“Vikram,Vikram” is the Mantra being chanted by many a film fan these days. The Tamil action thriller “Vikram” along with its dubbed versions in Hindi,Telugu,Malayalam and Kannada was released worldwide in over 5000 Screens on June 3. It has proved to be a box office blockbuster since then. Vikram is having a successful run in Sri Lankan theatres too. As of June 25th , Vikram had globally grossed over 409 Crore or 4090 million Indian rupees in ticket sales alone. It is expected to cross the 500 crore/5000 million mark before July 3. Besides Vikram has reportedly netted over 200 Crore or 2000 million through satellite, digital, audio and dubbing rights prior to its release. Apart from its commercial success, Vikram has also earned much critical acclaim.
The most positive feature of the film relates to its producer and lead actor Kamal Haasan known generally as Kamal. The success of Vikram marks the return of Kamal to the big screen in a big way and his re-entry into cinema from politics. As is well known, Kamal formed his own political party “Makkal Needhi Maiam” (MNM) in February 2018. Subseuently, neither Kamal nor his centrist party met with electoral success in polls.
The shift to politics from cinema took Kamal away from movie acting as politicking took up much of his time. His last two films were “Vishwaroopam -2 ” in 2018 and “Kadaaram Kondaan” in 2019. However Kamal Haasan did move to the small screen. In 2017 he became the host of the Tamil version of “Big Boss” on TV. He has been playing the titular character Big Boss in the highly successful reality show for the past five years.
The entry into the hurly-burly world of politics as well as the shift to the TV small screen made many of Kamal’s rasikas feel that their idol had bade adieu to the big screen. They were happy therefore when Kamal announced a return by way of Vikram. The film released in 2022 is in a sense a spin – off from Kamal’s earlier film with the same name in 1986. In that path-breaking Vikram ‘one’, Kamal played a young naval officer turned intelligence agent(just like James Bond)named Arun Kumar Vikram known as Vikram.
In this Vikram”two”, Kamal acts as a much older Arun Kumar Vikram who headed a black-ops squad and is now living under another identity Karnan. Both the Vikram movies were produced by Kamal’s own company Raj Kamal films International. Apart from acting the premier and titular role as Vikram, Kamal wrote the words for the opening dance song ”Pathala,pathala” and also sang it in the film.
Director Lokesh Kanagaraj
Though fans, admirers and well-wishers were happy about Kamal re-entry to the big screen via Vikram , many had doubts about the film’s financial fate. Kamal was well past his prime as the actor would be turning 68 on November 7th. Vikram was his 232nd film in a 62 year long career. The director was a youngster named Lokesh Kanagaraj who had also written the screenplay. Vikram was his 4th film. Kamal was sharing screen space with Malayalam hero Fahadh Faasil and two Tamil stars Vijay Sethupathy and Surya(cameo role).There was no romantic love interest for Vikram alias Karnan in the film. Moreover Kamal had acquired an avuncular image in recent years by playing Big Boss on TV. Furthermore some felt Kamal’s failure in politics would rub off negatively on his film re-entry too. Also Kamal had taken a risky financial gamble by producing the film in partnership with another(Mahendran).
All these fears have now turned into liars. The film produced at a cost of 120 Crores or 1200 million Indian rupees has already raked in five times as much and is likely to earn even more. Kamal’s share of the profits has reportedly exceeded 100 crores already. More importantly Vikram demonstrated that Kamal is not yet a spent force. He may amount to a zero in politics but in cinema he was still a swashbuckling hero.
Vikram’s success has led to a resumption of shooting for yet another sequel -Indian -2. The film directed by Shankar had been put on hold since Feb 2020. Two other unnamed films starring Kamal are also in the pipeline. One is by Kerala director Mahesh Narayanan and the other by Tamil Nadu filmmaker Pa.Ranjith. There is also a strong possibility of a third Vikram film starring Kamal being made by Lokesh.
Hollywood’s Tom Cruise
Kamal Haasan has often been compared to Hollywood’s Tom Cruise as an action hero though the former’s acting skills are far above those of the latter. There is an interesting parallel between Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” and Kamal Haasan’s “Vikram”. Both Top Gun and Vikram were released in the same year 1986. They were milestone movies in the careers of both stars. A sequel to Tom Cruise’s film -Top Gun;Maverick- was released in April-May this year while Kamal Haasan’s Vikram hit the screens in June. Both films are huge box -office successes. Both are reportedly the highest grossing movies in the respective careers of Tom Cruise and Kamal Haasan.
It is against this backdrop therefore that this column focuses on Kamal Haasan this week. Devoting the article on the first Saturday of each month to a film, film personality or film-related topic is a practice being followed by this column. This piece will be a brief overview about the man, his movies and his foray into politics. I have written about Kamal earlier and shall be drawing from those writings in this article. The fourth part of the article on President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe will appear next week.
Srinivasan Kamal Haasan known popularly as Kamal Haasan and/or Kamal is arguably the finest actor in Tamil cinema today. He is also acknowledged as being one of India’s foremost thespians.The multi-faceted artiste is a film director, producer, screenwriter, film lyricist, poet, dancer, choreographer and playback singer. The 67 year old actor whose screen debut was in 1960 as a child artiste has acted in 232 films (with Vikram) and won many awards and laurels. His adulatory fans hail their idol as “Ulaga Naayagan” or global hero.
Six-year-old Child Artiste
Kamal was born in Paramakkudi in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, India, on 7 November, 1954. He was the youngest of four children. His father Srinivasan was a lawyer and mother Rajalakshmi a housewife. Kamal acted first as a six-year-old in the film “Kalaathoor Kannammaa” in 1960.He won the Indian President’s gold medal for a child artiste then. After a few more films as a child actor during which time he acted along with the top Tamil trio – MGR, Sivaji and Gemini- Kamal went off-screen for some years.
Kamal was educated at Hindu Higher Secondary School in Thiruvallikerny(Triplicame) in Chenni. He dropped out of school early before completing his Secondary School Leaving Certificate(SSLC) studies. His enlightened parents allowed him to pursue a career in the arts instead of forcing him to follow conventional courses of study. Kamal was involved in theatre and also learnt dancing. He joined the drama troupe T.K. S. Nataka Sabha run by the legendry TK Shanmugam as an understudy. Kamal also apprenticed under dance choreographer Thangappan.
Kamal re-entered cinema as an actor at the age of 16 in 1970. He danced in a song sequence (Visiladichaan Kunjugalaa) along with another former child star “Kuttii” Padmini in the film “Maanavan”. Kamal also evolved into a jack of all trades in the film sphere. He tried his hand at different things by assisting directors, script writers, cinematographers and choreographers. Though Kamal initially wanted to end up as a film director he was discouraged in this by his mentor K. Balachander. The famous film director encouraged Kamal to be an actor.
Lead Actor in 1975
Kamal began acting in smaller roles in films like Kurathi Magan and Arangetram. He even acted as the villain in films like Sollathaan Ninaikkirean and Vellikkizhamai Viratham. He got his first break as lead actor in 1975 in the film Pattaampoochi followed by Cinema Paithiyam. These were followed by three superb roles in films by maestro K. Balachander. They were Abhoorva Raagangal, Manmatha Leelai and Moodru Mudichchu. Then came another great director, Bharathirajah, who cast Kamal Haasan in path-breaking films like Pathinaaru Vayathiniley and Sigappu Rojakkal.
While the above mentioned films helped Kamal establish himself as a great actor, he also took on roles which helped him click at the box office. Films like Sahala Kalaa Vallavan, Guru, Kalyana Raman, Thoongathe Thambi Thoongathe, Indiran Santhiran and Vaalvae Maayam were all commercial successes.
Having made a reputation as an artistic and commercial actor, Kamal Haasan started making and/or acting in films with a difference, ranging from rib-tickling comedies like Thenali and Panchathanthirm to suspenseful thrillers like “Vettaai Aadu Vilaiyaadu and Vishwaroopam.There were also movies par excellence like Devar Magan and Nayakan. The latter was included in the list of 100 best films by “Time”. Magazine.
Ten Roles in “Thasaavthaaram”
He also experimented at times by playing a woman in one film(Avvai Shanmugi) and making a silent movie without dialogue (Paesum Padam). In films like Gunaa and Aalavanthaan Kamal played mentally challenged persons. Kamal played a dual role as twins – one a dwarf- in the film “Aboorva Sagotharargal” and received much kudos. Kamal’s magnum opus was arguably “Thasaavthaaram” in which he enacted ten roles surpassing Sivaji Ganesan’s nine in “Navarathri”. Some of his movies performed well at the box office while others did not. But Kamal Haasan was acknowledged as one of the finest and most popular actors in India.
He did not act in Tamil films alone but also in films made in other languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu,Bengali and Kannada. But it was as a Tamil film hero that he made his mark. While some prominent playback singers lip synched for him in many films, Kamal Haasan also sang in his own voice in several films. He also choreographed many of his dances in addition to directing, producing, screenwriting, composing film songs, etc. Kamal Haasan has been associated with nearly 300 films in various capacities such as actor, director, producer, script writer, singer and choreographer.
Awards and Laurels
The 67 year old actor, in a career spannig more than five decades, has won many awards and laurels. Chief among them are the Indian National Award for best actor in three films, namely Moondraam Pirai directed by Balu Mahendra, Naayagan directed by Maniratnam and Indian directed by Shankar. He is the only actor from Tamil Nadu State to have won the Indian National Award for best actor thrice. Among his numerous awards are those bestowed by the prestigious cinema journal Filmfare. Kamal Haasan has won 19 Filmfare awards and has been nominated for 12 more. There may have been more but for the fact that Kamal Haasan wrote to Filmfare requesting the magazine not to nominate him for any more awards.
Six of Kamal’s films were nominated as India’s official entries to the annual Oscar awards competition conducted by the US academy of motion picture arts and sciences (AMPAS). He is the Indian actor with the highest number of Oscar- nominated films though none won any laurel. Kamal has also been given the Kalaimaamani Award by the Tamil Nadu State Government and received the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards from the Government of India. The French Government honoured him with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Chevalier) award.
Kamal Haasan first married actress-dancer Vaani Ganapathy in 1978. They divorced in 1982. Thereafter, he had a live-in relationship with actress Sarika for some years during which his elder daughter Shruti was born in 1986. He formally married Sarika in 1990. Their second daughter Akshara was born in 1991. Both Shruti and Akshara are actresses now.
Kamal split with Sarika in 2002 and divorced in 2004. Later in 2005, he entered another live-in relationship, this time with actress Gautami who had a daughter from an annulled marriage. Kamal and Gautami broke up iin 2016. Currently “film world gossip” links him with two actresses but there is no concrete evidence of the liaisons.
Kamal’s elder brothers Charuhasan and Chandrahasan who is no more also acted in films though they were lawyers by profession. Their daughters Suhasini and Anu (Anuradha) were also actresses. Charuhasan and Suhasini have also won national awards for acting. Incidently, Suhasini is married to the acclaimed film director G. Maniratnam.
Intellectual Film Artiste
Though Kamal Haasan has had very litte formal schooling, he is very intelligent, well-read and knowledgeable. He has an avid interest in many matters and is a seeker of greater enlightenment. Kamal is arguably a great intellectual among film artistes. He has also maintained a keen interest in politics and the welfare of Tamil Nadu. However he was not interested in becoming a member of a political party or engaging in politics for a very long time . It was only after he had passed the age of sixty in 2017 that Kamal began entertaining notions of dabbling in politics.
Having accumulated fame, wealth, the affection of fans and heaps of laurels as an actor, the man hailed as Ulaga Naayagan (global hero) by his adulatory fans became enamoured of active politics. It is a well -established fact that the political environment of Tamil Nadu state has in the past been conducive for film stars to do well as political leaders.
In Tamil Nadu, politics and cinema have been inextricably intertwined in a unique mode .Actors like N. S. Krishnan, K. R. Ramaswamy, T. V. Narayanaswamy, M. G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, S. S. Rajendran and later MGR’s wife Janaki and ex-leading lady Jayalalithaa were very much part of the Tamil Nadu political landscape. Political leaders like former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and his mentor and predecessor C. N. Annadurai also came in from careers in cinema, as screenplay and dialogue writers.
Actors like Vijayakanth, Sarathkumar, Thiruchi Soundarajan, Isari Vaelan, S. S. Chandran, “Norukkupaandy” Karunas and some others have also done reasonably well in politics though not spectacularly successful. Kamal Haasan was only the latest in a long list of Tamil cinema actors dabbling in active politics or turning into politicians.
‘Centre for People’s Justice’.
Kamal Haasan selected the Southern city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu state as the launchpad of his new party. Madurai is of great historical and literary significance. It was the capital of the Pandyan dynasty. More importantly, the ancient city was the seat of Tamil language and culture where Muthamizh(Triple Tamil) was fostered through the Thamizh Sangam (Tamil literary academy).
Kamal inaugurated his party officially in February 21st 2018 at the Tamukkam (Ottakkattai)grounds in Madurai, in the presence of a huge, wildly cheering crowd. Associated with him was Chief Minister of New Delhi Arvind Kejriwal who is the leader of India’s Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party).
The name of the actor turned politician’s political party was Makkal Needhi Maiam a rough translation of which would mean in English ‘Centre for People’s Justice’. Explaining his political leanings according to the left-right political spectrum, Kamal Haasan said, “People ask me what is this ‘Maiam?’, and if I am on the left or the right. That is why I kept the name ‘Maiam’, which means centre.” He added that he will incorporate the best from all sides. Kamal Haasan also hoisted his party flag with its embossed logo for the first time in Madurai. The flag in red, white and black serves as the logo and symbol of the new born Makkal Needhi Maiam party. The logo has six hands holding onto one other. Three of the hands are in red and the other three in white. At the centre of the flag is a six pointed star in black, forming a white core. Speaking at the party launch event in Madurai, Kamal said in Tamil, “If you look closely, you will find the new map of south India. The six hands stand for the six states. The six pointed star represents you and people’s justice.” It was surmised that the actor-politico was including the union territory of Puducherry to the list of five southern states – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. For decades, the former French colony of Pondicherry now known as Puducherry has demanded full statehood within the Indian union. The former Portugese colony of Goa was elevated to statehood from union territory status many years ago, but Ex-French Puducherry has been receiving step-motherly treatment so far. Incidently, Telengana too is a newly created state carved out of the greater Andhra Pradesh state.
Poor Performance at Polls
The party fielded candidates in 37 of the 39 Constituencies of Tamil Nadu state in the 2019 Indian Parliament elections. The party fared very poorly with all candidates losing their deposits.The MNM polled 1,613,708 votes(3.78%) in the State at the 2019 poll.
The new party contested the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections last year. It hoped to do very well at the state elections. The MNM was projected as an alternative to prolonged Dravidian party rule in the state. The MNM fared miserably at the 2021 polls thereby denting the larger than life image of Kamal Haasan. The “Makkal Needhi Maiam”(MNM) together with a few smaller parties contested all 234 seats in the Legislature at the 2021 polls in Tamil Nadu. The Kamal Haasan led alliance failed to win a single seat. The party leader Kamal lost by a narrow margin in the Coimbatore South constituency.
Kamal’s flagship the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) was expected to poll around 10% of the total vote and become the “third force” in the state next to the two Dravidian parties the DMK (Dravidian Munnetra Kazhagam) and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). However even that “honour” went to the “Naam Thamizhar Katchi”(We Tamils Party)led by film director – actor Seeman. While Kamal’s MNM got only 10,58,084 (2.45%)votes , Seeman’s NTK gained 30,67,458 (6.89%) votes.
Decline and Fall of MNM
Furthermore the MTM party which hogged much of the media spotlight during the election campaign due to the cinematic charisma of Kamal Haasan faced an inner-party crisis in the aftermath of the poll. Heated discussions took place when key party officials met to analyse the electoral debacle.
Much of the blame was aimed at Kamal himself. Several accusations were levelled against him. These included lack of transparency and accountability in financial transactions , The disproportionate influence wielded in intra-party matters by a cabal favoured by Kamal and the party leader devoting much of his time and energy to his own electoral propaganda and neglecting the needs of other party candidates.
Afterwards Kamal Haasan requested undated letters of resignation from office-bearers saying he wanted to reorganize the MNM. He met with an explosive response. Leading party officials -many of them respected personalities in their own right- began submitting dated resignation letters quitting not only their positions in the MNM but also their basic membership in the party. Kamal Haasan the Global Hero was being turned into a political zero in his own, native Tamil Nadu
Kamal Haasan tried to re-furbish the MNM by appointing a new set of office-bearers. This was only a cosmetic change and did nothing to uplift the sagging fortunes of the MNM. The party contested many local authority elections in Tamil Nadu but failed to get a single representative elected.
Given the humiliating defeats suffered by the MNM in the polls and the cavalcade of resignations by prominent party officials, it was apparent that the fledgling party was undergoing a crisis of disintergration. The only way to counter this process of depletion, decline and decay would have been for party leader Kamal Haasan to immerse himself fully in MNM party matters. With the upper crust of the MNM deserting him, Kamal needed to consolidate himself with the rank and file by reaching out and appealing to them. He had to tour the state and inter-act with party branches.
Cinema Rather Than Politics
However the actor – politico did not seem to be thinking on those lines. Instead he chose to return to the film world by reviving the stalled shooting of his movie “Vikram”. After Vikrm’s success,he has turned to his other long delayed sequel Indian 2.It appears that Kamal Haasan – much to the delight of his numerous fans – has opted to pursue attainable goals in cinema rather than hanker after desirable targets in politics.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an enhanced version of an article appearing in the D.B.S.Jeyaraj Column of the “Daily Mirror”dated July 2nd 2022.It can be accessed here-