Actor Kamal Haasan’s new film Papanasam has opened to positive applause from critics and audiences. With director Jeethu Joseph giving a new sheen to the remake of the Malayalam film Drishyam, it also marks Kamal playing a ‘very common man’ with none of the fuss or burden of stardom.
But then, Kamal has of late never been using the so-called ‘stardom’ for box office success, instead focusing on writing and acting in movies that challenge him as an actor and give him the satisfaction of impactful story-telling. His films therefore do not come with the ‘art versus commercial’ tag but are rather perceived and received for touching a chord with audiences.
Papanasam follows the success of Uttama Villain, a film written by him and remains close to his heart, and Kamal is readying for his third film this year, Thoongavanam, also being made in Telugu. This year is one his busiest in recent times; the last time he had three releases a year was in 1994 when he did as diverse a repertoire as Mahanadhi, Magalir Mattum and Nammavar.
In many ways, there is a continuity and evolution some 21 years later when Papanasam talks of an equally disturbing theme as inMahanadhi, where he played a villager fighting child-trafficking.
Over then to Kamal Haasan about his new film:
In the past few years, you have been focused on doing ‘original’ films, written or directed by you. Why then did you choose to do a remake?
In my career, I have done several remakes, some of blockbuster films such as Munnabhai MBBS (made in Tamil as Vasool Raja MBBS)or of relatively less-known films such as Govind Nihalani’s Drohkal (Kuruthipunal). If I was not convinced of Papanasam, I would not have accepted the movie.
With Papanasam, it is also a sort of return to ‘Malayalam,’ if you may, working with several actors and technicians from Kerala…
I have never seen Kerala as another state or people to whom I have to ‘return.’ Across my body of work, I have been associated with a number of technicians and actors from the state. I do not make any deliberate choices about these things; it is the talent that matters.
There is obviously the big aspect of your role in Papanasam being compared with Mohanlal’s in Drishyam…
In classical music, different musicians sing the same keerthanas; what you look for is not how one performs over the others; it is how each musician interprets the song. That is how I see it. Every actor brings to a role his or her character and individuality.
Are you more relaxed now compared to when you were preparing for the release of Uttama Villain? You sounded rather tense then…
(Laughs out) Not at all. I was running a fever then. I am equally at ease now as when I was promoting Uttama Villain. I have outgrown the era of stage fright (before the release of films).
But there is a difference. Unlike any of your recent films, Papanasam has not raised any controversy so far other than a minor one about you not wearing helmet while riding a bike. Does that surp
Now that Uttama Villain has been released, tell me, what were all those controversies about? It all just shows the absurdity of the people who use films as a free platform to hang their ware. It is so silly. In fact, there were controversies even when Vasool Raja released. But tell me, how many doctors use their profession to serve the people without consideration of money? What is wrong in pointing out a social wrong? It was the same scenario with Dashavatharam when some people started a whole smear campaign without understanding what we were saying and even without seeing the film.
How do you react to that controversy about you not using helmets?
Cinema is a slice of life but that does not mean you copy everything you see in films. I believe that people understand how films are made; there are at least ten people to make sure that I do not suffer an injury when I am doing a scene that involves any risk – even if it is riding a bike without a helmet.
Drishyam, however, generated a major stir after its release with almost every crime committed in the state being attributed to the film and about how it has helped criminals in their ‘planning.’ Do you see a similar backlash now to Papanasam?
Cinema is often a mirror that brings out the ugliness of the society. You cannot blame your reflection because that is what you are.
I think it is absurd to put any form of art – be it cinema or literature – in the dock for social evils. If so, take our epics with stories of mass murders and bride burning. Are you going to blame the epics? Are you going to say, they are to be blamed for what then happens in the society? Are you going to copy that?
Let us set aside the epics. Which film was the reason we had Hitler? Which film was the reason we had Genghis Khan build pyramids with skulls and play Lego with human bodies? All these controversies, I repeat, are by people who want to take a free ride to popularity and films give them a very strong popular platform to do so.
Almost 20 years ago, you did Mahanadhi, a film in which you played a villager – almost similar to Papanasam – and spoke of the very disturbing issue of child-trafficking. Papanasam has a similar milieu…
The similarity end with the milieu of the villager… everything else is different. Papanasam is about a modus operandi. This also takes us back to the earlier question of films versus life.
Such films, even for example Indian, embody the pedestrian dream; there might be anger and fury within people against the system but no one goes out and takes revenge simply after watching a film.
You have had a busy year and you have three releases this year. What can we expect of your next film, Thoongavanam?
It is going to be a racy thriller that will give you an adrenaline-high.
And lastly, now that the controversy surrounding Uttama Villain is done and dusted, do you agree to the observation that the film is autobiographical? After all, you have gone on record stating how much you dislike biographies and you will never write one…
Uttama Villain is not at all autobiographical; it is the lives of actors, several of them. You cannot differentiate or attribute the film to one actor.