Controversies, progressive themes or ‘cop out’? What makes Kamal Haasan the greatest artiste of our times

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November 9, 2014

New Delhi: It was the year 1990, when this writer first saw critically-acclaimed actor Kamal Haasan on the big screen. It was in a crowded theatre in Maharashtra, this 4-year-old had watched 'Appu Raja' with her parents.

November 9, 2014

New Delhi: It was the year 1990, when this writer first saw critically-acclaimed actor Kamal Haasan on the big screen. It was in a crowded theatre in Maharashtra, this 4-year-old had watched 'Appu Raja' with her parents.

When the six-year-old Kamal Haasan first appeared on screen singing "Ammavum Neeye Appavum Neeye…", the Kollywood of 1960 could not have realised that it was witnessing the rise of one of its greatest superstars to date. Kamal is now synonymous with innovativeness, and is known for being a habitual experimenter in both reel and real life. The "Ulaga Nayagan", who turns 60 today.

I don't remember a lot, nor did I understand much of that film; only the awe that I felt when I realised during the post-film discussion that the dwarf as well as the tall, good-looking man in the film were played by one and the same person — Kamal Haasan.

"But how, Mom," I remember asking. "Where are his legs? How is he wearing his shoes," I persisted.

My mother, a die-hard movies fan, gave me a detailed explanation of how he had folded his legs for the film, how he wore wider pants, how he had worn shoes on his knees.

That day at home, I knelt in front of our Godrej cupboard's mirror and tried to walk on my knees. Five minutes of bumping around resulted in two things — the knowledge that I get bruised easily, and the fact that Kamal Haasan was a great… something. I hadn't quite grasped the idea of acting and cinema at the tender age of four.

Throughout the 90s and the 00s, I grew up reading about the several controversies, headlines and gossip bits that had become synonymous with his name. From the choice of his films, to the women in his life, the papers had a great time following his colourful life.

Recently, we were surprised to read a comment made by Haasan regarding the death of critically-acclaimed Hollywood actor Robin Williams. In a statement released by IANS, Haasan had said, "If the alleged story about his (Williams') suicide is true then I dislike him for ending his life before his due date of expiry. That's a cop-out that I don't expect of an artist of his calibre. Same applies to my Indian idol Guru Dutt."

Headlines and sensationalism aside, one thing nobody challenged. That Haasan is one of the finest actors of our time.

Be it the guileless, charming boy next door in 'Ek Duje Ke Liye' (I remember my mother telling me that a there was an alarming increase in the rate of couples suicide after the film released) to the hilarious, motorcycle-riding old woman in 'Chachi 420', the actor has achieved the perfect combination of critics' admiration and mass adoration that is rarely attained.

Who didn't cry during that 'Hindustani' scene when 'old' Haasan is trying to get his daughter admitted to a hospital? I'm sure we all felt the upright old man's pain at being asked for a bribe every turn of the way, even for the most basic, human things.

(Sidenote: I still don't understand what the lyrics of the song 'Telephone dhunn mein hassne waali' are all about. And it is such a pretty composition, otherwise!)

Remember his brilliant performance in the dark, silent comedy 'Pushpaka Vimana'? My father and I had tears in our eyes laughing as he gift-wrapped the kidnapped guy's shit and "accidentally forgot" it on a bus stop.

Be it patriotism, love, comedy, Indian art forms, familial bonds and even terrorism, Haasan has dabbled in almost all genres possible. That is why, on his 60th birthday, we take the opportunity to tell him: We don't care how many controversies you court or escape. Nothing can make us question your talent, dedication and finesse as a brilliant actor and a filmmaker.


Courtesy: IBN