Kamal Haasan was doing interviews at the Sun-n-Sand in Juhu. Print, TV and digital. For his action spy thriller Vishwaroop 2 that releases this Friday. It’s also made in Tamil as Vishwaroopam 2. And dubbed in Telugu and Malayalam. The Bollywood press was naturally excited. Last time Kamal was here, was five years ago in 2013 to promote Vishwaroop – the prequel to this film. People haven’t forgotten it. Now he’s back as RAW agent Major Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri and Kathak dancer Vishwanathan. The sequel’s trailer is all action. Breathtaking underwater knife fights, gritty hand combat, blazing gun battles involving helicopters and missiles, car chases, a hint of sex, lot of patriotic dialogue. Our Rahul Bose is the principal baddie. He plays an Al Qaeda terrorist. Kamal is the writer, producer, director and lead actor of the film. The trailer excited all of Bollywood to want to interview him. Myself included.
An indoor banquet area at the Sun-n-Sand and the poolside were booked for the interviews. I watched the South superstar and debutant politician play a reluctant game of musical chairs. Going from print media interviews outside to TV and digital interviews inside where the film’s backdrop, sets and lights had been put up. Then out again. This went on all evening and half the night. My interview was slated for 5 pm. It only happened at 9.45. When I arrived, Kamal was talking to a Tamil journalist outside. He sat facing the sea. Watching the tide changing. Distracted occasionally by the cry of the seagulls. The Tamil journalist was dressed in a white cotton lungi and bush shirt, bathroom slippers on his feet. Kamal was a picture of sartorial elegance in comparison. He was wearing a plum jacket over khaki trousers and a lavender shirt and had on highly-polished brown moccasins.
He thanked me graciously for coming and apologized for the delay. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. You’re coming five days before Akshay Kumar’s Gold and John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate. Both films with patriotic flavours releasing on Independence Day. Couldn’t you find a better day?
A. What is a better day, you tell me? In 1981, when my Hindi film debut Ek Duuje Ke Liye was released in June, Bollywood said we were making a mistake. We were coming in the monsoon. We were a new film. Nobody comes at this time. But we thought it was an opportune moment. We had no choice. Director K. Balachander said, “Koi baat nahi, we’ll release now.” Producer L. V. Prasad said, “We have to regain the money we put in. So anytime is good.” We didn’t anticipate that people would coming swimming in the floods to see the film!
A. No fears at all. I am confident about Vishwaroop 2. This film is unique and I am proud of it. Though I have peers who are equally capable. And I’ve never had Friday jitters over the release of my films. Never. That’s because the moment I finish a film, I become a member of the audience. I am as noncommittal as the audience which is willing to invest in a film. That’s the difference between a filmmaker and a true film buff. The film buff invests in cinema. An opportunistic filmmaker... woh kamatha hai. I am a film buff. I invest in cinema. I also make money out of it. That’s a bonus. If I make my money, it’s a bonus. If I lose it, it doesn’t matter. People might think I’m a bad businessman. But I’ve been a very successful businessman. My company Raaj Kamal Films International is still running. It celebrated it’s 30th year.
A. All stories need to be told and that’s why films are made at all. Vishwaroop 2 is a geopolitical espionage thriller. It sort of worries about the state of the world and India worries about it. India is the protagonist. The story itself is a need to tell the people, to warn them, like a weather forecast of collective emotion of the times.
A. There was intrigue. It’s not like I deliberately left questions unanswered because unanswered questions trouble the audience. As a filmmaker, I chose to leave some intrigue. And people got so caught up with the pace of the first film. The biggest challenge to a screenwriter is setting up the film and establishing the environment and the rules of the game. Once the audience gets caught in the rules of the game they fall in the groove. By that time, the attention span of the regular Indian audience has fallen to international standards which I was hoping would happen soon so that we can have succinct stories instead of six songs with four fights interspersed and disturbing the story very badly. I am so fed up of all these regular things. And we call it masala films in the name of cinema. But masala is unhealthy food! It’s unhealthy for the artistes. I was always fighting against it. Even in a film like Sadma we had six songs which intervened. Our progress was impeded by tenets created by people who didn’t fully understand cinema. Not even half as much as the audience understood it. So we were constrained.
The moment I finish a film, I become a member of the audience. That’s the difference between a filmmaker and a true film buff
A. Advani ji appreciates cinema. He was earlier a journalist. Vishwaroop 2 won’t be more or less than the prequel, believe me. I am very confident. It’s not about numbers. About it crossing another film’s box office numbers. The film will pass the test that any discerning film audience will put it through. What I like about Vishwaroop 2 is that it’s a standalone film. You don’t have to have seen the first part for it to make sense. It’s a very difficult thing to achieve but we have done it. And we are bragging because we want the message clearly passed on that we’ve done a good job, we are selling our wares, it’s a good product, and we are very sure that any test you put it to as a connoisseur of good cinema – it will pass!
Q. What’s the most difficult part of being the filmmaker here – the production, direction or acting?
A. Finding the finance is the most difficult because there’s always a Shylock asking for his piece of flesh. That’s the difficult part for Francis Ford Coppola, for Akira Kurosawa, for Steven Spielberg. But Spielberg beat it with the acumen he brought in with his filmmaking. And that’s the malady all filmmakers suffer. Apart from that, filmmaking is such a joyous profession. It’s like battle! You ask a soldier, he’s willing to die for it. What’s the fun in dying? Ask a mountaineer for what purpose he climbs Mount Everest. It gives them such fantastic joy that they are willing to lay their lives down for it. And that’s what cinema is. Ingmar Bergman when asked, “How do you make a film?” said, “As if I would die after the film!” That’s the spirit of a filmmaker.
I won’t say Vishwaroop 2 is my last (film). But first of the last.
Q. How easy or difficult is it for you to act and direct yourself?
A. Film sets are usually full of loudspeakers and noise. On my set, I maintain silence. I do live sound. But even if didn’t, I like discipline and the focus and concentration of actors and technicians on one spot. My first AD calls the shot. Sets it up. I sit like I’m in a daze. But I’m watching everything and not listening to anyone. My eyes are roving. Looking for details. Checking if everything is right. If I find something is wrong, I tell my first AD. He runs around. I don’t panic and run. I used to. Then I derived this technique. The director does not have to be the subedar who shouts. The director has to watch. He is the first representative of the audience. I look at this as a privilege and want to enjoy it. I don’t say “Start” in my shot. Or shout “Action”. I only say “Cut” because that’s important for me. I don’t want anybody else saying “Cut” because I want and wait for the magical moment that sometimes happens on its own and don’t want anybody disturbing it. This is something I’ve come up with. Even if I’m acting that is a crucial moment for me. On my sets, I use all the gadgets to make the life of an actor-director easy. I have monitors stuck everywhere. Even by my feet. People think it’s an unnecessary luxury. But I’ll be watching the shot and when I see the camera entering, I get into the mode of the actor. Till then I’m the director.
Q. When shopping in Bollywood, you looked for actors and not stars...
A. Well, when I had a conversation with Rahul Bose, he was fascinated by my concept of the antagonist Omar Qureshi who has as much character background as the protagonist does. He is a hero from his point of view. He’s done some sacrifices. It’s not about size. Little John was not little at all. And Big Napoleon was not big. That’s what I’m trying to say. That’s how I built my characters up. Rahul felt confident. His body language shows that. He is a leader. According to him, he is the hero of that story. That’s how he played it. Jaideep Ahlawat, Shekhar Kapur, Anant Mahadevan played it like that. Like they strongly believe in what they are doing. These are people who will lay down their lives for what they believe in even if it’s wrong. Even the women in the film are willing to risk their lives. These are special and dedicated people.
Q. Now that you have got into politics, is Vishwaroop 2 your last film?
A. I won’t say last. But first of the last.
Q. At 63, you’re doing all these death-defying action stunts yourself. You have two young daughters also in the film industry. What do they have to say?
A. Oh, they get very annoyed with me!