The grand plans of Kamal Haasan

At the mahurat of Chachi 420 (1997), people were surprised to hear the soulful strains of the nadaswaram, a double-reed wind instrument from Tamil Nadu, emerge from nowhere as the film’s leads Kamal Haasan and Tabu performed a scene.

The setting was a temple and Haasan and Tabu’s characters had just gotten married. Later, to the surprise of everyone present, it was revealed that the music was provided by Haasan himself, who had trained in ventriloquism for a role.

The fact that Haasan immerses himself in any role he undertakes is well known. What’s more, the thespian loves to submerge himself in nearly every department in most of his projects. He acts, produces, directs, writes, sings his own songs, is adept at doing special effects, if need be, and is also known to choreograph some of his songs.

In this context, it makes little sense for him to not contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections despite fielding candidates from his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam from across the state of Tamil Nadu. The decision to help the contestants notwithstanding, Haasan’s resolve seems out of place for he has expressed a desire to hang up his boots to concentrate on politics.

Since the news of his foray into politics, Haasan was seen adjusting his position in the light of his earlier actions. The actor was amongst the host of celebrities across India who had tweeted in support of the demonetisation of November 2017, but a few months before he officially entered public life, he retracted his statement apologising for ‘supporting demonetisation in a hurry’.

A few days before he launched his party in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, on February 21, 2018, Haasan famously commented that ‘saffron’ was not the colour of his politics. He had already been winning friends like Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister and the founder-president of the Aam Aadmi Party, and rekindling old associations such as the one he has with the Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whom the actor has called a long-time friend and his “political mentor”.

For some Haasan’s actions appeared to be a U-turn of sorts. For most, these were part of the standard operating procedure followed by Tamil matinee idols to jump into the state’s politics. For a long time, Haasan never really took a political stance in real life and when it came to his films he didn’t mind showcasing his Left leanings like in Anbe Sivam (2003).

Like M G Ramachandran, M Karunanidhi or even Sivaji Ganesan, Haasan never really used his films to make a political statement in the run-up to his entry into politics.

In fact, it was only following his tweet mourning the death of J Jayalalithaa, which was considered to be insensitive by many, that Haasan’s political stance became public.

Even after that Haasan has not gone the Vijay path where the actor makes political statements in the garb of promoting his film, Sarkar, but this seems poised to change – the sequel to Indian (1996) where Haasan plays a former Azaad Hind Fauj soldier turned vigilante would use the template to put his message across.

For the past few years, there had been a lot of speculation about both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth getting into politics.

Haasan has since launched a political outfit while Rajinikanth has converted his fan association into an outfit called Rajini Makkal Mandram, which at some point in the future could transform into a regular political party.

When Rajinikanth made a statement a few days ago that he would neither contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections nor would he support any political party, Haasan mocked him by suggesting that after sitting at the table one can’t avoid eating food.

Ironically, Haasan doesn’t seem to be interested in applying his advice in its full capacity to himself — in politics one needs to fight elections.

In an ideal world, Haasan should have fought the Lok Sabha elections and two years later when the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls take place both he and his party would have delivered something for the people of the state to judge them by.

Right now, Haasan has urged the people to vote for his party as every candidate was his ‘face’. He has vouched to represent a proper voice of Tamil sentiments in Parliament after 50 years with his “army of gentlemen” (sexist much?) but doesn’t really want to do it himself.

The trouble is that Haasan might play what could be the second-lead (Anbe Sivam), a glorified parallel comedian (Sathi Leelavathi) or even a corpse (Ladies Special, an unreleased Hindi film he also produced) in reel life, but perhaps not in real life.

It would have done much for Haasan’s credibility to spend a couple of years strengthening his political identity before the 2021 state Assembly elections because as how things stand today, it is not easy for a newly blossomed politician like him to become the chief minister of a state overnight.

One really can’t blame Kamal Haasan for dreaming though for some of his friends managed to do just that.

Gautam Chintamani is a film historian and the author of ‘Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna and Pink – The Inside Story’. He tweets at GChintamani