- Kamal Haasan has launched his own party ahead of 2019 elections
- Says no use of being "anti-Modi", picks fights over ideology
- "I'm pro-country and pro-progress," Mr Haasan says
One of the biggest names in Indian cinema with appearances in more than 200 films, Kamal Haasan, whose latest movie releases today, enjoys causing a stir as an actor and now he is looking to shake up politics as well.
The 63-year-old, who has endured battles with censorship, recently formed his own political party and plans to fight for artistic freedoms that he says are being curbed.
Declaring his political ideology as that of a "politi-culturalist", Mr Haasan spoke to NDTV about his political appeal, his "pan-national" approach and his view on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India heads towards 2019 national elections.
The multiple award-winning screen icon, who made his debut aged six over half a century ago, is the latest in a long line of actors from the South hoping to transform their popularity at the box office into votes at the ballot box.
Mr Haasan launched Makkal Needhi Maiam in February, a political party based in Tamil Nadu that translates to "People's Justice Centre".
It will contest polls for the first time in the 2019 when PM Modi will seek a second term.
"Prima facie, PM Modi is a man - that's how I would like to look at him. So, there's no use of being anti-Modi. I want to be anti-ideology or pro-ideology. Be it Mr [Rahul] Gandhi, Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth. We can't play personality cult; people should also stop doing that. I'm not pro-Modi, I'm not anti-Modi, I'm pro-country and pro-progress," Mr Haasan said.
However, he said the contemporary national focus should change from eliminating one political party or the other. "They (other parties) are talking about a country without that party, a country without this party. Our first priority should be a country without poverty. That should be the enemy, not an opposition party," he said.
His venture into politics came after another Tamil cinema icon, Rajinikanth, also floated the idea of forming his own party.
Both are looking to follow in the footsteps of J Jayalalithaa and her mentor MG Ramachandran, who was also a famous actor before becoming Tamil Nadu chief minister.
Asked about what he thinks sets him apart from his peers, Mr Haasan said, "Progress is what I want to offer. Progress is what I want for my state and progress is what has been impeded by self-serving politicians."
On whether he was open to alliances especially with those who have criticized him in the past, he said, "It is very important; the baggage they carry, people will remember it. It is very important that we go towards a new era. Due diligence will have to be done by the people."
But will this appeal work in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country? "I don't think Dravidian rights can be held with just three or four parties. I truly believe that Dravidian is pan-national," Mr Haasan told NDTV.
His latest movie, the action spy thriller "Vishwaroop 2" (titled "Vishwaroopam 2" in Tamil and meaning "The Magnificent Incarnation 2"), hits screens across India on Friday.
It is the sequel to 2013's "Vishwaroopam", which was controversially banned by the Tamil Nadu government despite being cleared for release by the censor board.
The AIADMK government of J Jayalalithaa, herself a former prominent actor, blocked the movie's release on law and order grounds after Muslim groups claimed it could disturb communal harmony.
Only after Mr Haasan threatened to leave the state and agreed to mute five scenes was the film released, two weeks late.
It cost the actor, who also wrote and directed the movie, around Rs 60 crore.
Talking about his clashes with Ms Jayalalithaa, he said, "However big the empress, you can talk and you must talk earnestly... In this case I did not fight because of my ego, I fought for my rights and justice prevailed."
(With inputs from AFP)