By – Ennappan
“ He is an actor among intellectuals and an intellectual among actors”
Thus remarked the wise late Cho. Ramaswamy about Mr. Kamalahassan (henceforth Kamal), as per some reports, when asked about what he thought of the famous Tamil actor. The former editor of Thuglaq, a famous political satire magazine in Tamil, has hardly been wrong in gauging the character of personalities. After all he was one of the very few that had said that Narendra Modi should be made as the PM candidate for BJP and then went on to support him whole-heartedly. And I dare say that his characterization of Kamal is probably the closest and most accurate one, which we should all keep in mind while dealing with the tantrums of this supposed ‘ World Hero’.
‘World Hero’ or ‘Ulaga Nayagan’ in Tamil, is the epithet that the actor carries when his name appears on the big screen. It has been a tradition for a long time in the Tamil film industry to give such ridiculous designations to actors, glorifying them, putting them in pedestals and almost worshipping them as Gods. Rajinikanth has ‘Super Star’, Vijay has ‘Thalapathy’, Ajith has ‘Thala’ etc. But among all these actors it is probably Kamal that has taken his title too seriously, extending it to his real life. There are many indicators of this when we take a look at his life. Most people outside Tamilnadu might probably be not aware of this. This article would serve as an eye opener for them and would also offer a deeper analysis to people closer at home in Tamilnadu, about who the man really is.
Actors are generally egotistical. There is even an argument, perhaps justifiable, that one cannot become an actor if he/she doesn’t posses that ego, which would usually be considered as a character flaw in other normal human souls. It is probably the most essential quality that one needs, to be an actor. If you are shy, self-effacing and don’t want to be in the frame, well there is no point in being an actor. But Kamal is someone who reeks of egotism in almost everything he does on and off screen. There was a time during the last DMK rule in TN when he was seen sharing the stage with political leaders, other famous personalities, in almost every function that was organized by the government, film fraternity etc. It continues even now, though probably not so frequently. He has been gracing Tamil literary functions, as a public intellectual, even in those topics in which he has had almost no contribution or has displayed any sort of interest in them.
The necessity to be in the public eye and to spout his thoughts however inane and uncalled for, is the essential nature of Kamal. The need to use verbose sentences to explain even simple things and to then complicate them further to the point of making them completely unintelligible has become the hallmark of his intellectual prowess. There is even a running joke among Tamil folks where they call someone to ‘stop speaking like Kamal’, when his/her argument becomes confusing. Since there are not many actors in the Tamil film industry who have the capacity for so much drivel like him, he is de-facto considered to be an intellectual. And the fact that he has been able to get away with this, unquestioned by others in the ‘intellectuals’ fraternity, makes him a very good actor, thus comfortably proving Cho’s assessment of him.
Another indicator of his gigantic ego is he donning all the caps in his films right from being the writer, director, producer etc to being all the characters as an actor. Sure there are many artists who try to be the actor/writer/director in every film industry be that in India or abroad. Orson Wells, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood come to mind in Hollywood and there have been the likes of Shantaram or even Bhagyaraj and T Rajendar in Indian films. But the biggest difference between them and Kamal is that they were quite open about their roles in their films. They never hid their contributions.
But Kamal on the other hand has been hiding his role as the director and writer for so many years. Other directors would be asked to surrogate their names for just the titles when he was the one who was doing the actual directing. To name a few of such films : Guna ( Santhana Bharathi), Mahanadi (Santhana Bharathi), Anbe Sivam (C.Sundar) and many more, not taking anything away from their achievements and contributions as Directors and film makers in many of their other movies.
To be fair, there is nothing wrong for an actor to be proficient as a writer and a director, but it certainly begs the question as to why he would not openly admit to those contributions as well. Although an easier answer would be to contribute it to the fear of Income Tax issues, the more credible answer would be his insecurity. Its good to remember here that he started taking credit for his Directorial works, only in the late 1990s and post 2000s. It reveals his unwillingness to take responsibility and his fear of the outcome of his work. Although at the outset this seemingly shy behavior might seem like a contradiction to my earlier point as him being egotistical, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact it only reaffirms that he is fundamentally a highly self-serving individual, something that many who have worked with and for him would agree with. He is an individual who is ready to place the blame the failure of his movies on the surrogate Director. Don’t agree with me yet? Just check out the financial success of at least the three films I’ve mentioned above. They have all been financial failures and produced by other production companies and not by his own, Raj Kamal Films. There are horror stories of Producers, Directors, and other crew members that have worked with him. Just ask the famous Producer Kalaipuli.S.Thanu, who produced Alavanthan (Abhay in Hindi), and who went bankrupt after that, because of Kamal’s shenanigans. He has even written openly about it in Tamil magazines.
A further demonstration of his egomaniacal personality could be ascertained from him frequently playing double roles, which finally culminated in Dasavatharam , a film where he plays 10 characters, even Caucasian and Japanese characters among the many! While Hollywood for some years now, has been grappling with the issues of White actors playing other racial roles, Kamal seems to be reveling in such acts, seemingly ignorant of the racial overtones and social drift attached to it. This seems to be particularly at odds with his other aspect, Kamal the Leftist, who has an opinion on every issue under the sun.
He has always identified with the left. In fact in a 2011 interview with Saeed Naqvi he says that his heart is with the Left. So it was surprising to see when so many people were surprised or shocked recently when he declared his allegiance to the Left and Communism in particular. He and even his brothers, Charu Hassan and Chandra Hassan, have been vocal about their adoration of Periyar and his obnoxious philosophy. In fact various shades of this leftism can be seen in many of his films. In almost all of his films post 1990, he would glorify rationality or atheism, at the cost of Hindu Gods & rituals frequently making disparaging remarks about them. In Anbe Sivam he went the full distance of the quintessential Indian Leftist spectrum, by playing a Communist comrade, glorifying Christianity through the nuns who save his life and blaming Hinduism through the kumkum-sporting evil Hindu Villain who wants to kill him. On a side note, many years ago in an interview he had said that the only use of the ‘poonal’ or the sacred thread that Brahmins and other castes wear, is to scratch their body when there is an itch!
Oddly enough in the same interview with Saeed Naqvi, he says that he doesn’t understand Politics and doesn’t want to understand it either in the future. He has said similar things often in his past interviews. He said that his politics is only limited to the level of a responsible tax-paying citizen with a tinge of activism. So what has changed between then and now that he is threatening the people of Tamil Nadu and India with his entry into politics?
There could be many reasons of course. One reason could be the vacuum that has been left in the political arena in TN after the demise of the former Chief Minister Miss. J. Jayalallitha. TN has needed a leadership that can steer it in the right direction and it most certainly has been devoid of it for almost a year now. While there have been several people who have been staking claim to be ‘leaders’, they have failed to capture the imagination of the people and in unifying them. So as one of those wanting to fill that space, Kamal could want to start a political party. The one reason that he himself provides for this sudden interest in politics is that he is angry at the corruption, injustice etc. which exist with the present government. This argument seems very flimsy especially when it could be easily countered by asking what he was doing for all these years when corruption has been reining free for more than 3 decades under both the Dravidian parties (mis)rule. What was he doing when the previous DMK government was ruling? After all they did the 2G scam, Sand mining scam and many more. Where was his angry heart then? They were more corrupted or at least equal in every aspect to the present government. Was it because of the former CM Miss. J. Jayalalitha that he kept silent when she was alive? Did he not have the guts to openly criticize her or her party then? Is he a coward? Mr. Rajinikanth openly declared war on her for her misrule during her first term in 90s. But Kamal didn’t care to open his mouth. So why is this sudden perceived awareness of these social and political concerns? The answer could lie in a couple or more reasons, which would seem to be much more personal than anything else.
For the first time in a long time he is alone without a female partner. Soon after his divorce with Vani Vishwanath, his first wife, he had Sarika whom he married (discounting all the rumors of his famous womanizing). He lived with her for more than a decade, had 2 children with her, but then finally ended up divorcing her too. No sooner that happened, his former co-star, actress Gowthami, with her daughter from her marriage, moved in with him. Though he didn’t marry her, they lived as a couple under one roof, his roof. It needs to be mentioned at this juncture that he has in the past, been quite outspoken with his disbelief in the institution of marriage, which is another typical trait of the Left and Periyarism. The only reason he said he even married Sarika was for social appearance. Back to his latest lady, Gowthami ended her relationship with him last year claiming that, “she is a mother first and foremost and that she has a responsibility to her child to be the best mother that she could be”. What happened in her relationship with Kamal that could jeopardize her responsibility as a mother, after living with him for 13 years, is a question that has been left unanswered. So a lack of a family or a partner/wife whom he needs to answer and be responsible for could be a reason for this change.
Another reason, that probably affected him personally more than anything else was the death of his second elder brother Chandra Hassan, with whom he was very close. Speaking on the occasion of a memorial event that was organized for him a few months back, Mr. Rajinikanth remarked on how Kamal Hassan could easily become infuriated, react easily to provocations and how the late Chandra Hassan was the one who could control him or at least whose words Kamal listened to. He further lamented on how Chandra Hassan’s death was a big blow to Kamal and wondered who would be able to rein him now and even suggested that it would now fall on the shoulders of his surviving elder brother Charu Hassan. So with no one close that really cares for Kamal, no one whose advice Kamal would actually listen to, it is easy for other people to step in, take advantage of him, his stature, and his popularity. This could be seen from DMK leaders, Periyarists like Dravida Kazhagam leaders, Ambedkarists like Thirumavalavan, Communists like the Kerala CM, Vijayan etc patting him on his back and encouraging him with his sudden burst of political activism. Although they know that if he started his own political party it might eat into their own votes, they gladly do so, which would make any sane person question their ulterior motives.
But more than any thing, the primary reason that could explain Kamal’s recent political meanderings is the one that has been already mentioned earlier: he is a highly self serving, egomaniacal individual. His last film that got a theatrical release was ‘Thoongavanam’, in 2015. And before that only 3 of his films in the past decade earned any considerable profit at all. He has completed two more films that haven’t yet seen the light of the day for 2 years, due to issues with either the producers or other production related problems. For someone with such a self serving attitude it would indeed be a torture for not being in the limelight. He must have by now realized the prospects of his film career. While other actor/auteurs like his idol Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood have successfully transitioned from being actors in their movies into being just Directors or Writer/Director, Kamal because of the burden of his bloated ego hasn’t been able to make that transition. He isn’t able to see anyone else as the hero in his movies. Hence no more movies for him. Even if he makes one, he is very skeptical of its success considering the prevailing situation in Tamil Nadu.
So the natural arena that could offer him the attention that he so badly craves is politics. Whatever he says will be publicized, printed, shown, and propagated by the innumerable outlets that seem to plague the media in this country. There will be interviews every day. Doesn’t matter if it is meaningful or not, whether it is true or not. The hungry media is glad to give attention to anyone who could feed it and Kamal is only too happy to blurt anything in exchange for some spotlight. One day he could declare that he is definitely not a ‘saffron’ man and the next day, say that he wouldn’t mind joining hands with the saffron party. No one asks him why. Why this U-turn like Kejriwal? Coincidentally did he inspire him when the two met a few months ago? He could say that there is Hindu Terrorism, provide no evidence for its existence just like Mr. P. Chidambaram. It is entirely possible that he was instigated to make such a remark by Mr. Chidamabarm himself, who was the originator of this foul allegation and who was endorsed by Kamal to be a PM candidate a few years back. He could boldly say that no scenes should be edited out from ‘Mersal’ as per the BJP leaders’s requests while he could comfortably forget that he acceded to the Muslim Organizations demands to mute 5 scenes in his movie ‘Vishwaroopam’ without which the film would have never gotten released. Incidentally there were some Hindu organizations, which too demanded him to change the title of that film and which he didn’t accede to, but he then goes on to write about the presence of Hindu terror! He doesn’t mind spending millions in making his movies while maintaining that he is a Marxist.
Well that’s the chicanery for you of Kamal Hassan in a nutshell. He reeks of the typical leftist hypocrisy with the mask of Intellectualism, the bloated ego of a social activist and the faithful self-worship of the atheist. He is a wonderful actor no doubt (although ‘over-rated’ by his own account), a good storyteller with copious amount of knowledge about movies and film making who is going out of control. The political parties, media and even evangelical organizations, which have declared that with him as the CM, Tamil Nadu would finally be a Christian majority state, have already started to exploit him. But as we have seen earlier, by his admission, he has been less than interested in understanding actual politics and its machinations. His inherent nature of not being responsible and not having the courage to stick to the decisions he takes, makes him a leader lacking in severe crucial and significant qualities if and when he starts a party. His inability to designate roles for others and his compulsive penchant for donning several hats further reduces the possibility of a loyal political support base in the long term. Remember this was the guy who took upon the roles of 10 characters in his film, no matter how ridiculous they looked.
At this moment he is only pretending hard to look like a politician. He is trying to look interested in the real issues of people, like when he visited Ennore, a suburb of Chennai, last week with the media in full attendance (there are photos of him with a lav mic attached to his shirt even when he isn’t addressing the media)! There are already reports that he has instigated people to start protests on some government gas pipelines, which were supposed to help the poor in that area. These shenanigans remind us of another leader who did similar things a couple of years ago in New Delhi.
The only thing dangerous than the actions of a cunning politician is that of the fool who thinks he is one. India has only recently witnessed such an individual in the form of Arvind Kejriwal. The damage he has caused to Indian polity with his daily dharnas and drama is a valuable lesson for everyone in India. Hence it is essential and wise for anyone interested in the well being of the nation and Tamil Nadu to not dismiss Kamal Hassan as just a joker, which at present many intelligent people, including astute politicians, seem to be doing. Instead we should take him seriously and borrowing a cue from his own article, peel away the makeup he is wearing and expose him for what he truly is – a shameless charlatan, at least in politics.