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'If my dates are wasted, the project becomes mine'

On his 57th birthday, veteran actor Kamal Haasan speaks to Sunday Mid Day about why all he did was respect his time when he decided to take over the direction of bi-lingual Tamil-Hindi spy thriller, Vishwapooram

Vishwarapoom, your latest project, was meant to star Sonakshi Sinha. What happened?
There were date issues. We tried to work it out but there were legal contracts and any delay would have had repercussions. We had to regretfully move on. But there was no ugliness, no bitterness.

Wasn't she too young to star opposite you?
That was the way the script was written. I was playing my age. She was playing hers.

Why did you have to take over the job of directing Vishwaroopam?
It was my project and my story. But time was running out. Sonakshi's dates were gone. My dates were also running out. I do one project at a time. If the director doesn't respect my time, I will have to (the director, Selva Raghavan walked out). I am very clear on this. If my dates are being wasted, the project becomes mine. I've limited time, with me celebrating a birthday every year. I wish I could celebrate my birthday like the government does, once every five years.

The film is said to be inspired by Anthony Hopkins-starrer Hannibal. Is that true?
After I read that somewhere in the press, I was inspired to make a film based on Hannibal. I may do that in the future. Not this time. I am keeping Vishwaroopam's story close to my chest. Here in Tamil Nadu, the press has the tendency to jump the gun and draw conclusions and create trouble. If I decide to make a spiritual film they'll say since it's Kamal Haasan, it has to be subversive, so they'll ban it even before it's ready.

Where is the film set?
India, US, UK and Jordan.

And you are shooting it simultaneously in two languages.
That's right. In Hindi and Tamil. It's my second bi-lingual film after Hey Ram. Dasavathaaram got dubbed into Hindi, but the vocabulary was twisted. Unless it's a really funny film like Appu Raja, dubbing doesn't work. Cultural nuances come in the way. How do I say, 'jaisi karni vaise bharni' in Tamil, for instance?
That's why we are making a bi-lingual film, and needed a lead actress who had no fear of languages. Om Puri saab has that fear. He refuses to do Tamil films. Some people fear the unknown. I embrace it.

So, who will star opposite you now?
Pooja Kumar, an actress from New York. She's a Punjabi girl of Indian origin. It's a big break for her. Vishwaroopam is probably the biggest film being made in Tamil Nadu right now.

You've just completed 57 years. And of these, a good 50 have been in front of the camera. Are you tired at all?
The day I start viewing acting as work, I will be (tired). Working for money or fame saps you of energy. I stopped doing that 25 years ago. The only time I am really happy is when I am in front of the camera. When I am not, I start ruminating, introspecting and brooding. I equate acting to building card houses which I used to do as a child. I spent hours doing it. My mother used to shout at me, 'Are you building the Taj Mahal?' For me it was building the Taj Mahal. Today, I feel like Shah Jehan trying to build something taller than me (my career). My work is my card house. I admire what they do on the beaches of Orissa. They create true works of art from sand and then watch the wind and waters sweep it away.

How do you manage to keep the excitement going?
My first 100 films were market-driven. People advised, scolded and counselled me about my career. So one day I woke up and decided to nurture Kamal Haasan, the actor.

You are often forced to take over troubled projects. Wouldn't you rather just act?
But I was always a reluctant actor! I continue to be. I announce a project, the camera rolls and I'm happy. I'm fortunate that I am offered lead roles even today. Except for my mentor, K Balachander, for whom I can do a walk-on part, I wouldn't take on something insignificant. When he directed his 100th film, I walked in to do a small role. I just clowned around on set. He is my inspiration. He had a heart problem 40 years back. He made films for another 46 years. He can never grow old. My father used to be like that until he suffered a stroke. That's when it hit me that he's actually an old man.

Your brother-in-law, Mani Ratnam also had a heart scare recently, we hear.
He is a cool cat. I heard he checked into the hospital on his own. He probably scripted a convenient time for his hospitalisation. People think my film with Mani nayakan is my best work. To an extent that's true. But I'd like to think my best is yet to come.

Another film with Mani Ratnam?
We keep discussing ideas. But we never get down to it. I don't know what we fear. We spoke again on my birthday when he visited me. He wanted to know what it felt like to act, produce and direct all at once.

What does it feel like?
It's easier to move the table on the sets yourself than to ask someone else to do it. But seriously, direction is a lot of responsibility. But if you've been trained under Balachander, as I have, it's a lot easier. You have everything down on paper before you start shooting. Alfred Hitchcock used to say he had everything down in his scripts before he began the boring process of directing it.

Are you enthused by Hindi cinema?
Yes, some of it. I am happy Aamir Khan is attempting films that should've been done 10 years ago in Hindi. People attribute this new cinema to the entry of corporate finance. But where were these corporate houses when Hrishida (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) made his films, and Gulzarbhai made Achanak? Brilliant films are possible in every corner of India, and at any time.

Your elder daughter, Shruti Haasan has made a career in both Tamil and Hindi?
I'm proud of her. She hasn't had any home banner backing. The only thing my banner Rajkamal Films did for her was to give her a chance to do the background score in Unnaipol Oruvan. To me, it wouldn't matter if she failed as a movie actress. But right now it looks like a winning streak.

Will you act with her?
Shruti has been telling me that we should. But I don't want her to do it just for the heck of it. She is a star now. I want her to act in a home production for the glory of our banner.

And your younger daughter?
Every time Akshara stands behind the camera and says, 'This is where I want to be', I am reminded of myself. I started behind the camera and gradually moved to the screen.

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