“I have done as many films as Kamal Haasan, but he is more popular,” Charuhasan says jokingly as we settle down for a chat. “I might have won the National Award for Tabarana Kathe in 1986, but I don’t have the patience to watch a film for two-and-a-half hours. In fact, I have not watched one in the past 20 years. After becoming a successful criminal lawyer, somehow, cinema has never been my priority,” smiles Charuhasan, whose Dha Dha 87 got released this month.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Let’s begin with your latest release Dha Dha 87, which was promoted as a spiritual sequel to the Kamal Haasan-starrer Sathya (1988). Why was the film not focused more on your character?
To be honest, I haven’t watched Sathya and I don’t know if I am going to either. I wasn’t keen to do Dha Dha 87, but director Vijay Sri pressurised me saying it is about an aged gangster, it needed me. Please understand that an 87-year-old man, who is going to the grave, isn’t important to the story. I did whatever I could. I was bedridden for a while. I guess it also had a parallel story about two youngsters.
In a career spanning three decades, you have done films in all four southern languages, besides directing Puthiya Sangamam and IPC 512.
When Mahendran offered me Uthiripookkal, I told him I knew nothing about acting. He told that is exactly what he was looking for. (Smiles) I am not a good actor. I know what I am capable of. I was a lawyer, who became an actor by accident, and I am not someone who takes films seriously. But I was fortunate to do some fantastic films including Uthiripookkal, Tabarana Kathe and Kubi Matthu Iyala. I would say I was recognised better in other states as they fetched me good roles. You won’t believe, Mrinal Sen had appreciated my work. Once I remember he met Mani (Ratnam) and enquired about me.
Looking back, do you think you could have done more films?
Not at all. I have zero regrets. I ventured into films at the age of fifty, and won the National Award at 57. You see, good acting and popularity don’t go together mostly. Sivaji Ganesan, according to me, was the best actor in Tamil Nadu, but MG Ramachandran was more successful. On the other hand, Sivaji Ganesan was internationally-known unlike MGR, whose popularity was dominant in Tamil Nadu. Hollywood knew of Sivaji Ganesan. I am not sure if they knew MGR.
You told me you don’t watch films. But what do you think about the cinema made here?
There were times I used to watch two films a day. During the late 40, there weren’t many theaters in Tamil Nadu. But foreign films used to run, and I used to catch those shows. Films were a mere hobby, not an obsession.
Now, everybody follows the same template. You ask a filmmaker why he doesn’t make interesting stuff; he may blame the audience. You ask the audience why they don’t support good films, they may blame the makers. We blame each other and forget to make quality films. Thirty-five years ago, CV Sridhar made Kalyana Parisu, a love-triangle story of two sisters in love with one man, and how one sacrifices the lover for the sister. I challenge if someone can make a path-breaking film like that today. He was a risk taker, who had an incredible fan-following when MGR and Sivaji Ganesan were at the peak of their business. The audience came to theaters to watch films made by a director. And that was quite a rare scenario. Sridhar made all kinds of films—comedy, complicated love stories, breezy love stories, unrequited love—and then came K Balachander. You could say cinema was talkie until Sridhar came into the picture, and changed the medium into a visual experience.
You have been in the industry for a long time. Tell us about one particular aspect that has never ceased to amaze you.
Kalyana Parisu and Veerapandiya Kattabomman were released around the same time—1959. While the Gemini Ganesan-starrer was made on a budget of Rs 1 lakh, Sivaji Ganesan’s film was made on Rs 15 lakh. I became a lawyer when Sivaji Ganesan came to limelight with Parasakthi. I am close to both—Sivaji Ganesan and MGR. In 1954, Sivaji’s remuneration was Rs 2.5 lakh, and MGR’s was about Rs. 75,000. In 1967, when DMK came to power, MGR’s salary went up to Rs 7 lakh, and Sivaji’s remained the same. When MGR did his last film as an actor, his remuneration was Rs 13 lakh. I used to witness how fans were mad about MGR-Sivaji, and I am witnessing the same with Rajinikanth-Kamal Haasan. People still hero-worship. They fight for these guys. And it is ridiculous. MGR and Sivaji were good friends. So are Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. But I don’t understand why their fans fight with each other. When Kamal and Rajini concentrate on politics, people like Charuhasan will act. Nobody can stop it. (Laughs)
So, you are against actors becoming politicians, is it?
No. Actors can be politicians. But they shouldn’t be voted to power, just because they are actors. Unfortunately, that has been the case—right from MGR. If MGR wasn’t an actor, he would not have become the Chief Minister. But thankfully, he was a good human being. He was a man with a golden heart, who always thought about people’s welfare. MGR sacrificed so much in his life for whatever he later became. He need not have suffered, but he did.
What do you think about Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan’s entry into politics?
Kamal Haasan can’t be successful as a politician, and won’t become the Chief Minister. Good intentions alone don’t determine vote banks. Who you are and where you come from—does matter in politics. Though he is a self-proclaimed atheist, he comes from the Brahmin origin. People will identify him as one, and that won’t let him win the elections. There is hatred against Brahmins, which is fairly understandable. Everything boils down to Brahminical patriarchy—all that. Given that caste remains a powerful determinant of status, it is not entirely surprising.
As for Rajinikanth, let him take the big plunge. I am 100% per cent sure he won’t enter politics. He will take his word back soon. I am saying this because I know him well. Kamal and Rajini can be successful actors, but they may have to lose more in future. Cinema is a risk, politics is riskier. During my initial days of legal practice, I was attracted to Periyar, who used to refer to me as his sishyan.
You don’t mince words. Has it ever put you in trouble?
Oh, I can speak anything that I want because I am not going to become the Chief Minister. (Laughs) On a serious note, being honest and truthful has earned me the right people in life. Very few like me, and I am okay with it.
What do you think about women and cinema?
Just because Tamil Nadu had a woman Chief Minister, it doesn’t mean things are better for women. Men still suppress women, and no man will admit to this. My brother Kamal Haasan is married thrice, and nobody questions him for his choices. Let’s say a woman does the same thing—will it be accepted? I don’t think so. I don’t believe in the system of marriage. Well, I didn’t even as a 25-year-old. Still, I couldn’t get out of the system. I ended up in a marriage, but I warned my wife-to-be that she has got a bad husband. (Laughs) Hey, I was wise enough to not marry thrice like Kamal. (Chuckles) Marriage, as a concept, will become irrelevant soon. I am proud to say that my wife is more intelligent than me. She speaks better English and corrects me whenever I am wrong.