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December 19, 1997


Chachi comes a-visiting

V S Srinivasan

Kamal Hasan. Click for bigger pic!
Chachi 420 finally hits the marquee. As Avvai Shanmughi in the original Tamil and based on Mrs Doubtfire, it became a rage in Tamil Nadu.

"The film will do well, I hope," says Kamal Hasan, who is in Bombay for the release. And if it does become a hit, he hopes he will have a longer tenure in Bollywood than he did after that mega-grosser Ek Duje Ke Liye.

It was after the success of his Hindustani (the dubbed version of the Tamil Indhiyan) that he decided to plunge into Hindi cinema again with Chachi 420 (then Chikni Chachi) and asked old friend Shantanu Sheorey to direct the film. But, within weeks, the relationship soured and Sheorey left the film in a huff.

"It was a big mistake but let us not talk about all those controversies," says Kamal Hasan. "The film is ready. I have directed it afresh. Please let us talk about the present." Like Dev Anand, he has this way of fending off unpleasant questions.

Shantanu Sheorey. Click for bigger pic!
The film, like his Hindustani before it, places a great deal of importance on the make-up by Barry Westmore, which used to consume a tedious five hours each day. Directing the film along with all this preparation must have been taxing. The star cast finally lists Amrish Puri, Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Johny Walker (who returns to the big screen after 30 years), Tabu and Ayesha Jhulka. Ashwini Bhave, who was part of the original cast, was sacked from the film soon after Sheorey.

"See, she had come in time; there were others waiting too. In fact, everyone had to wait for me to get ready because my make-up took quite some time to happen. There were all these senior artistes also waiting for me. They never cribbed. Then who is Ashwini, sir?"

"I have always maintained that they never waited for me, they waited for the character to come onto the sets. Moreover, since my make-up would run in five hours or so, we had to rush through the shoots. Naturally, your schedule is upset when your artistes are late," he says in some heat, before subsiding. "Sorry for the outburst," eventually he says, contritely.

A still from Chachi 420. Click for bigger pic!
This volatility has been his hallmark since, well his childhood. It actually helped him get his first role. Flashback to 1958 or so...

A little boy comes along with a doctor to treat a woman who is ill at the home of movie mogul A V Meyyappa Chettiar of the AVM Studios. Suddenly a man on the first floor of the bungalow begins shouting into a phone. The doctor is discomfited, but not young Kamal Hasan of Ramanathapuram. He strides up the stairway and tells the astonished noisemaker, "Please keep quiet. Don't shout over the phone like that. Someone in the house is ill."

Meyyappa Chettiar is impressed and gives the boy a role in Kalathur Kannammal for which Kamal Hasan bags the award for best child artiste.

Growing up, Kamal Hasan started anew as a choreographer, went on to become an assistant director, and co-scripted Unarchigal at 19 and went on for a course in make-up from American whiz Michael Westmore. But he is still uncomfortable with praise.

A still from Chachi 420. Click for bigger pic!
"As a professional I may have achieved something, but I am an ordinary human being. I laugh, I get angry easily and do things much as others do. I'm not a star, I'm not different from others. Even if I like to think I am someone special, the fact is I'm not."

His Raj Kamal Productions has had 10 jubilee hits out of 12 films it launched, but Kamal denies he has his finger on the pulse of southern audiences.

"I have just been making films I want to. The audience has been pretty kind, watching and appreciating my films." As far as the Hindi audiences's reaction to his movies, he says, "Actually, that is my fault. I have not offered them much. After Appu Raja went off well, I just gave them Hindustani." But he isn't convinced he has brought around the Hindi audiences with the latter film. "If you think you've been successful in knowing what the audiences want, you'll find you're mistaken, sir," he says.

Tabu. Click for bigger pic!
Putting his fan following where his mouth is, Kamal Hasan dissolved his fan club in 1989, forming, in its place, a voluntary service organisation called the Kamal Hasan Narpani Iyakkam. An apolitical movement, it organises medical camps for tribals, blood donation camps, seminars and debates on social issues in schools.

"The movement has also pledged more than 15,000 pairs of eyes. My wife Sarika and children Sruthi and Akshara have pledged their eyes along with me," he says.

Kamal Hasan has won 17 Filmfare awards, two Andhra Pradesh state awards, three Tamil Nadu state awards for best acting and three national best actor awards for Moonram Pirai in 1982, Nayakan in 1987 and Indhiyan in 1997. He is the only Indian actor to have six of his films nominated for the Oscars -- Sagar, Nayakan, Swati Muthyam, Thevar Magan, Kuruthipunal and Indhiyan.

Click for bigger pic!
He has also bagged the Karunanidhi award for scriptwriting. He has learnt singing from the legendary Balamurali Krishna and sung songs in his films. His short stories and poems are often published in leading Tamil magazines.

But behind that phenomenal success lies an orderly pattern of work. For example, for every shot he writes down the technical aspects of the shot.

"I have notes for every department, telling them what they should be doing for that particular shot. That makes things a lot easier," he says.

Now he is anxiously awaiting the audience's reaction to Chachi 420. "You will know soon what impact I can make in Hindi," he laughs. A trifle nervously, perhaps.

The Queen and Kamal
When friends fall out...
Kamal Hasan returns to Bollywood

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