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November 8, 2000


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Kamal, as we know him

Kamal Hasan was 47 on Tuesday. Rajitha Kumar compiles a quick check list for every year of the star's life.

1. Kamal Hasan was born in Paramakudi, Ramanathapuram district, Madurai. His father Srinivasan was a successful advocate, who was close to the then raja of Ramanathapuram. His mother Rajalakshmi was your typical housewife, a cultured lady who was only too ready to support the young Kamal in his artistic dreams and desires. Kamal in turn was very attached to his mother, and indeed to the womenfolk in his family.

2. Kamal debuted as a child star in Kalathur Kannamma when he was five years old. Gemini Ganeshan and Savitri were the lead stars in the movie.

3. As a child star, Kamal acted with the two celluloid icons of the time, Sivaji Ganeshan in Paarthaal Pasi Therum and with M G Ramachandran in Ananda Jyoti.

4. Even as a child, Kamal was an independent thinker. As he himself says, 'My father tried to sell religion to me, but I refused to the buy the religion of my father'.

5. Kamal speaks the Madurai brand of Tamil with total ease, and has a strong affinity for people from that region -- such as Vairamuthu, Bharatiraja and Ilaiyaraja to name just three from the upper echelons of the movie industry.

6. Kamal never really set out to become an actor. His dream was to direct, and he started off as assistant with dance master Thankappan. He began his stint with Thankappan in Annai Velankanni, in which he also went on to appear, in a miniscule cameo, as Jesus Christ (watch for him in the scenes where Jesus carries the cross to Calvary). It is Kamal that you see in the song Deiva Mainthan Pogindraan, which details the Stations of the Cross. At the time, Kamal was in his late teens.

7. At an early age, Kamal got involved with the Malayalam industry, and in time learnt to speak all the dialects of Malayalam with ease. He in fact can speak, read and write all four South Indian languages -- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam besides Hindi, English, and Marathi, the last named thanks to wife Sarika.

8. Kamal is an ardent fan of off-beat cinema, and his favourite movie of all time is Bicycle Thief by Vittorio DeSica. He rarely misses film festivals, and his favourite Hindi films are Mughal e Azam and Sholay.

9. His favourite music director, in Hindi, is Naushad. 'He is a wonder, a gem', Kamal says of the composer.

10. Kamal, while still young, formally learnt Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. A S Prakasham first introduced him as a singer, with Netaji as his lyricist. His first song was Gnayar Oli Mazhayil.

11. Kamal studied at the MCT Muthiah Chetty School in Purasawakkam. However, he hated going to school, and had no academic ambitions.

12. Kamal is a poet in his own right, penning free verse -- Pudhukavithai. He plans to release a compilation of his poems soon, and Vairamuthu has been asked to select from the Kamal oeuvre. Author Sujata is likely to write the foreword.

13. Kamal's favourite Tamil novels are T Janakiraman's Amma Vandhaal and Marapasu.

14. Kamal is into Siddha literature, and is thoroughly familiar with the biographies of 18 Siddhas, in particular that of Siva Vaakkiyar.

15. Kamal and Vairamuthu are close friends. Both of them have a fetish for being 'young', and they constantly exchange jocular notes on their respective ageing process.

16. Kamal knows to compose music, editing and cinematography, but believes he should not interfere with these departments, even when he himself is directing a film.

17. Kamal underwent a crash course in direction, in Hollywood, and attends workshops whenever he can. He also learnt the art of make-up, while working on the Shankar movie, Indian, which won him a national award.

18. Himself an accomplished dancer, Kamal names Prabhu Deva as his own special favourite. In fact, when asked to name a dancer before Prabhu Deva's era, Kamal flat out said that there is none in the annals of Indian cinema who ranks with Prabhu Deva. "None can equal him," says Kamal, who has in fact shared the lead role with the loose limbed Prabhu Deva in the film, Kaadhala Kaadhala, which includes the dance sequence Kaasmela Kaas Vandhu wherein the two dance together.

19. Kamal rates Charlie Chaplin a major influence, and he in fact paid tribute to the comic genius when he played the role of Chaplin Chellappa; in Punnagia Mannan. Years ago, Chaplin had in fact participated in a Chaplin lookalike contest and came seventh! Asked how he himself would have fared, had he contested, Kamal without a blink, says "Eighth!".

20. When it comes to acting, Kamal rates Sivaji Ganeshan head and shoulders above the rest, and at every opportunity acknowledges the senior star's influence on his acting. Kamal says no Tamil actor is free of Sivaji's influence. So great is his respect and admiration for Sivaji, that once, at a function where Sivaji and his son Prabhu were both present, Kamal addressed Sivaji as 'Appa', 'father'.

21. Kamal turned producer for the first time with Raja Paarvai, director for the first time with Chachi 420.

22. Kamal has edited a Tamil magazine named Mayyam,, in which he has frankly aired out his sometimes revolutionary views on society and religion.

23. Kamal always names Ananthu as his friend, philosopher and guide, and derives his theory of cinema from him.

24. Kamal's favourite art genre is folk -- songs, stories, dances.

25. Though a self-proclaimed nationalist, he has a penchant for working with foreign talent when it comes to movie-making. The latest example is special effects and computer graphics whiz, Grant Page, for the under-production Aaalvandhaan (Abhay, in Hindi).

26. Kamal still hopes to revive Marudhanayagam, his magnum opus. The mega-budget historical romance remains his pet dream, it will be recalled that he had invited no less than Queen Elizabeth for its launch, before the project got stuck for lack of funds.

27. Kamal is an avowed atheist, and believes in the philosophy of E V 'Periyar' Ramaswamy. Some day, he hopes to do a film on Periyar, with, of course, himself in the lead role.

28. Kamal and Mouli acted together in Nizhal Nijamaagirudhu. Many years down the line, the two will get together again with Mouli directing a movie featuring Kamal in the lead role.

29. In these days of shirtless heroes, it is interesting that Kamal was the first full-fledged hero to take off his shirt -- in the film Arangetram, which was in fact his first 'adult' role after his years as a child star. Some might quibble that Manavan was his first adult role, but Kamal only had a fleeting appearance in that film, and that was while he was still in his teens. In Arangetram, director K Balachander had to establish that Premila was from a Brahmin family, and to do that he had to show Kamal wearing the sacred thread -- and so, no shirt for Kamal.

30. Kamal made his debut as a playback singer with Gnayar Oli Mazhaiyil in Andharangam. In Avvai Shanmughi, he sang the 'female voice' for the song Rukku Rukku.

31. Kamal's lip to lip kisses are the stuff of Tamil film legend. In the otherwise 'chaste' industry, Kamal has a fetish for such deep kisses. This dates back to the French actress who plays his wife in Sattam En Kaiyil. This was during the lifetime of M G Ramachandran, and the matinee idol turned politician at the time opposed the kiss, on the grounds that it was against Tamil culture and demanded that the scene be removed. Unfazed, Kamal has kisses pretty much every actress he has starred with.

32. Kamal has acted in the four main South Indian languages, plus Hindi, plus, wait for this, Bengali -- this last, in the Bengali remake of Aval Oru Thodar Kadhai.

33. Kamal has this penchant for learning the various arts he portrays in films. Thus, for Apoorva Raagangal, he learnt the mridangam. For his role in Aval Oru Thodar Kadhai, he learnt mimicry and for Avargal, he learnt ventriloquism. As late as Thevar Magan (remade in Hindi by Priyadarshan as Virasat), he learnt the Tamil martial arts form, Silambam.

34. Kamal is a keen observer of all that goes on around him. Years ago, on the sets of Swathi Muthyam, shot on the Andhra coastline, a body was washed ashore. There was a a commotion, and Kamal went over to see what it was all about. He then used the incident in his Magalir Mattum, the ladies-only film in which the scene is duplicated.

35. Among Kamal's own productions, Satyaraj has played hero in Kadamai Kannyam Kattupadu, which is remake of the Malayalam film Aavanazhi and which was directed by Santhana Bharati. Satyaraj's debut was Sattam En Kaiyil, where Kamal was hero, and that is where their association began.

36. Kamal's penchant for experimentation was chiefly responsible for Singeetam Srinivasa Rao making Pushpak, the silent movie made in the talkie era.

37. Kamal revers Mahatma Gandhi, and admires his thoughts. This admiration found celluloid expression in Hey Ram, where a young man discovers Gandhi's ideals just at a time when he is plotting to assassinate him. Technically speaking, meanwhile, this should rank as his directorial debut -- Chachi 420 saw him step into the director's slot only after Shantanu Sheorey walked out, and Marudhanayagam, which he is directing, is a long way away from the marquee. Meanwhile, to revert to the thought processes of the star, he also admires the tenets of Marxism, and has had long discussions on the subject with Utpal Dutt, among others.

38. Kamal was deeply upset when he heard about the abduction of Rajakumar, the Kannada matinee idol, by Veerappan. After hours of gloom, he approached Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to discuss the fallout and to warn of his fears that there could be anti-Tamil riots in Bangalore.

39. Kamal is a non-smoker and teetotaller, but loves non vegetarian food, chicken being his meat of choice. He generally has a light breakfast and lunch, but really goes the whole hog come dinner time.

40. Kamal still has his old 'gang' of friends from his Alwarpet days -- Santhana Bharati, P Vasu, P C Sriram, Mani Rathnam, R C Shakti. Among the people he is close to, there is brother Chandrahasan, who has done a role in Kamal's first home production, Raja Paarvai and even in Hey Ram. Amitabh Bachchan, Ramesh Sippy who directed him in Saagar, Javed Akhtar, and Dimple Kapadia. Dimple starred with Kamal in Saagar, and was also in Kamal's own production, Vikram. Kamal was also very fond of the late Amjad Khan.

41. Kamal was hugely appreciative of Anil Kapoor's performance in Virasaat, the Hindi remake of Thevar Magan. "He has done justice to my role," he had said.

42. Kamal and Rajnikanth, the reigning superstars of Tamil movies, have done several movies together like Apoorva Raagangal [Rajni's debut], Moondru, Mudichu Avargal, Ilamai Unjalaadugirathu, Aval Appadithaan, Aadu Puli Aatam to name a few. They were last seen together in the Hindi movie Giraftaar. Their last Tamil film together Alavudeenum Arputha Vilakkum.

43. After seeing Nayagan, Rajnikanth wrote to Kamal thus: "I am seeing a movie like this after so many years. Your performance is superb. You are the actor of actors". This note, is one of Kamal's most treasured possessions. Again, when Shivaji saw Nayagan, at a private show, he stayed silent for several moments after the movie had ended, then went up to Kamal and hugged him. He did not speak a word, though, while the tears flowed from his eyes. And finally, he said, only, "This movie should do very well."

44. Kamal's favourite heroines are Sridevi and Sripriya. With Sridevi, they have paired in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.

45. Kamal speaks 'Madras Tamil' in Sattam En Kaiyil, which he learnt from comedian Loose Mohan, and for Sathi Leelavathi, he speaks Coimbatore Tamil, which he picked up from Kovai Sarala who plays his wife in the movie. He has this penchant for doing dialects, actually. In his latest outing, Thenali, he speaks Sri Lankan Tamil, for which he was tutored by the well known announcer and compere, Abdul Hameed.

46. In the Kamal-Prabhu Deva starrer Kaadhala Kaadhala, Prabhu Deva plays a stammerer. While shooting for the film, Kamal told Prabhu Deva a joke. E M S Namboodiripad, Kamal pointed out, was one of the famous Indian personalities who stammered. So someone once asked EMS whether he was always a stammerer. ", only when I speak," was Namboodiripad's retort, which Kamal gleefully recounted to his co-star.

47. Kamal's favourite among the latest crop of movies is American Beauty. And appropos of nothing in particular, he has a fetish for almonds, pistachios, cashew, which he stocks up on and munches constantly.

48. Kamal won the national award for best actor for Nayagan. While attending that function, Raj Kapoor collapsed -- and as it happened, fell into Kamal's arms. He was rushed to hospital, where he died. Kamal ranks this among his most distressing, unforgettable, experiences.

49. At the 1993 Film Festival in Delhi, Kamal had in fact led a morcha, protesting against the communal riots in Bombay.

50. Kamal is at present shooting for Aalavandhaan/Abhay in Ooty, and was in Madras just for a day on his birthday, in order to spend it with his wife and kids.

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