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Why did Kamal Hassan leave the country as soon as his new film `Virumaandi` became a blockbuster? Subhash K Jha finds out.
Where have you been?
I enjoyed making Virumaandi. After that it was time for me to move on. Essentially my trip abroad this time was a period of stock-taking. I had lots of time to be with myself, take walks, think. Decide about my future. This time I wasn’t the limelight moth. The idea was to be as inactive as possible. The only time I allowed the pleasure of business to resurface was when I went to the Rotterdam film festival. Then I went to the US with the film where my production house Raj Kamal Films turned distributor with Virumaandi.
How did it do in the US?
It performed much better than we expected. In the US we got three times more recognition and financial attention than we expected. There’s a large percentage of Tamils among the NRIs. In the US the Tamilians are all Indian whereas in Canada they’re from India and Sri Lanka. They all reacted favourably. But I wasn’t looking at their reaction. I was completely cut off from the excitement for Virumaandi, like a guy who takes hot steam inhalations during a cold. I stayed away from all the excitement. No limelight stuff for me except one beautiful happening.
I met filmmaker Milos Forman in Paris. I’m his fan, though he didn’t know who I was. My friend Jean-Claude Carriere introduced us. Milos was surprised I remembered the title of all his films. Now of course he’s caught in my web (laughs).
Shouldn’t you have stayed back in India to see how Virumaandi goes?
I had a feeling it would click in a big way. Throughout the making of the film I kept making corrections. Earlier I couldn’t rectify the errors in my filmmaking due to the fear of cost and the fear of delay. Here the delay happened because of extraneous factors (political interference in the film’s title). So no one could blame me for it.
Virumaandi has become a blockbuster.
That’s what they’re saying. But I never look a gift-horse in the mouth. If people are saying Virumaandi has revived the Tamil film industry then I won’t be presumptuous enough to agree. No industry can be altered by one film. When people say a film will change the trend of filmmaking, it never happens in isolation. Likeminded people need to bring about that change.
Does the success of Virumaandi provide you with the impetus to revive your dream project Marudanayagam?
One Virumaandi isn’t enough to revive a project that large. We need 10 million dollars for Marudanayagam. It has to come from abroad. What surprised me was the response to Virumaandi at the Rotterdam film festival where out of 180 entries my film with parochial overtones which I had made about a specific clan in Tamil Nadu, got widely noticed.
Do you think our cinema is finally being noticed abroad?
We need to carry our cinema forward, free it from the shackles of the bigotry abroad. I’m tired of being asked if we’ve elephants and snakecharmers in India. We’ve to make Hollywood-standard films. I’m bored with what we’re doing. I’ve my own sensibilities as a filmmaker. I want to apply these to international standards. See, everyone here wants to stand on a mount and give biblical sermons. But do any of us have beard enough to take the crucifixion?
So you think Bollywood must behave like Hollywood in order to acquire an international feel?
No ultimately the Hollywood coating has to be pull off our cinema. Hollywood is a multi-cultural talent. The best of Hollywood is composed of all nationalities. Francis Coppola never took his American cinema to Italy. Likewise we need to wear our cultural badge and still look cosmopolitan. I was reading the Urdu author Sadat Hassan Manto from the 1947. He’s truly international in feeling. I’d love to be one of his disciples. I identify with his writing.
Are you enjoying the success of Virumaandi?
For me the enjoyment would come from making my next film. The success of the film has made a point. Audiences memories get blunt when there’s too much room between two successes. Over here your last film is your visiting card. I must say there was a lot of support for Virumaandi before release. After a long time I felt I was provided fraternal support. There was a lot of debate, all productive. My friend music composer Ilaiyaraja said he was moved by the film but worried about it. He was worried the audiences wouldn’t be able to identify with the rural background. He was also worried about the narrative which is like Kurosawa’s Roshomon. There‘re two versions of the truth in Virumaandi.
I’m talking with Mr Sangeethan Srinivasa Rao. We did Appu Raja, Pushpak and Michael Madan Kamarajan. We’re good friends and collaborators. I like him even more now because he loved Virumaandi (laughs). Our discussions right now are in what Sangeetham calls a nebulous stage.
When will you do a film with Mani Ratnam?
When he’s ready with a story, or when I can give him a story. I hope it happens soon. We’ve been talking about a film. Much as people would like to believe otherwise, there’s no problem between us. We’re both too grown up for hide‘n’ seek. I think the problem is, we need to go beyond Nayakan. I can’t have Mani Ratnam being unsure on my sets. He’s our pillar of strength. He has to be sure about what we do together.
Are you looking at a scenario where you’ll have to produce all your films?
(sighs) It looks like it. It’s more convenient. But I’ll have to leave the marketing to others. I’m not a pundit about what clicks. But I’m a men in the trenches who knows which way the bullets are flying.