Kamal discovers Kuchipudi

Kamal was a great fan of Max Ophüls, the legendary German filmmaker who was known for complex tracking shots.

Part 1: >His classical odyssey

Part 2: >'You can feel the fear in this song'

Part 3: >'He taught me to sing with abandon'

Part 4: >And more on the Ilaiyaraaja connection

Part 5: >Kamal and the art of screenplay writing

Kamal and RC Sakthi wrote a lot of screenplays. None of them were made into films. “We fumbled,” Kamal Haasan told me. “I think I became better due to my close association with Ananthu.”

Ananthu was a screenwriter, rapacious world cinema buff and a close associate of K. Balachander, and his contribution to Kamal’s career is well-known. ‘Hey Ram’, in fact, opens with the dedication: “Dear Ananthu Saab, thank you for directing me towards this direction.” Ananthu was the one who began to tell Kamal about the rules of screenwriting. Kamal discovered the French film critic André Bazin, the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. “I became a great fan of Trumbo without knowing who he was.”

Kamal, with similar-minded friends, used to watch every foreign film that came his way, mostly through film festivals. He liked Bergman’s ‘The Touch’ very much. And ‘The Voyeur’ with Marcello Mastroianni and Virni Lisi. And Antonioni’s ‘The Passenger’. And Schlesinger’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’. And Arthur Penn’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.

“All these films affected us,” Kamal Haasan said. “We started picking up stuff.” They would keep talking about these films, and they began to be regarded as “Anglo-Indian” by the local industry. Among the many people to whom Kamal told the stories he had in his head was Balu Mahendra. “Those guys were working in the European format.”

I asked Kamal Haasan to point out some of the “stuff” he’d picked up from these films. He thought for a while and mentioned the tracking shots in the early portions of ‘Guna’. He said he was a great fan of Max Ophüls, the legendary German filmmaker who made ‘The Earrings of Madame de...’ and who was known for complex tracking shots. Then he smiled and said, “We can use these ideas, at most, in a scene or two. Our films can’t take much more. If you bring these ideas in wholesale, then you’ll become like John Abraham, who was ostracised and kept outside the commercial sector.” He was referring to the Malayalam filmmaker known for avant-garde works such as ‘Agraharathil Kazhuthai’ and ‘Amma Ariyan’. “That’s a good thing actually, that’s a great state to be in. But it’s a rather lonely and dire state for a filmmaker.”


The story of Kamal Haasan as a dancer begins when Kamal was 12, a time his mother thought that he would be thrown out of school, the third one he was admitted into. One evening, she took him to a Kuchipudi recital at the Museum Theatre. The boy, who’d grown up with Bharatanatyam, was fascinated. Kamal Haasan told me, “I think it was the exotic form of somebody dancing on a plate.”

After the performance, while waiting for the bus at the stop on Pantheon Road, Kamal’s mother asked him if he’d liked the performance. He asked her why there was no alarippu. She explained to him the difference between the dance forms. Suddenly, he told her he wanted to learn dance. She said they’d talk about it in the morning.

The next morning, Kamal woke up, brushed his teeth, wiped his face on her pallu, and told her again that he wanted to learn dance. She asked him if he was sure. He was. She thought about it. She didn’t want to send him to classes where he’d have to stand in a queue. She wanted private tuitions from someone she could afford. This turned out to be M.S. Natarajan. He was into theatre, an actor and a fan of ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan, but he had also trained in the same school as Kamal’s sister, the Pandanallur bani. “He was not a teacher in the strict sense,” Kamal Haasan said, “but he had a repertoire that could help young children get acquainted with dance.”

Classes began. But they were at Ashok Nagar, and Kamal’s mother felt that the boy was travelling too far from their Eldams Road home. The first solution was to shift the classes to the large hall at home. Then Natarajan told Kamal’s mother, “Your son is learning very well. If I could get a small place to stay in your house with my wife, I could be on attendance at any time.” Kamal Haasan smiled at the memory. “He was right, because I was totally neglecting school. I was always in the dance class. And it had nothing to do with all the girls in the class.”

(To be continued)

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 11, 2022 12:14:33 am |