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IT was a great time to know Kamal.

The success of Nayakan had helped alleviate, if not erase, the bitterness of his return from Bollywood. In an introspective mood, he once talked of those days. Of how, despite the success of Ek Duje Ke Liye and Sagar or perhaps because of it, there were vested interests who went out of their way to ensure he did not succeed in Hindi films.

That coincided with the breakup of his marriage and the start of an involvement with Sarika that was to culminate in his second marriage. He spoke of how his family had, at the time, taken sides in his marital dispute with Vani Ganapathy.

And it was not his side.

He spoke of how he had returned to Chennai, Sarika in tow, with no money in the bank and no place to stay.

Initially, he had booked into a room at the Chola Sheraton while seeking a more permanent place to stay; he ended up deliberately overstaying, he said, because he did not have the money to pay the bills on checkout. He had to wait till some friends overseas raised money and sent it across to him.

Any bitterness, I asked him. Not bitterness, he said. It is more a desire to prove what I can do, to ‘show them all’.

I will make movies, he said then, that they will want to remake in Hindi, but they won’t be able to find actors who can do what I do.

He was, it seemed to me then, shooting 24/7. He was also searching for ways to express what he termed his ‘human side’.

One day, I got a note from his office inviting me for a press conference. By then, the magazine I worked on was moribund. Kamal -– during its brief existence had, along with the likes of the late G Venkiteswaran and Ram Kumar, son of the late Sivaji Ganesan, had done much financially and otherwise to keep it afloat –- knew it too.

I went anyway. Turned out he was launching his own fan club. Or rather, giving it a purpose.

What is the point, he asked me after it was over, for fans to garland your pictures and block-book tickets for the first day, first show of your films and go around imitating your hairstyle and your clothes?

Thousands joined fan clubs of the stars, he pointed out. Why confine their activities to glorifying the object of their adulation?

From that thought, that year, was born the Kamal Haasan Narpani Iyakkam.

More grassroots social movement than fan club, it was mandated to organise blood and eye donation camps, proselytise the ideals of national integration in villages and small towns, help secure medical attention for tribals.

It would be nice, he said, to know that somehow, you had managed to parlay your name and your fame into something that touched people; that left a life better than you found it.

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