I walk into Kamal Haasan’s office on Eldams Road in Alwarpet around 3 pm. It could be Makkal Needhi Maiam’s headquarters for today’s generation, but for movie connoisseurs, it’s the quaint building that fulfilled many a dream. Gates open; I see the party workers brainstorm ideas for their chief’s birthday. One of them mentions the Hey Ram screening and I smile in glee. Even before I was given an invite, I promised I would catch the film. We know the many facets of Kamal Haasan—actor, choreographer, writer, director, singer, producer, lyricist and politician. But do you know his favourite meal? Do you know his routine?
As Ulaganayagan turned a year older, indianexpress.com chats with a bunch of his staff. They tell what they like the most about “thalaivar Kamal Haasan”.
Fathima (Cook): I have never seen Kamal sir yell at others. He is gentle, kind and treats everyone equally. He likes the potato fry and chicken curry I make. What I like about him, in particular, is, when he thinks someone is at fault, he confronts them directly. Kamal sir is a jovial person and also an excellent teacher. Once he taught me how to make fresh juices and omelettes. (Laughs) Whenever he’s around, he makes sure everyone is well-fed. He’s very compassionate and I like the way he treats birds and animals. We had three dogs named—Abirami, Sundari and Omar before. They meant the whole world to Kamal sir. It is his idea to keep water bowls in the office so that birds quench their thirst.
Suresh (Assistant): I like how Kamal sir puts others first. He’s punctual and highly intuitive. Say, I am unwell, he guesses it even before I confess. Kamal sir wakes up at 7.30 am when he’s not shooting for films. Then, he spends an hour at the gym. He likes to have a simple breakfast, and prefers Kerala Matta rice for lunch, along with sambar and non-vegetarian delicacies. He doesn’t like vegetables much. Dosas and coconut chutney are his favourites and he dines every day between 8.30 and 9 pm. Sometimes, he has a scoop of coffee-flavoured ice cream. He’s a fan of mangoes too. He’s not exactly a coffee person. At the same time, he doesn’t mind gulping down an extra cup of coffee when he’s tired. Kamal sir also believes in unplanned power naps (Laughs). He’s a jovial person and appreciates honesty and loyalty. When he’s not occupied with work, he reads and watches English films.
Sugashini Kandasamy (State Secretary, Media): I have never come across a self-made and well-mannered politician like Kamal sir. He not only addresses people by their full names but also uses “Mr”, and “Ms”. Even his messages are drafted with so much respect. It is entirely possible to be informal in attitude and respectful in tone — and that’s what I have learnt. He has a child-like curiosity to learn and brims with energy. I like how Kamal sir is spontaneous. I have never seen him prepare anything, in case of press conferences and meets. He gives 100 per cent commitment to whatever he does and can speak on any given topic for hours. Kamal sir isn’t with us all the time, but he’s aware of everything we do. Avar dhaan ‘Bigg Boss’ aachey! (Laughs)
Sathyamoorthy (State Secretary, Headquarters): He’s a no-nonsense man, and I like that aspect of Kamal Haasan, first and foremost. Even before I joined Makkal Needhi Maiam, his films and ideologies have influenced me; but I never thought I’d end up working for the person I admire the most. To be honest, Tamil Nadu deserves a better leader, and I am confident that no other politician other than Kamal Haasan is suitable to guide the state towards a change they wish to see. I had a very different idea of Kamal Haasan before knowing him. I thought he was not a people’s person. But after getting to know him, I think he is the best. He is neither insecure nor feels threatened by someone else’s accomplishments. He’s far-sighted, and I mean it literally.
At Makkal Needhi Maiam, we follow a ‘centrist’ approach and have a healthy mix of young and old party members. We aim to connect with every voter in Tamil Nadu. Why I think Nammavar makes for a good politician is that he expects transparency in everything. He’s what he’s today because of hard work and sheer determination. He’s a filter-free person and encourages even the tiniest feedback from all of us. He’s one of the leaders who share the same table with party members for lunch.
I’d like to share an incident that happened in our office six months ago. Fifteen farmers had dropped by for some discussion. One of them suddenly had a paralytic attack. As a result, he lost control over his bladder and started peeing. We didn’t know what to do. We were thinking if we should call an ambulance or doctors. But Kamal Haasan, on the other hand, barged in with a bucket of water and a mop, asking one of us to check if we had a bottle of Dettol so that he could clean. That’s how he is pro-active as a person. Kamal sir didn’t expect others to clean but initiated it himself. That day, he displayed some fine quality as a leader. Kamal Haasan can make a difference in Tamil Nadu politics, and I believe it’s about time.
Murali Abbas (Spokesperson, Makkal Needhi Maiam): He displays an unflinching commitment to work—be it cinema or politics. Kamal sir is the first actor to disband fan groups and convert them into welfare associations aka narpani mandrams, and he’s the best alternative to fill the existing political vacuum in Tamil Nadu. He is not comfortably leading a retired life. He is 65. He is touring across the state, interacting with people and analysing what they want and how the party can help them. Through Nammavar’s speeches, anyone can understand that he does not discriminate on the lines of religion and caste, nor favour the rich or the poor.
In Makkal Needhi Maiam, we believe that no high position can be held by someone for a long time. In the party, memberships have been given to those who were a part of the welfare association for more than 30 years. Kamal Haasan isn’t like those unrealistic politicians who thought they would win all 30 seats but finally ended up getting nothing. We have done well and garnered a 3.72% vote share. Tamil Nadu believed in us and voted for us.
Kamal sir very well knows he can’t be an MGR who was once a brand himself. Kamal Haasan wants to be Kamal Haasan, and do things in his way—that’s very difficult because it takes so much to be Kamal Haasan. He’s a straightforward person and a perfectionist. He’s a living example of how a politician should be. He loves visiting schools and colleges and believes politics starts from there. Further, he didn’t start the party to sit in a chair. He wanted to do good to people and thought it can be achieved effectively through politics.
As an actor, he still keeps himself busy. He is shooting for a Shankar film. He knows everything about cinema and never stops learning. Kamal Haasan had spent years observing Sivaji Ganesan, but never imitated him. Even in Thevar Magan, he remained true to his character, and that’s why the film has stood the test of time. People own Kamal Haasan and celebrate him wherever he goes. Then, it was films. Now, it’s politics. Like he often says, tomorrow is ours! (Naalai Namadhey).
Mahalakshmi (Public Relations, State): Everyone has been raving about the politician Kamal Haasan, but I like the actor Kamal Haasan more. Sure, some people aren’t his fans, but they do respect him for the person he is. Kamal Haasan’s talent, calibre, expertise and the proficiency of his craft is undebatable. He can make every character he portrays believable, relatable and unforgettable. Though actor Kamal Haasan is unparalleled, I have always fan-girled over the dancer and the comedian Kamal Haasan. Salangai Oli, Punnagai Mannan, Singaravelan, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Vasool Raja MBBS and Panchathanthiram are some of my all-time favourites—because of the very same reason. One thing that every actor should learn from Kamal sir is the way he sculpts himself into the character. We never see Kamal Haasan on screen. We only see Velu Nayakar, Sathya, Udhayamoorthy, Sappani, Guna, Senapathy, Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri and Nallasivam among others. He is the epitome of excellence and a university of the craft of cinema.