Actor, producer, director and scriptwriter Kamal Haasan will turn 55 this November. The Nayagan actor has spent 50 out of those 55 years under the arc lights. In an exclusive interview with CNN-IBN, Haasan speaks about films, his co-star Sridevi and his friendship with filmmaker Mani Ratnam.
CNN-IBN: Kamal Haasan made his debut as a child artiste in 1960 in A Bhimsingh's Kallatur Kannama opposite the then screen god Gemini Ganesan. Acting in front of the camera was nothing more than child's play for him. What was your childhood like? What did you enjoy doing as a child?
Kamal Haasan: I was in a theme park. I was way ahead of my time. When no other child had the opportunity, I had this fun park called the AVM Studios. I walked into it and it was off-season but I saw mangoes. They were obviously not real mangoes. So I remember all that. I had special swords made, my Excalibur was made in the carpentry department. They specially crafted it for me and gave it to me.
We had our time when people would be training. Mr Asokan and Anandan would be training for swashbuckling in Veerathirumagan, which is his debut film. So we would watch them practicing fencing, watch their horses and sometimes even get a ride. In between you'll be called for a shot. That wasn't even work, I enjoyed it.
CNN-IBN: Often referred to as India's leading method actor Haasan ruled the Tamil marquee from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. And matching his acting skills onscreen was none other than the popular actress Sridevi. Be it playing a school teacher who tends to an amnesiac in Moondrampirai, for which he won his first national award; to reprising the role of a psycho killer in the racy Sivappu Rojakal, their chemistry was unparalleled.
You have worked with Sridevi in a lot of movies. How was it working with her and having her as a co-star.
Kamal Haasan: I think with Sridevi, I know it sounds silly and out of place to say that, it was almost like a sibling kind of thing. I'm sure that I'm breaking the hearts of many who saw both of us as a great romantic pair. But we were on a job and it's like a sibling kind of a bond. I used to tease her lot, she was very young when she came in and she was scared of so many things. I took advantage of everything and scared the hell out of her. But it was a great relationship we had, nobody knows what kind of a relationship Sridevi and I have. She calls me sir, which is very strange for the number of films we've done. We did about 27 films and we never got to be great friends, we were always professionals.
CNN-IBN: If Sridevi and Kamal were an unmatchable pair on screen then the actor-director combo of Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan gave Indian cinema its first ever ‘Godfather' in Nayagan. This cult hit was the official Indian entry in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars and was included in Time Magazine's list of top 100 movies ever.
How was it working with him? Do you recall any experiences of working with him?
Kamal Haasan: Mani Ratnam was no stranger. Like I used to work with Ananthu and Mani Ratnam used to come there and I didn't even know who he was. We used to meet a lot of filmmakers in Eldams Road and there'll be film screenings, discussions, writers, so somebody brought him in and said he's also writing something and wants to write for films. So we got talking and I liked him. Later on I was surprised at his acumen for picking up stuff. I thought for a new guy, he was really picking up fast.
So it's not like Nayagan was an experience and I suddenly discovered Mani.