What happens when Kamal Hassan writes and/or directs a movie? You are “treated” to more than two hours of the man’s incurable narcissism. If you want to write a review of any movie he has written and/or directed just copy and paste the previous sentence. From Hey Ram (Ram Ram!) to Dashavataram to Vishwaroopam. Hey Ram had more Kamal Hassan than Gandhi while Dashavataram was a noxious cocktail of Kamal Hassan’s narcissism multiplied by ten.

They say that crisis brings out the best or the worst in people. Which is why I waited until the Vishwaroopam hullabaloo came to a closure of sorts. A closure along expected lines.

Kamal Haasan agreed to edit offending portions of his film. After marathon discussions on February 2, it was announced that film would be modified at seven instances by muting references to Tamil jihadis and Quranic prayers.

And there, The Lesson reinforced yet again: you don’t insult the perpetually insulted.

There used to be a time in Indian cinema where Islamic terrorists used to be shown for what they were. This period ended around eight years ago. Ever since, there have been few—if any—mainstream Bollywood movies that dealt with the subject of Islamic terrorism. Equally, the number of Muslim heroines entering Bollywood has reduced drastically. Look around you: name one other Muslim heroine in the league of say, a Katrina Kaif. The reason? A Dawood-issued fatwa that prohibits two things—Muslim women entering Bollywood, and the depiction of Islamic terrorism. In other words, a fatwa against showing even real-life incidents of Jihad. Like what Kamal attempted to do in Vishwaroopam.

And thus yet another precedent has been set.

Poor Kamal.

He should’ve spent more time in Bollywood learning about the powers that control the industry, and what consequences would visit upon those who disobey the writ of those powers. Forget Vishwaroopam. What are the odds that a fine film like Sarfarosh would be allowed to be made—much less released—today? What are the odds that tens of movies starring Sunny Deol pounding Islamic Terrorism with his 2.5 Kg fists can be made today? Indeed, the fact that such movies can’t be made today is itself proof of the existence of such a fatwa. Even an otherwise sensible film like A Wednesday trod the safe path: Naseeruddin Shah’s climactic speech doesn’t mention Islamic terrorism even by mistake. And this, in a movie in which the July 2006 Mumbai train blasts plays a central role. That Jihad motivated those blasts was as well-known to the director of A Wednesday as it is known by all of us.

Poor Kamal.

What did he expect? As this perceptive piece notes, Kamal’s movies have gleefully trolled Hindu society, its customs, gods, traditions, and its women. Vishwaroopam too, is no exception to this. Yet there was nary a protest from Hindus against such distorted, twisted depictions. However, in what surely counts as divine justice, the one time he told the truth about Islamic terrorism in Vishwaroopam, the one time he showed what truly occurs in the barbaric badlands of Afghanistan, he dearly paid for it. The movie in the original Tamil is yet to be released in its home state while the dubbed versions have received pathetic openings both here and abroad. Worse, he realized painfully that nobody was forthcoming with support because…well, because tongues roll inward and lips zip up where Islam is concerned.

And in many ways, Kamal deserved this, a sort of echo of Martin Niemoller’s famous “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist….Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” The Vishwaroopam controversy has another significant side apart from the intolerant Islamic zealots. This side wholly concerns Kamal Hassan the insufferable narcissist. All that (rightful) praise for his acting prowess, his dedication to cinema yadda yadda has travelled to a point of no return within his head. If one observes his movies and his statements over at least the past two decades, it’s pretty clear that Kamal fancies himself as Hollywood’s answer to Kollywood. In the same period, his movies have exhibited a marked wannabe-Hollywood tendency. Vettaiyaadu Veliyaadu is perhaps the best example of this inferiority-complex-ridden tendency.

We find a corollary to that in a piece he wrote in the Hindu a few months ago on the 25th anniversary of Nayagan. It’s highly revealing to say the least.

Muktha Films had a reputation for being tight-fisted. When Mr. Srinivasan heard that we wanted to shoot in Bombay, he wasn’t happy. He just wanted us to make a film — any film — that would net him a profit of Rs. 5 lakh. That is how he was used to working. Films were a business. He wasn’t interested in films as art…One of the viewers was so moved that he fell at the producer’s feet. I urged Mani to go and talk to people but he just walked away saying that there was no glory in this. He was right. I told the producer that he was going to get awards. He said he hadn’t made the film to get awards, merely to make profits. And he was nervous about the film’s dark lighting and so on. He complained that I had spoilt his chances of making a profit…Had the producer been more cooperative and had he had more vision, Mani would have ensured that the film came out better.

These are just highlights. Read the entire piece, an extraordinary exercise in self-glorification. And then read the reply by the producer, Muktha Srinivasan who Kamal accuses in his vainglorious quest.

Kamal Haasan wanted the film to be shot at Dharavi in Bombay, which was the largest and most congested slum in Asia. I did not want to shoot the entire movie in Bombay – but not because I was “tightfisted,” as Kamal claims….After 25 years Kamal Haasan has suddenly chosen to talk about it, distorting the facts for reasons best known to him, and undermining the contributions made by everyone…Mani Ratnam…was not interested in bringing in either a Hollywood stuntman or a makeup man. I felt that Velu Naicker did not need a “Hollywood” makeup man and costumer. In fact it was Kamal Haasan’s idea to bring such people in. Our company had a makeup man and costumers who were all paid by me. To state that there was no budget for makeup and costumes is absurd…Mani would have come up with a better scene had Kamal not insisted on copying from The Godfather…The scene where Kamal Haasan cries on seeing the dead body of his son is copied from The Godfather, and he imitates Marlon Brando. This scene was booed by the audience, because it never fit the character and lacked nativity… Kamal Haasan did not act in my movie for free. He was paid a huge sum, amounting to almost 20 per cent of the original budget. Expecting Rs. 5 lakh as profit is not avaricious. Nayakan was purely a commercial film, and even Kamal Haasan knew this. The tragedy is that I did not make any profit…I have nothing against Kamal Haasan taking credit for the success of Nayakan. But not at my cost, please.

This then is the little-known side of Kamal Hassan, his Periyar-crazy, Dravidian-fantasy-driven politics notwithstanding. Missing somewhere is the word “integrity.” And littered throughout is the word “showoff.”

But as recent events have shown, he seems to have learned nothing. If narcissism is bad enough, we have
self-righteous narcissism.

I will find out in a few days if this is a secular country. I need a secular place to settle. If there’s no secular place in India I would go overseas. My passport will change.

Pretty hilarious to say the least: “give me my toy or else!” Kamal has missed the point. India is actually a secular country. Which is why his film was banned and Islam-crazed goons ran amok even before the movie was released. For all such valiant proclamations, look at how he ended it: by going down on his knees and agreeing to self-censor Vishwaroopam. Whatever happened to his commitment to art? Is it so fragile that he kowtowed before the crazed mullahs and their violent hordes after just a few days of bravado? Let’s face it: he’s not merely a Nayagan, he’s the Ulaganayagan (Universal Hero), and the Hero who donned Dashavataram. Wasn’t one avataram sufficient to take on the might of Jayalalithaa or to appeal in the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court which upheld the ban on the film?

Or was it simply money that was at the root of his shameful capitulation?

Whatever it is, we don’t need to shed tears for this narcissist whose perverse politics and selective atheism earned him both fame and money.

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Sandeep Balakrishna

Writer, blogger and lapsed IT professional.