Friday, 22 August 2014

The waiting room of Kamal Haasan’s office in Alwarpet turns out to be the best place for an interview.

The waiting room of Kamal Haasan’s office in Alwarpet turns out to be the best place for an interview. There are a bunch of photos mounted on easels, marking in black and white and sepia the roles that he has essayed over decades. They invite drama into the frame, indicate the stature of the man sitting in front, and they lend the right context and mood to the conversation. Symbolically, celluloid strides in the room, as a righteous presence, listening along with us to Kamal Haasan as he speaks with authority, launches a scathing attack on those who strive to silence cinema.

He is probably Indian cinema’s loudest and most consistent opponent of “post-censor censorship”. “It should be called ‘censorism’,” he suggests with a laugh. “I don’t know why, may be I have not voiced myself well, I have been targeted many times. There was a film called Sandiyar: etymologically, politically, ethnically, they were wrong when they said the name had to be changed. Today, another movie called Sandiyar was recently released.”

“There was an agitation against Mumbai Express: because part of it is an English word. There is no Tamil word for Mumbai Express. I am sure all those who were against it, even they wouldn’t say ‘I love you’ to their lovers in Tamil. Many don’t even thank in Tamil,” he says. Righteous indignation creeps in as he goes on: “It is ridiculous to take a free ride on a vehicle that is available. Somebody has to put a stop to this.”

“If you take Hey Ram, much before its release, a senior politician perceived it as an anti-Gandhi film based on the poster and wanted it stopped. Au contraire, the modus operandi of the film was to mirror the technique of Mark Antony’s funeral oration. It starts with the praise of Brutus, but moves to the defence of Caesar.”

The conversation naturally veers toward, as it must, Vishwaroopam. “I was confident that when they saw it, there wouldn’t be a problem. But, they sort of hyped themselves into a mood of negation… I still stand by the film — it said nothing wrong about Indian Muslims. The only good Muslim is an Indian even if they say that all other Muslims were bad, which I disagree with, in the film.”

He’s on a roll: “I am trying to do my best. If I am wrong, I correct myself. I am right, I stand by it. I don’t regret the fight in Vishwaroopam, I have lost a lot of money. It was a very costly battle, in fact. But I don’t think it should be allowed to happen. We used to think that the Censor Board should be abolished, but seeing how things are going, maybe it should stay on for some more time, until sense prevails.”

Does he think there is any validity for social boycott of films in a liberal democracy? “None. In every religion, there are people who lack sense, and people who are good and rational… Cinema itself is a voice; striving to silence it amounts to fascism. I am attacking everyone who does not allow the arts to flourish,” he replies.

Is all this happening because people are taking cinema too seriously? He doesn’t hesitate for a moment, “No. The politicians are taking cinema too seriously. The people don’t take cinema seriously. As a matter of fact, they have stopped taking even politicians seriously.”

What is the solution: legally and politically empowering the censor board? “The whole system is corrupt. The best way is, to quote a Gujarati gentleman (Mahatma Gandhi), ‘Don’t cry for change. Become the change.’ That’s the only answer.”

But, there is a responsibility for the film maker too. A consummate performer like Kamal is more than aware of that; in fact, he’s clear that as film makers recording conflicts and contentious subjects, “we need to be responsible, have a civic/social sense when we talk through films. It should not be used as a platform for something else.”

- The Hindu