Tag Archives: Kamal Haasan

Book launch: Penguin Classics Library

Photo: R. Ragu

Kamal Hassan doesn’t often do book events, but this was a rather special occasion. It was the inauguration of the Penguin Classic Library in Chennai and one classic in particular – ‘Stars from Another Sky’ by the legendary Urdu short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto – was being showcased for discussion.

“I’m here quite simply because I’m Manto’s fan,” said the actor and filmmaker to the packed audience at Landmark. “I came to know of him only later in life, but it was a very important find for me – I found myself in finding him.”

In conversation with National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, Kamal revealed how he was strongly influenced by Manto’s powerful collection of stories on the partition, ‘Mottled Dawn’, while making ‘Hey Ram’. “That’s when I became his blood brother – or ink brother, perhaps,” he said. “I believe that if I’d been there, I’d have been just as troubled by it all.”

Indeed, the actor said that he would have chosen that book to showcase Manto’s writing rather than ‘Stars’, a collection of bluntly honest, irreverent essays on Bollywood stars of the 1940s such as Ashok Kumar, Nargis, etc., which he felt showed the “lower side” of the writer.

But even if one considered these essays ‘yellow journalism’, they were probably the most stylish example of it ever seen, said Rangan: “Although this is a salaciously written book, he’s still very much the writer… we should all aspire to such yellow journalism!”

So continued the lively discussion between the two fans of Manto, including brief readings from the book (that drew gasps and laughter from the audience), a beautiful Tamil translation of one of his Urdu poems read by Kamal in his inimitable style, and discussions on everything from censorship and film criticism to translation from regional tongues and politics in Tamil cinema.

One might argue that the point of the event – the inauguration of the Penguin Classics range of books, consisting of 1,200 titles ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to the works of R.K. Narayanan – was somewhat lost in the midst of all this.

But the standing-room only crowd didn’t seem to mind, hanging on Kamal’s every word, clapping vigorously at his every witticism, and eventually surging out behind him as he left, hoping for a quick handshake or picture.

And it would be safe to say that at least a few of those film buffs will return to read the works of this great Urdu writer, and quite a few others will be drawn back to see just what other hidden gems the Penguin Classics shelves – soon to be up at Landmark – hold in store for them.

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Article: His Master’s Voice

The Hindu

The relationship between K. Balachander and Kamal Haasan defies categorisation. Director –actor, mentor – protégé, father – son… all those lines have been blurred in the 40 years that they’ve known each other, creating a bond that’s unique and unconditional.

So when the veteran filmmaker couldn’t make it to Trivandrum to speak at the felicitation function of his protégé due to ill health recently, he grew upset. But his lovingly crafted speech reached Kamal Haasan nonetheless, one more in the series of touchingly genuine letters Balachander has sent to the actor over the years.

“Here are his earlier letters to me, that I’ve framed,” says Kamal when we meet in his office, displaying the neatly preserved pieces of paper. “I call them ‘my degrees’.”

They span the four decades that the two have known each other, beginning with the first one sent in 1977 after Balachander saw 16 Vayathinile. “I receive them only when he thinks I deserve it – I have to work for them!” says Kamal with a smile.

This particular occasion was Kerala state government’s felicitation of Kamal Haasan for 50 remarkable years in cinema. In the letter, Balachander says, “From babyhood to childhood, from adolescence to youth, from manhood to middle age, I have been part of this magician’s life… Kamal has evolved into everything that I have dreamt he would be. Indeed, I should never be surprised by anything he achieves, yet I am constantly amazed.”

It is high praise, so much so that Kamal himself was quite overwhelmed. “I had to read it out to my sister, who was witness to my early dark days, when my mother was afraid would happen to me,” he says. “But I knew I couldn’t without choking up, so I asked Gautami to read it out for me.”

It is, he says, everything he always wanted to hear from Balachander, his guru, the man he thinks of as a father figure. “I use the word ‘guru’ for him in the mythological sense – all other educationists ask for payment for knowledge imparted; this gentleman paid me and taught me. What a journey it was for me, after I met him at the age of 17 and a half.”

In the letter, Balachander describes this journey as one of mutual learning. “I did not teach him everything he knows. He just absorbed everything I knew. The rest he discovered himself by asking, probing, begging, watching, observing, reading, demanding, investigating, improvising, experimenting, experiencing, learning and not being afraid of stretching himself beyond his own limits,” he writes. “I only gave him the platform and the opportunity to discover himself. In the process, I was blessed enough to discover myself.”

For all their mutual regard, however, Kamal describes their relationship as having remained respectfully formal. “I prepare even for a conversation with him – I never want to say too little or too much. And I never disturb him except when I feel I’ve done something worthwhile,” he says. “It’s a rare relationship – unconditional and professional.”

The depth of the relationship is evident in Balachander’s letter. “I have long since lost the taste, appetite and hunger for personal applause. All I wish for now is to hear the applause, the cheers, the trumpets and the music singing [praises of] Kamal Haasan’s genius,” he writes. “No one has staked his reputation, repertoire and resources for the cause of cinema as much as he has. It is not mere pursuit of fame and fortune. In fact, he has lost more than he has gained. It goes beyond that.”

As this special relationship turns 40 next year, it seems certain to continue to mature like fine wine. “To have won a place in his heart among all those he has mentored and created itself is a distinction,” says Kamal.

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