Kamal Haasan: My pleasure
Sonia Singh: 50 years in the film industry when you are 55. I just want to take you to your first movie. (Clip plays from his movie <I>Kalathur Kannamma</I>). Your dialogue delivery packed quite a punch even at that time. Do you remember that at all? How old were you?
Kamal Haasan: I was 3 or 4 when I went into the studio. And the film took a lot of time and there was a change of director as well. So I got to do scenes twice. I think I was in a theme part and this was the boring part. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and don't remember the worst part at all.
Sonia Singh: So it was all fun. There was quite a hiatus but after that initial film, at 3-and-a-half or 4, your career took off a little later at 18 and not as a hero.
Kamal Haasan: Yes, but in the meanwhile I did 5 or 6 other films. So I was active till about 7, then there was a retirement. Early retirement I should say.
Sonia Singh: Right. And we have got a call, our first caller from Delhi. He is Raj Singh from Delhi. Mr. Singh, you can ask your question to Mr. Hassan.
Phone caller: Raj Singh: "Sir, my question to you is what inspired you to be a movie director and an actor? Did it come to you naturally, was it really meant to be or do you think it was something that inspired you? And my other question to you is that do you really wish to join politics in future?
Kamal Haasan: Oh yes, like every other Indian I am a politician but I am not that good an actor. That is an old line but that is the only true line. About why I became an actor, I really don't know. I didn't plan anything. I sort of just went to the floor. What I enjoyed most was entertaining people, being entertained and probably giving back what I received. When I act, I am giving back to Shivaji Ganesan what I received from him. He may not be around, but it's sort of a continuous circle but not vicious.
Sonia Singh: But in Tamil Nadu, especially, it seems like a natural transition that a super star like yourself will take the next step that is politics. Why hasn't it happened with you? You must have something that you are looking ahead to.
Kamal Haasan: Well, you can say that there are two ways to explain it. One is that I am not qualified. The second explanation would be probably I am more sensible.
Sonia Singh: Well, we have got another caller from Chennai. Let's just go across and have a look.
Video caller- Kanimozhi Karunanidhi: In the sixties, we had political ideologies propagated through films. Do you think that kind of a situation will come again?
Sonia Singh: You said you are not qualified, but there we have a lady, daughter of M Karunanidhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, asking about the link between Tamil cinema and politics which has been integral.
Kamal Haasan: Yes, she is right. And that is why I said that I am political but I am not a politician. I have very strong views. I have a rational approach to life and it is reflected in my films. My politics is probably more subcutis. It is not propagandist. She was right. It's happening more and more in Tamil cinema. My next film in Tamil has a lot of what she is talking about. But it is not propagandist. It doesn't take sides.
Sonia Singh: So your films are political but you are not a politician. Let me just go across to somebody who also wants to ask a question, someone who is a political commentator. A well-known film critic Cho Ramaswamy joins us from Chennai.
Sonia Singh: Mr. Cho Ramaswamy, Kamal wants to hear your question.
Cho Ramaswamy: First congratulations on these 50 wonderful years that you have contributed to Tamil cinema. It's a great thing. I don't think any other actor has played the different kinds of roles which you have. The amazing versatility which simply cannot be matched. Coming to the specific question, you are now saying that you are not qualified to become a politician. Is there any qualification for you to become a politician? That is perhaps one thing in India which doesn't require any qualification. Is it because you have too many qualifications that you are not entering politics?
Kamal Haasan: OK, just the moment that I said I am political, there I have Mr. Cho Ramaswamy. I smiled because I am a great fan of his and some of my politics and equipoise that people like me maintain comes from the kind of stand that he boldly took many times. I have seen him since my childhood. I am a fan and he likes people getting into trouble as you saw (laughing).
Sonia Singh: So you don't want to answer the question?
Kamal Haasan: Absolutely, I am already becoming political.
Cho Ramaswamy: Kamal, the way you are answering my question shows that you are completely qualified to become a politician because you have not given me any answer and have talked for five minutes.
Kamal Haasan: Let me borrow some boldness from Mr. Cho and say yes, probably I am qualified and that is why I am not qualified. You already gave the answer. Thanks for leaking the question paper.
Kamal Haasan: Thank you, thank you, sir.
Sonia Singh: You are asked so many times by your fans about joining politics. Other film stars like Rajnikanth have been asked because of the vacuum that is seen in the current politics, Tamil Nadu politics as well. Do you see that?
Kamal Haasan: Yes, but I used to be very angry about it and I gave an answer, seems not too inappropriate. I said there was a time when all Indians, most Indians got into politics, unless they were in civil service or working for the British. The rest of them got into politics. There might be a time when everybody will have to get into it, that would be the time when I would also publicly come out and actively be in it. But that time we'll all have guns. I hope it doesn't happen. I hope you don't need me in politics. Because when I do come, it will be because we are very very angry.
Sonia Singh: So, the politicians should do their job to avoid Kamal Haasan in politics. But I mentioned Rajnikanth. So that too, of course, from your profession, acting, and it has been a long long time since we saw you and Rajni in a movie together. I just want to play a clip. (A clip of them together in a movie is played out)
Sonia Singh: Well, I can't comment on who is the better dancer, but let us know about your relationship with Rajnikanth. It's hard for two superstars to be friends but what is the relationship like between you two?
Kamal Haasan: It was not hard at all, I think. I don't know whom to give credit to, but I think it was not hard at all. We still are friends but we are very clear about it. We have drawn our lines and that's not a battleline at all. It's a professional line and it was decided by both of us. We realised that one remuneration was split into two when we acted in films and we both were worthy of a full payment. It was actually a labour struggle. So we decided to go our ways. And that was the only reason, there was no ego problem at all. We have a healthy respect for each other and our tracks run different, different fields actually. We don't even think of each other as competitors but co-travellers with different destinations.
Kamal Haasan: I remember that we used to go around not painting the town red but actually went around Singapore and we had early morning calls and our boss was a very strict man and we would be sleepless. And I remember that we used to lean on each other and sleep while the director was not watching. So, that's how we grew up. We were from the same institution, same mentor, yeah.
Sonia Singh: Well, we take a quick break now. Of course when we come back, we'll discuss the movie which made Kamal Haasan a national name, and more of this, after a short break.
Sonia Singh: Welcome back and you are watching 'Your Call'. The one show on television where you're in the questioner's seat. You can just log onto ndtv.com. You can call on this number on your screen. You can send your question via webcam and ask your question directly to the personality of the week and tonight, of course, is the Indian star Kamal Haasan. And let's go onto our first question coming via webcam from Pune. Let's go on to the question.
Web cam question from Gopan Krishnan, Pune: Hi Kamal. Without doubt, I reckon, you will always be in my opinion the most versatile and finest actor , about the greatest in Indian cinema. But do you reckon that your mass appeal country-wide would have been far greater and impactful if you had been more advertised and had better and stronger command of the Hindi language?
Sonia Singh: The Hindi language... I just want to look up some clips from that Hindi movie, <I>Ek Duje Ke Liye</I>, because in so many ways you have become known to the Hindi film audience through that.
Sonia Singh: This has been talked about not just in regards to you. But there is a feeling that there is a bias in Mumbai that while South Indian heroines have done extremely well and reached Number 1 posts, somehow the same hasn't happened with the South Indian heroes
Kamal Haasan: You can't say that because they have not shut me off. The fact is that one has to live there and pursue. It's not that I have had less failures, less obstacles in the industry where I have flourished now. The reason has been that I consistently have been trying. I have had my share of failures too, but you will have to keep trying. I stopped trying when there was a lot of underworld involvement in Bombay. I thought I was safer in Madras.
Sonia Singh: Did you feel underworld threats?
Kamal Haasan: Before. I am quick on the take when it comes to that, and I was quick on the draw so I withdrew.
Sonia Singh: Right!
Kamal Haasan: I have the choice. Like 'Hey Ram' was something I did on my terms. They allowed me to do it and then now I've a script ready. So if you are talking about longevity, they have been very kind to me. I have been there from when I was 26-years-old.
Sonia Singh: Great! Well, someone, of course, has made a choice in Bollywood. Your daughter Shruti . And well, she has got a surprise question for you. She is online with us right now from Pondicherry. Shruti, thank you so much for joining us and go ahead with your question to your dad.
Shruti: Hi Bapu! how are you doing?
Kamal Haasan: Hi!
Shruti: And because I am your daughter, I can be annoying. I am going to ask you how do you say "Thank God, I am a rationalist."
Kamal Haasan: Ya, that's to please you baby, because I've to accept your god as well.
Sonia Singh: You haven't made your children rationalists?
Kamal Haasan: No, I haven't tried. I wish I had but doesn't matter, now it's too late.
Shruti: We all have our own God, that was my question for you, because I heard you say that, "Thank God, I am a rationalist".
Kamal Haasan: Well, that's not my line. That's from another great filmmaker who said that. He said, "Thank god! I am an athiest." He is a friend and mentor, Mr. John Clotharia.
Sonia Singh: Shruti, Hi this is Sonia from Delhi studio. I just wanted to ask what is it like making a movie with the huge legacy you bear and what did you find most awkward when your Dad was watching your movie? Were you scared that he is going to be your worst critique or biggest fan?
Shruti: No, no. I don't think it's about those, really those clichés with us. I know my father loves me and I know that if I am going to slip and fall, you know, sometimes he will probably let me do that and sometimes his hand will be there before I get to the ground and that's really what it is about. I feel that I have a lot to learn from his career and not as his daughter but as an artist. And he has always been there for me and I hope that continues because I have learnt a lot and that's what I intend to do. It's not about being the biggest fan or the biggest critique at all.
Sonia Singh: Right, I think that's the nicest thing a daughter can say to her father.
Kamal Haasan: (to Shruti) Did you rehearse well?
Sonia Singh: She couldn't have because I just asked her that question. No, but I think it's wonderful. Because a daughter can say that to her father, it's a great tribute to how you have brought her up.
Kamal Haasan: She has been great and it's not like we are patting each other's back. And she has come up with flying colours taking into consideration that she didn't have a very normal childhood. But I tried my level best and she has got the level.
Sonia Singh: You have always lived life on your own terms and you have had a controversial view, not just on religion but marriage as well. Yet, you have been married twice.
Kamal Haasan: Yes, I always said, like she said, why you did you say, "Thank god! I am an atheist!" That's because I love people and I do most things to please the people I love, including silly things like marriage. But that's the only way they would have accepted a relationship. That's a compromise. And the reason I am not in politics is because it's an art of compromise. I can compromise, but not that much. But there are compromises. Yes, whenever I married, it was for a compromise and to get the person to be with me. It was a price I was willing to pay, but sometimes it's a little too much and I can't afford it.
Sonia Singh: You want to be true to yourself. The bit you said also about the fact that your children, Shruti at least, is a remarkably well-rounded and beautiful young woman. You mentioned about not a normal childhood. And one major thing, and it was scandalous at that time, was that both your children were born before you got married.
Kamal Haasan: That's right and that's what it is.
Sonia Singh: So, you decided to go ahead and get married?
Kamal Haasan: Yes! Because later on, even taking a hotel room was difficult. They wanted to know who the other person is. If you say 'that's the mother of my children', that's not good enough. So you had to say...
Sonia Singh: My wife?
Kamal Haasan: She is my Mrs. and I wanted to know what that 'Mrs' meant? It meant mistress. So, it's sort of a funny circle. I have been asking questions like they keep fighting and saying that's the oldest institution and how could you say it's failing just because yours failed. I think it is failing and it is not the oldest institutions and it's not the strongest holding institutions. The strongest holding institution is the family. You saw that between me and Shruti. That is family. That need not be clarified by something called marriage.
Sonia Singh: But how would you answer the accusation that perhaps it was unfair to the woman in your life, both to your ex-wife Vani and Sarika, who now, in fact, is not in touch with her children anymore?
Kamal Haasan: That's their decision. I mean only one has children, the other doesn't. So it's her decision not to be in touch, probably, with the children. I have an equipoise position. Equipoise on that and they don't want to be with her. I would facilitate that, but this is the way they want it to be and that's how it's going to be. I think they are persons now, they are not children. It's wrong to address..
Sonia Singh: They are adults.
Kamal Haasan: It's my point of view to call them children, but ask them from their point of view. They are adults, they can vote. Both of them. They can run the fate of the country, why not their own?
Sonia Singh: Religion. Now that again is something which, especially, in these times we seem to be becoming more and more rigid about as we go ahead. Not the other way round. It's controversial to have your views on religion. Why do you think it doesn't work?
Kamal Haasan: For me it doesn't work. If you had been at the time of Jesus Christ, you'd be called an atheist, a zealot. The way he spoke, he spoke against the religion, at least to the one he belonged to at that time. It took till 1967 for the Vatican to accept that Mr Christ was a Jew.
Sonia Singh: Yes, of course! And now we have new age zealot.
Kamal Haasan: We have the Gospel according to the Buddhist now and we have many contradictory things about mythology. We confuse our mythology with our history. That's our problem. And we teach our children that. I have a strong view and I am very happy to be in India and not elsewhere where this won't be allowed. Am grateful to the nation. If at all, I would like to bow before any powers, it would be my democratic government.
Sonia Singh: We have a web question for you all the way from Atlanta.
Video caller Harshad Methrath, Atlanta: Hi , you are a nationalist. I was just wondering when are you going to make a bold statement like you made in David Mugan or Virumandi, where you made people realise and feel very guilty about the violence they instilled in society. So, I was just wondering when are you going to make your next movie that is as bold as Virumandi. Thank you, that's my question.
Sonia Singh: Boldness is something that is associated with Kamal Haasan. From Atlanta. Your fans are all over the world.
Kamal Haasan : I am glad he asked that from Atlanta, You have to be far remote to understand or to misunderstand the difficulty that one has. People accused me of my films being violent. I am only a reflector. I am not infusing violence into my society. In fact, on the contrary, society infuses all the violence into me, slowly but steadily. My films' violence does not decorate or glorify. It makes you thrill and it serves the purpose only that way and I am not allowed to do it. It cramps my style a lot. And about various activists who now come into movies about animals... you go to Rajasthan. You will see camels carrying tons which only trucks can afford to carry. People don't do anything about that and also everybody consumes chicken.
Sonia Singh: I have got a question from Chennai. Someone I think you know.
Video caller: Khushboo Actor: First and foremost, my heartiest and warmest congratulations to Padmashree Kamal Haasan on his 50 years in cinema. Sir, I am supposed to ask you one question, but knowing you, I can't stop with one. So there are two questions which are aimed at you. First, what makes Kamal Haasan different from others? Secondly, my next question is, if you were a burglar, what would you like to steal and why?
Kamal Haasan: What I will steal is time, if I can. But that is one thing you can't burgle. But what makes me different is my family, my parents. They are very different people and my friends and the people I have. They are all very different people. I pick the best of them and hopefully, try to eschew them the bad past. I think that is what makes me different.
Sonia Singh: Mr. Kamal Hassan, you have taken stance a through your life and through your films, not many know. We had Khushboo on asking you questions. We remember the controversy when the self-styled moral police took her on for her comments on the issue of pre-marital sex. You had the same controversy way back for a kiss you did on screen, when MJR said it's against Tamil culture and you are offending it. Tell us about that controversy?
Kamal Haasan: Fortunately, he was not very vehement or angry about it. He knew me since childhood. He thought it's a child erring. But I was an adult and it was an adult case. What I am trying to say is, all this moral policing confuses people like me who have heard of Vatsayana and seen Konark, all the sculptures. I think, we are a sexually aware nation much before the rest of the world. Probably China could be an exception. But then, I don't know what happened. We picked up a lot of bad habits from people who came in and gave us newer cultures. And then we evolved into a confused new culture and we have more confused policing from it. Let me not go into a broader spectrum which is not actually my field. Let me talk about my film industry, look at the censors, and we have Adults-only certificate but we only give them adult-rated stuff.
Sonia Singh: But we have come a long way from the flower before a kiss?
Kamal Haasan: Yes. I mean, how do you think we manage a billion? I mean don't tell me it's a stork. I think we have grown up. Adults should see movies akin to what amuses them. What I would like to remind late Mr. Goldie Anand's statement for which he was removed from office. He said, "Let there be a Triple X cinema where people go to movies just for the stuff which is the excuse for businessmen, politicians and that's why we put it in the film. Otherwise, we respect the culture. Let them go to a separate theatre and no, please do not confuse it with the red-light area; I'm not talking about that." What Mr. Goldie Anand was trying to say, a filmmaker and a sensible one at that, was that the rest of the cinema will not be adult-rated with this kind of stuff. That's what he was trying to say. He was trying to clean up the act, literally. And he was cleaned out from office.
Sonia Singh: Thank you very much, Sir, for joining us tonight . It was a pleasure to have you.
Kamal Hasaan: Thank You.