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April 4, 1997


Kamal Hasan returns to Bollywood

Suparn Vermain Bombay

KKamal Hasan amal Hasan is back in Bollywood as shooting began on Monday on the remake of his Tamil blockbuster, Avvai Shanmughi, which itself is "inspired, not remade," as Kamal tells you, from the Hollywood hit,Mrs Doubtfire. Dubbed Chikni Chachi, Kamal decided it better be remade, not just dubbed, in Hindi. "I think the quality suffers heavily when you dub. In fact, the quality doesn’t remain the same even when you dub in the same language."

Chikni Chachi is being directed by Shantanu Sheorey, whose background is essentially as an advertising film-maker, and produced by Saab John, a long-time associate of Kamal Hasan.

Sheorey was to work with Kamal earlier too but the project got delayed. "We met again and Kamal was very happy with the success of Avvai Shanmughi and wanted to make the film in Hindi. I saw it and thought it had a great potential" though he felt the Tamil version lacked humour.

Sheorey has a daunting task ahead, making his debut directing Kamal Hasan, that too as a woman. He laughs, "One doesn’t direct Kamal, though I was told by a lot of friends that it would be better to make my debut in a run-of-the-mill film."

Michael Westmore, a renowned make-up man who figured in films that relied heavily on makeup like Star Trek and Mrs Doubtfire, will be flying down too. Kamal Hasan has learnt much from him.

Kamal Hasan "I call him my guru though he does not like me calling him that. He has 35 people working with him and he still is learning from them," says Kamal, adding that, basically, "I’m my own make-up man".

All that padding and foundation tends to give an allergic Kamal Hasan wrinkles beneath his eyes. There is a solution, says Saab John. "We will be shooting the portions of the younger Kamal first and then proceed from June 1 with him as a woman." So any wrinkles that remain will only reduce the amount make-up needed. As the shooting progresses, Kamal may need just wig, spectacles and a woman’s clothes.

"The make-up takes five hours to put on and lasts for only five hours," says John, adding that the make-up sessions will also be captured in photographs and on videotape. Presumably, the idea is to make the best of it as Kamal did when he got the make-up sessions of Hindustani videotaped. He tried to sell it, but just didn’t get the right price then.

"More audience, more money,’’ says Kamal, but Chikna Chachi, to be shot in 65 days, costs Rs 90 million. Making that kind of money and thereafter calls for a huge audience indeed.

Someone pointed out there were complaints that the heavy make-up Kamal used in Hindustani and Avvai Shanmughi was clearly visible on screen. Kamal smiles and says magnanimously, "It is not the fault of the make-up artist, it is the actor's fault. If I am not able to involve the audiences in the scene and if I give them time to notice the make-up, it is my fault." He should have tried convincing people he was a woman wearing a false moustache and beard. Kamal is convinced though. "The make-up we used was the best there is in the world and we tried to better it."

Kamal has another movie on the anvil -- Ladies Only, inspired from the Hollywood blockbuster 9 to 5. No, he is not playing a lady there though it must have been tempting, starring as it does Sarika, Seema Biswas and Shilpa Shirodkar. Kamal contends to play a corpse in the movie, leaving it to Randhir Kapoor, who plays the boss, to lech at the womenfolk.

Kamal Hasan "We are marketing the film as Kamal Hasan’s deadliest role," says Kamal, "and we are not going to talk about it… There is a lot of hype and curiosity around the film and we do not wish to add to it."

With so many disguises, how does Kamal Hasan hope to surprise the audiences next " I think I’ll play a role with no make-up. I’m sure no one will recognise me" he laughs.

Kamal reasons that his need to participate in all aspects of film-making arises from his early years in production. "I started as an assistant choreographer and wrote my first script when I was 19 and co-directed my first film at 20. But no one would listen to me since I was too young. K Balachander pushed me into acting and I worked towards it over the years. I always feel neglected as an technician."

He has been making a lot of films in the recent past inspired by Hollywood blockbusters and converting them into money-spinning yarns. He has his bad days too. "I had to swallow my pride many times. I loved Sanjeev Kumar’s Angoor and tried to remake it… I’m sure Sanjeev Kumar must have gone laughing to his grave after watching my performance…"

Veteran actor Johnny Walker also stars in the film, coming back to the screen after 15 years. He last appeared in G P Sippy’s Shaan. "Gulzarsahab had many years ago written a very small but very interesting role for me in Anand, and he called me up saying that he would like me to play a part he has written especially for me. So here I am."

Kimi Katkar Sheorey’s wife, Kimi Katkar, who gave the clap for the muhurat shot, says she does miss films, which she left some years ago. "But I have a full time job taking care of my four-year-old son Siddharth."

Almost on cue, the boy sprang up on stage and began trying to pull down one of the pillars of the set. "You brat, come here," his mother hollers, adding for the onlookers, "He’ll ruin his father's film even before it starts."

Kamal Hassan’s next project is Marad Nayyakam, set in the 18th century.

"It is the most expensive film I have ever made. It will be more expensive than Indian," he says, adding the film was too costly to make when first conceived but now he could afford it. And going by his dictum, "more audience, more money," you can guess the size of the audience he has in mind.

Kamal thinks film-makers tend to blame audiences for the failures of their films. "How can you blame the audiences? It is they who made Mughal-e-Azam happen, it is they who made Sholay happen. How can you say their tastes have changed? If anyone is to be blamed it’s the film-maker."

He himself has played a psychopathic killer in Chivappu Rojakal, a physically deformed village idiot in Pathinaru Vayathinile, an underworld don in Nayakan,, a dwarf in Appu Raja, a mentally-unhinged tantric in Guna, a wrinkled freedom fighter in Hindustani, a sari-clad woman in Avvai Shanmughi. So what role does he think is missing in his resume?

"I think I’ll try to act the perfect actor," he returns.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda