greater than Dustin Hoffman and De Niro put together, I know Kamal can make you cry with a look in his eyes. I know his pauses. He has an amazing sense of timing that he knows the audience likes. He's a technician par excellence. That kind of knowledge and control every actor should strive to get," said 'King Khan' with a look of adoration in his eyes.It's easy for an actor to dance to his fans whims. Applause is an actors' aphrodisiac but Kamal wants and gets it on his terms. "It's Kamal who inspired me to do one film at a time," confesses Aamir Khan. If today Vikram does a Pithamahan or Surya does Perazhagan it's because Kamal paved the way. His body of work is remarkable. He played the drooling village idiot (Padinaru Vydhinile) with as much élan as the sophisticated psychopath (Sigappu Rojakkal). You can't think of another actor who would play the role in Pushpak without gesticulating wildly and making it look like dumb charades. Any other actor masquerading as a 'maami' (Avvai Shanmukhi) would have acted like a transvestite. He has hammed when disinterested and done some terrible films but then the hallmark of genius is unpredictability. Mani Ratnam has worked with the best of actors but misses Kamal. "There are some things he can do that others can but there are many things Kamal can do that no other actor can," is his succinct appraisal.Vettaiyadu Vilayadu after playing cat and mouse with fans is finally getting released. The added attraction is that Kamal is being directed by one of the bright young talents in Tamil cinema, Gautam Menon who made the slick hit, Kakkha Kakkha. I spoke to Gautam about his experience of working with his favourite actor. He sounded relieved, like a mother who had been in agonising labour for too long but also anxious about whether the world will like his baby or not. The interview: It's sometimes true that you should not meet the person you idolise because they disappoint you. Did that happen to you? Are you still a Kamal Hassan fan?I'm always a Kamal Hassan fan.There were rumours that he was not satisfied with the second half of the film.That's not true. The problems were only with the producer. Khaja Moideen the original producer could not complete the film. Oscar Ravichandran took over but he felt that the overheads Khaja had created were too much. Then we put in some money before Mr. Narayanan took over. After we wrapped up the film about four months ago, the producers council had to sit with the distributors and sort out the mess created by Khaja. There were no issues between me and Kamal.Does a cops role do justice to an actor you've adored since childhood. Have you succeeded in bringing out an unseen facet in him?From day one I was very clear that I was not going to tap his immense talent. I've seen it all and he's done it all. I didn't want him to look different like he is in some of his films. I wanted to make a simple film, which will work for a change. I didn't want him to go overboard with anything. He's a good-looking guy in real life and that's the way I wanted him to look. We wanted somebody very sober and quiet so the histrionics were underplayed. The intention was not to make the film a major Kamal acting experience. It's a screenplay driven stylish film.I know you can't be objective but what did you feel after watching the first copy?I think it's a simple and nice film. It's different from whatever has come out recently. It has a serial killer thriller format. The camera work is excellent and all the actors have performed excellently. There's a nice romantic angle too. Hopefully the audiences will like it.Have you got any feedback from Kamal?He liked whatever portions he watched while dubbing.Hasn't he watched the film yet?The first copy was out yesterday night and he's already shooting for Dashavatharam.Were you tempted to change anything for the betterment of the film during this unforeseen delay?The script was ready and we shot the film true to it. The delay was irritating and depressing. I tried to dissociate myself from the film to a certain extent. At one point it looked like it would never get released. I moved on to another film. I had left some work unfinished and finished the postproduction only when it was certain to get released. We did some digital colour correction and emphasised on the background score. Not every director gets a chance to direct an actor he adores. Did you discover any unseen facet?Definitely from the actors I've worked with and the actors I've watched. I was amazed by the distinct way he handles a scene I've written. It was something I wouldn't have thought of. His way of looking at a scene would be different from what was on paper. There were many times when I didn't like the first take and he was open to discussion. It did take a few seconds for me to garner the courage to request a second take. I realised if I didn't tell him it wouldn't be the way I wanted it to be.How much is it a Gautam film and how much is it a Kamal film?It's a 100 per cent Gautam Menon film.Could you describe him in one line as an actor?He's an institution as far as acting is concerned. For example when I took a scene to him he did something that was not on paper, something you don't expect and can't write. I found that happening in many scenes. He's right up there at the top. He knows what should be done and when.It's not as if we're short of good actors so what is it that sets him apart?I think it's the passion which is much more that what anybody else has. I have worked with others but the kind of knowledge he has about shots, camera angles and expressions sets him apart.Will you make another film with Kamal?Absolutely. This time I'll go with a much better script. You asked me if I've justified Kamal's presence in this film. To a certain extent I've not but maybe next time I'll go with the intention of justifying his presence.