The actor turns 60 today and talks about his journey so far, his future plans and his bond with daughter Shruti Haasan. Read on to know more...
How do you feel about your life right now?
Much, much more comfortable. It's like I've taken a vapour elation. I can breathe easy. I feel rejuvenated. I feel relaxed. I now have a smile on my face and it's showing in my films.You're 60 now. Out of these, a good 50 years in front of the camera. Aren't you exhausted?
The day I start looking at acting as work, I would be. Working for money or fame saps you. I stopped doing that 30 years back. The only time I am really happy is when I am in front of the camera. When I am not, I start ruminating, retrospecting and brooding.
How do you manage to get so excited about your films even today?
Because the first 100 films that I got were market-driven. They were films which everyone presumed were going by the market demand. Actually, there was so much I wanted to do. People advised, scolded and counselled me about my career. So, one day, I woke up and decided to nurture Kamal Haasan, the actor.
Would you do another film with your brother-in-law Mani Ratnam?
We keep discussing ideas. But we never get down to it. I don't know what we fear. We spoke again on my birthday when he came visiting. He wanted to know what it felt like acting, producing and directing all at once.
What does it feel like?
It's easier to move the table on the sets yourself than to ask someone else to do it. But seriously, direction is a lot of responsibility. But if you've been trained under my mentor K Balachander as I have, it's a lot easier. You have everything down on paper before you start shooting. Alfred Hitchcock used to say he had everything in his script and then he had to begin the boring process of directing it. By now, while directing I am experienced enough to know my moves.
Your elder daughter Shruti Haasan has made a career in both Tamil and Hindi.
I'm proud of her because she isn't doing a product of our home banner Rajkamal Films. The only thing Rajkamal did for her was to give her a chance to do the background score in Unnaipol Oruvan. It wouldn't matter to me if she failed as a movie actress. But right now, it looks like a winning streak.
Don't you want to act in a film with her?
Shruti has been telling me that we should. But I don't want her to do it just for the heck of it. She is a star now. I want her to act in one of our home productions for the glory of our banner. By the way for the Tamil version of Dasavthaaram she was my coach for my American accent. She had just returned from the US and was the perfect medium to help her father's Madrasi accent to be transformed into a Yankee accent. She was a bully. She made me do many retakes in the dubbing. And after the dubbing she wanted me to correct some more of my accent. Everyone thought that was taking it a little too far (laughs).
And your younger daughter?
Every time Akshara stands behind the camera and says , 'This is where I want to be, I am reminded of myself.' I started behind the camera and gradually moved to the front.
Do you think you've got the success that your talent deserved?
I would probably say I deserve a little more than I've got. People like Shah Rukh Khan, Dustin Hoffman, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan are all short . Somewhere we may have been shortchanged (laughs). Our height is the first thing people notice. People think we're the ones who have gotten away with it in spite of our height. But come and see me where I live. I'm tall in every sense (laughs).
But nobody talks about your being short.
They don't. That's what I mean by getting away with it (laughs). I couldn't 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 Rajini(kanth). They are a rage. When I started in films I was slotted in villainous roles. That's why I say it isn't bravery to produce my own films. It's sheer logic.
What do you think about Raijnikant as an actor?
When we were still in our 20s I asked him why he has to be so stylised on screen. He told me that's the secret of his future success. I assured him my style would also be a winner. He turned around to say, 'Fair enough. You do your thing and I'll do my own.' Rajni is a phenomenon too.
You mean, phenomenon no. 2?
(laughs) No seriously, both of us were young actors who started from scratch. He was the bus conductor with acting aspirations. I was the clapper boy who got the clap in my very film (Kamal played a character with venereal disease in his first adult role). We didn't have fathers to make movies for us. But we had the same godfather K.Balachander. It's quite strange, but our paths as actors were always intertwined. Initially we were both typecast as villains. I got fed up of doing those and went away to Kerala to do Malayalam films. Then, his career as a villain took off, and I returned to Chennai to pursue a career in Tamil cinema. We made our way up together.
Are you keen on doing another film with Rajnikanth?
It depends. He said if we do a film together, he won't direct it. It has to be either me or someone else. It would be quite interesting to do a film with him. I guess we'll do a film together. We've been talking about it for five years. We're worried about the expectations.
Any replacements for you and Rajinikanth?
There was a time when audiences said no-one could replace Sivaji Ganesan saab. Out of modesty he would say, his replacement would come. It took a long time for him to see a spark in me. He took me seriously as an actor after 17 years. But I'm not being modest. I'm being realistic when I say a replacement will come.
Do you feel frustrated when you see bad performances by superstars?
Even Bill Gates is frustrated. He can't act like Chaplin. It's a cruel and unkind world. Buster Keaton wasn't able to sell himself. Actors who are absolutely convincing, are a rare commodity. They don't need to stand and wave with medals around their necks. There's something very lovely that Dev Saab once said, 'The first person who must respect you has got be yourself'. That's a very difficult thing to do.
Are your dreams getting bigger ?
No , for that I have to sleep longer. And I don't believe in daydreaming. But my (incomplete) film Marudhanayagam remains one of my dreams. But It's not my ultimate dream. Why should it be that, unless I plan to commit harakiri soon afterwards?
Is it becoming progressively difficult for you to make films on your own terms?
It's always difficult, on my own and on others' terms. But I've no complaints. I'm a pampered technocrat. I sometimes want to get to my knees and thank the Lord. But unlike a painting, filmmaking is not an isolated endeavour. Making a film is like fighting a war. You can lose any time. Your soldiers might fail you. Your courage might fail you.
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