You have a formidable reputation as an actor in Mumbai.
But Iím just a musafir in Mumbai. I just drop in once in a while shaking up the statusquo as I come and go. Iím not present in the market to generate faith in my standing. So when I do come with a film they say, Ah phir aa gaya?! But in Tamil Nadu itís another story. Alavandaan was looked upon as huge event.
This ironic difference between your market in Tamil Nadu and the Hindi belt is something youíve learnt to live with?It existed in my market between Kerala and Tamil Nadu when I became a big star in Malayalam cinema. At that time the distributors thought I could do anything in Kerala, but not in Tamil Nadu. Except Mr K. Balachander no one in Tamil cinema gave me a worthy role when I started out as a leading man. The career crisis in Tamil cinema came to such a head that Mr Balachander would say, "You must do some good Tamil films away from me, or they would say you act well only in my films." Thatís why Iíve always considered him my mentor.
You are increasingly producing or co-producing your own films in order to find strong vehicles for your talent.
See, Iím never far away from my home. Even when Iím not doing a home production I still treat it as my own both fiscally and aesthetically. The only way I can be made to do a film now is if I feel itís my own. For the past ten years my money has been involved in all the films that Iíve made. But people take what you call my strength of putting my money into production to be vain courage. Horatio is no more a hero. Todayís hero is the man who simply gets away with what he does. Itís a material world. In a way I also come into the category of people who get away with what they do. Thatís why Iíve survived so long .
Do you think youíve got the success that your talent deserved?
I would probably say I deserve a little more than Iíve got. People like Shah Rukh Khan, Dustin Hoffman, Kamalhassan, Aamir Khan are all short . Somewhere we may have been short-changed! Ha ha. Our height is the first thing people notice. People think weíre the ones who have gotten away with it in spite of our height. But come and see me where I live. Iím tall in every sense (laughs).
But nobody talks about your being short.
They donít. Thatís what I mean by getting away with it (laughs). I couldnít get any shorter than Appu in Appu Raja. But he was a tall guy. The conventional Greek God looks mould was broken long back. I mean look at Shatru Saab (Shatrughan Sinha) or Rajni(kant) . They are a rage. When I started in films I was slotted in villainous roles. Thatís why I say it isnít bravery to produce my own films. Itís sheer logic.
How many films have you actually done with Rajnikanth?
About 10, most of them were hits, though we did have failures. Weíve done three films for our mutual mentor K. Balachander. Whatís more, Iíve done guest roles in Rajniís films. Iíd do anything he asks me to, no question of refusing him.
Do the two of you have mutually exclusive fan clubs?
The war between the two fan clubs stopped only about ten years ago. We both told them to stop after there were stray incidents of violence on both sides. Considering fans have killed each other for our distinguished predecessors MGR and Shivaji Ganesan our fans would be considered pacifists(laughs). I went ahead and set a new precedent. I turned my fan club into a social service organization.
Thereís a marked element of Shivaji Ganesan in your performance as thereís MGR in Rajnikanth?
In fact we both incorporate elements of both the towering personalities. Iíve done what youíd call MGR kind of films. Shivaji Saab felt squeamish about doing out-and-out masala films. Rajni too has changed his image to play the Shivaji kind of roles. In one film he played a character that ages from 6 to 60. That way weíve crisscrossed paths on screen.
Interview contd in Part 2: "Rajnikanth is a phenomenon," says Kamal.