On International Cinema Day today, a bunch of Tamil directors discuss their drive behind filmmaking and how Ulaganayagan Kamal Haasan made them fall in love with cinema.
Karthick Naren: Kamal Haasan is one of the main reasons I am into filmmaking, and his contribution to Indian cinema is unparalleled. When Christopher Nolan visited India, Kamal Haasan gave him a copy of Hey Ram (2000) in digital format. It is one of my favourite films of Ulaganayagan to date. I also like Sigappu Rojakkal (1978), which was about a psychopathic woman-hater. If given a chance, I would love to remake this film. Mostly, we stereotype actors, because they end up doing similar movies back-to-back—which Kamal Haasan has never done. He is good at handling both serious cinema and commercial entertainers—a rare quality you find in artistes. Further, no two films of his have been the same. He does a Panchathanthiram (2002) and then comes up with a Virumandi (2004). You can never judge what is going to be his next film, and that’s quite interesting. I am a huge fan of ‘actor’ Kamal Haasan, and I am extremely jealous of ‘writer-director’ Kamal Haasan. (Laughs) He is a visionary and a film library. We talk about films sans commercial elements that do well in the box-office now, but I believe Kamal Haasan started the trend with Kuruthipunal (1995). My biggest grouse is that, had people recognised films like Guna (1991) and Anbe Sivam (2003) then, we would have gotten many such gems. Nevertheless, Kamal Haasan films are like fine wine. They get better with age.
Ashwin Saravanan: Apoorva Sagodharargal (1989) was the first Kamal Haasan film I caught in theaters. As a child, I was kept away from visiting cinema halls by my parents, who never knew their son would become a filmmaker. Kamal Haasan is the Nostradamus of Indian cinema, and it is unbelievable how he could predict things in advance. A tsunami hit us in 2004, and, ironically, Kamal Haasan had mentioned the phrase in Anbe Sivam that released in 2003. People were talking about the deadliest Ebola virus in 2017, and it got mentioned in Dasavatharam (2008). Another occasion was the Gujarat riots (2002) that happened, which Kamal Haasan had portrayed in Hey Ram (2000). I would say I like the ‘writer’ Kamal Haasan more. In particular, I like the way Kamal Haasan handled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Hey Ram with the utmost sensitivity, which was the inspiration for my film Game Over. Filmmaking is similar to creating memories. Both as an actor and a filmmaker, Kamal Haasan has raised the bar with each film, and that’s why we revisit his body of work even today. I heard he just took two weeks to script Thevar Magan. It is a testament to quality. Some of the best comedies in Tamil have also been his films—Michael Madana Kama Rajan (1990), Panchathanthiram and Pammal K Sambandam (2002) so on. Today, everyone talks about Hey Ram, but imagine how, as a filmmaker, he has to wait for almost 19 years with so much patience. I don’t understand why the audience can’t appreciate a good film during release, and it is frustrating to see why it takes years for a film to get its due.
PS Mithran: Kamal Haasan is known for introducing novelties in films. Name anything, he would have been the first person to implement it in Tamil cinema. Kamal Haasan has experimented with so many things, and what is more fantastic is, he invested what all he earned from cinema into filmmaking again. According to me, Ulaganayagan is the best modern director in Tamil cinema. I would say 2000-2008 was considered a golden era where we saw many directors who made content-oriented cinema venture into filmmaking—Selvaraghavan, Gautham Menon, Bala, Ameer and Vishnuvardan among others. Fresh content was pumped into the market, and the seed was sown by Kamal Haasan during 2000 with Hey Ram. Since then, there’s no looking back.
Sarjun: I have always wanted to direct Kamal Haasan, and the dream in me is still alive. He has been this unconventional star, who tried starring in ‘different’ films. Guna (1991), Indian (1996), Anbe Sivam (2003) and Dasavatharam (2008) are my favourite Kamal Haasan films. I remember watching Indian in theaters on the day it was released. I was 10, and couldn’t realise the octogenarian character was also played by him. I thought it was someone else. (Laughs) Kamal Haasan has mostly produced, written, directed and acted in his ventures. Show me one such complete actor who equally aces in the technical departments of filmmaking as well. With every film, he tried to do better. All films of his weren’t a commercial success, but they have stood the test of time. Dasavatharam is a flawed film, but it became the highest grosser at that time. Again, Guna, Anbe Sivam, Hey Ram and Aalavandhan failed at the box-office, but that never stopped him from experimenting with ideas. Kamal Haasan became stronger and wiser with every failure—a lesson to the newbies. One quality I like the most in Kamal Haasan is his honesty. He never plays safely. He is the gutsiest actor in Tamil cinema. He is what he is. I got to work with Kamal Haasan closely when we were shooting for the Pothys advertisement. It was a three-day gig. A guy was moving around with a DSLR camera, doing a ‘making video’. Kamal Haasan started talking to him and started giving inputs with utmost involvement. An actor of his stature need not have done this.
Gautham Ramachandran: Kamal Haasan is like this pinch of salt in my diet. Growing up in Bengaluru, I have had limited access to Tamil films and I think Apoorva Sagodharargal was the only film I had watched in theaters. My parents decided to not take me to the movies because I cried inconsolably when the father character gets killed. I was introduced to good movies because of Kamal Haasan, and I didn’t get to see many films—that’s also because of Kamal Haasan. Well, I stay one block away from Kamal Haasan’s house. Once I spotted him in the balcony and clicked a picture from my place like a creep. (Chuckles) On a serious note, Kamal Haasan is still relevant because he has not stopped giving back to the fraternity—in terms of experiments with roles, displaying technical wizardry, and so on. Show me an actor who would just learn a dance form for a song in a film. He has an eye for detail and is truly an institution of excellence. Kamal Haasan didn’t have formal education but learnt everything from the cinema. He is cinema’s child. My favourite Kamal Haasan films are Moondram Pirai (1982), Pushpaka Vimana (1987), Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu (1980). Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s Pushpaka Vimana, released in Tamil as Pesum Padam and in Hindi as Pushpak, is a brilliant dialogue-free film. Without saying anything, the movie conveys everything. The casting was so perfect that everybody complemented Kamal Haasan’s performance. In Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, Kamal Haasan plays a bitter, angry young man, and he remains the same till the end. This multi-talented guy sticks to his values and ideologies he believes in and takes things in his stride. It is one of the genuine moving characters played by Kamal Haasan so far. Also, I loved the title. I wanted to name my film Avargal but ended up calling it Ritchie. They cautioned had I titled the film Avargal, nobody would watch the film. Anyway, nobody watched Ritchie either! (Laughs) The moment I watch any railway station, I think about Moondram Pirai and the climax portions. Such has been its impact. What a beautiful film it is!
Prem Kumar: Kamal Haasan’s influence on me has been there for a long time. Only after Kaaki Sattai (Kamal plays an aspiring cop in the 1985 film), I started working out and took my fitness regime seriously. Most of his films are a bible for me. In particular, I would say I love Nayagan (1987) and Virumandi. Though there were several controversies, Hey Ram still managed to bag multiple National Awards. Nayagan changed the way people looked at Tamil cinema. Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam combination did some magic and pulled off such a well-made film, which is the only entry from India in the Best 100 films list of Time magazine. Kamal Haasan was just 30 plus when he played the Velu Nayakar character effortlessly. Name any cult classic of Kamal Haasan, it will pull you into filmmaking. As a director, he doesn’t pander to the gallery, and that’s one quality in Kamal Haasan I admire the most. He risks and makes films without any compromise. He views cinema as an art, and that’s amazing.
Sri Ganesh: I am into filmmaking because of Kamal Haasan, and I have connected with his films emotionally—be it Apoorva Sagodharargal or Mahanadhi (1994). His films have never been average material. In particular, I like his choice of films post-Nayagan. I know what it takes to direct, write, produce and act in a film. Having made one film, I feel exhausted already but look at him! Even at 65, he is active and his energy is unmatchable. Say, we come up with a film, we end up romanticising its success. But he always focuses on what lies ahead. Kamal Haasan has given quality films within a limited period. Despite financial losses, he produces content-driven films. He is a complete artiste. Whenever I experience ‘thinking blocks’, I revisit the famous jail scene in Virumandi and my favourite scenes from Mahanadhi. I would have watched it at least 40-50 times. After watching 8 Thottakkal, someone wrote that it reminded him of Mahanadhi, and I was moved. I think I will cherish this compliment forever. I would say I like the ‘writer’ Kamal Haasan because he is fantastic. He is one director who constantly reaches out to writers. Kamal Haasan’s collaborations with Crazy Mohan and several other writers bear testimony to this.
Barath Neelakantan: I like the ‘actor’ Kamal Haasan as much as like the rationalist Kamal Haasan. But I like the ‘technician’ Kamal Haasan more. For example, Mahanadhi was the first film to be edited on AVID, Kurudhipunal was the first film to have Dolby digital sound and Mumbai Express (2005) was the first one to be shot with the RED camera. In Oru Kaidhiyin Diary (1985), he collaborated with Michael Westmore on makeup. In Apoorva Sagodharargal, he played a dwarf. Kamal Haasan was the first average-sized Indian actor to do so. The Singeetam Srinivasa Rao-directorial was made without the use of CG or expensive gadgetry. Kamal Haasan was asked to fold his knees and he hobbled about on them. This combination of an actor having sound technical knowledge in all departments of cinema is a rare thing. Even today, Kamal Haasan remains a star because we know he makes good cinema, even if it means the ones that fall under the ‘commercial’ category.
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