Kamal Haasan on new thriller Vikram, out now in the UAE

A legend in his own right, the actor also shared his take on the metaverse and more, on a trip to Dubai

Photo: M. Sajjad
Photo: M. Sajjad

By Archie R

Published: Thu 2 Jun 2022, 3:45 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Jun 2022, 6:55 PM

Vikram, the 1986 film that actor Kamal Haasan produced, is not sequel material, if one may.

Chew this: An Indian missile is stolen and hidden in the imaginary kingdom of Salamia. Intel officer, Vikram (Kamal), whose wife is shot dead (a bullet precisely piercing through her forehead like a bindi) is on a mission to secure it.

He has for help a computer expert (Lizzy) who falls in love with him, and the kingdom’s princess (Dimple Kapadia), also enamoured by him. He accomplishes the mission but then comes the tough part: Choose from one of the two ladies. And off he scoots.

Hmm. Not so much of a spellbinder there.

Despite mixed reviews, the film, the costliest ever made till then in Tamil cinema, gained eightfold over its cost.

And Vikram’s title song by Ilaiyaraaja… and the swag that Kamal brought in… both linger.

That nostalgia comes alive in 2022, with a reboot of the title, Vikram. The new Vikram does not, however, go after the former intel officer’s romantic dilemma. Or so we are told.

It promises a raw, intense, broody film, produced by Kamal, and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj (Kaithi, Master), whose eye for storytelling and action sequences is riveting.

In its teaser, Kamal was presented with the tagline, ‘Once upon a time, there lived a ghost.’

He may be returning after four years to the big screen, but Kamal is no ‘ghost who walks’ in from the past. He is Phantom who makes mighty thuds and has left many an indelible mark on Indian cinema through his versatility, almost bordering the maverick. Since his debut (Kalathur Kannamma) in 1960 as a six-year-old, and winning the President’s Medal for Best Child Actor, he has straddled the screen in a pan-India manner that few actors have.

From Tamil to Malayalam to Kannada to Telugu to Hindi, he has acted in some 250 movies. Yet, it is not numbers that define him. It is the variety, the spectacle, the bravado that he brought in, which also earned him top civilian and film awards.

Think of it: He appeared in a loincloth in 16 Vayathinile, as rustic as an actor could get; he was a psychotic killer (Sigappu Rojakkal) in another; carried the fire of unemployment (Varumayin Niram Sivappu), the sentimentality of a terminal ill lover boy (Vaazhvey Maayam) and a doomed lover (Moondram Pirai). He went on a rollicking trip in four roles (Michael Madana Kama Rajan) and did all of 10 roles in Dasavathaaram. There is no way to pick an easy Top 10 list of Kamal films.

Winning over a pan-Indian audience with Ek Duje Keliye, Kamal’s power packed performance in Nayagan is text-book material, while he also built a writer credit portfolio of over 38 films such as the timeless Anbe Sivam, the wicked Panchatanthriam, the politically charged Hey Ram, the thriller Vishwaroopam, and many more.

A director, lyricist, musician, singer, Kamal is a package, one that has defied every stereotypical notion.

He is undoubtedly the ‘meta’ actor – always a step ahead, always transformational, always seeking the next frontier, including the metaverse. He explains more in this exclusive chat with City Times.

Several years ago, you shocked people when you said you would beam your movies direct to home. Now online streaming platforms are big and bringing great films. How do you see that playing out in the future?

I didn’t talk about streaming then as if it dawned on me in my dream. It came as a conclusion, deducing these will happen. Today, the growth of streaming is a very good trend; it is demand and supply. The needs of the connoisseurs of cinema were not being met by the formulaic industry. The vested interests were doing the same thing, mass producing. Now the time has come, when all kinds of films are being tried. I wish Satyajit Ray were a young man today!

You have just dropped an NFT of Vikram at Cannes. Do you probably see doing a movie on the metaverse?

About 30 or 35 years ago I wrote an article about where you will have embedded chips with screenplays and ideas … and you will develop it into your own images. It’s like dreaming… personal dreams concocted to suit your tastes and the genres you were looking for… where you can even swap the lead star. If you would like somebody else in the story, you could try that.

So would you probably try out something soon…

It is like Jules Verne saying, ‘man on the moon’ [almost a century before it became real] … it might not happen in my time but it will – some way or the other.

Talking about Vikram: you had followed it up with a string of action films – from Vrutham to Vetri Vizha to Kuruthipunal… We don’t know what to expect from Vikram… but over the years, what has changed in your approach to action-driven roles?

While we want to entertain the audience, with Vikram, it is not a clichéd formula that we follow. It is not very intellectual. It is high-octane action without being too silly as to insult audience intelligence.

Have you pushed yourself a bit more while doing the action sequences…?

I always do. From the time we were doing stunts, we didn’t have proper equipment or the knowhow but we always aspired to do what we saw from Hollywood. But we couldn’t afford to import that kind of knowledge or technicians. Now the time has come when you can include that in your budget.

That means, you could probably realise some of your dream projects, such as Maruthanayagam – more so because Vikram has already made Rs200 crore pre-release…

That is not enough money. I have already spent more than half of the Rs200 crore on the film. So money is always a need. I always look for new stuff. I have spent so much time on Maruthanayagam, it is like telling my family story. It is a great project but there are many other things I can do now. OTT has prepared audiences for new thoughts. But yes, Maruthanayagam is a project I could consider.

You have worked with great directors who made films without the kind of technology we have today, but had a great sense of framing and composition….

Yes, framing and composition… that is another matter altogether. All these gizmos and stuff, it will keep improving. Directors like IV Sasi had this big eye and he didn’t make a big ado about it. He was an economical filmmaker. He could have gone international but was only limited by his audience. We really had such great filmmakers like that in Germany… [Rainer] Fassbinder, for example.

So, how do you see this generation of directors; of course, it is unfair to compare…

They have learnt a lot from us and they are pushing the frontiers, which is the way to go. But we will not just lean back, relax, and say ‘the young are doing it well.’ We will give them competition. Any new director, any new actor coming is my competition – a healthy competition.

What then did you learn from Lokesh Kanagaraj (the director of Vikram)?

Everyone influences me some way or the other. Even bad films influence me. I am a film buff and I don’t have any specific preferences about the genre or a film’s intellectuality. I have never walked out of a film, because even in a film that I don’t like, there may be a germ of an idea that tickles my intelligence.

You come to the big screen after four years. But with you, people do not know what to expect from Vikram, unlike some of your peers, whose films must cater to set-expectations…

I would love to use my line from Big Boss – expect the unexpected. That has been sort of the tagline for my career even before. I am not a prisoner of my own golden cage.

Your mentor, K Balachander taught you not to steal the scene from others. When it comes to Vikram, working with Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil and Surya – all powerhouses of actors – did they ever try to steal your scene?

Vikram is my feast – my daawat, as they call it. So the more they relish, the more pleasure I get out of it. This is my feast and I am the host. I have always been like that. I have produced films with other actors without me acting in them or just doing a one-minute appearance.

Finally, about your politics itself. Politics in Tamil Nadu has quite been driven by star power. Do you think that trend is waning?

It doesn’t matter. It could wane. But what I am talking about is not the use of cinema for politics. I am trying to engage people, goad people into coming into politics. Not necessarily the vociferous, verbose, megaphone-wielding politics. I keep telling this repeatedly, it has almost become a cliché. Take care of your politics like you take care of your bank account. The country is yours, so you have to be on constant vigil – every citizen – and not lean to any party in bias. Your predominant aim should be your life and your country, in that order.

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