Fun and frenzy on `Mumbai Xpress'
Busy as he is with the last minute formalities for `Mumbai Xpress' that will soon roll out of the Hassan stable, Kamal chats with MALATHI RANGARAJAN on his latest project in particular...
WHEN WAS the last time that a Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth film got released on the same day? At the most if one makes two films annually, the other makes an appearance once in three or more years. But this time round, April 14 will be different the flicks of two most imposing figures in Tamil cinema will hit the theatres on that day.
"It has happened several times in the past. This time will be no different. Why ... our films have been released even with that of Sivaji Ganesan's ... I think it was `Thirisoolam.'" Kamal finds nothing extraordinary in the occurrence.
`Mumbai Xpress' is just about complete and Kamal is busy addressing last minute glitches if any, and giving final touches to the product, when you meet him at his office on Eldams Road, Chennai. The place is a rare combination of the traditional and the modern, with more of the former. The simple, tastefully done dιcor has an old world charm about it. Kamal's various awards are on display unostentatious, yet making a point. On a side table are books of Bharathiar's poems neatly arranged. `Honorary Member of Teaneck,' proclaims a plaque behind. From the desk of Kamal Hassan, states the neatly placed notepad on the table. Every object in the room has significance. So naturally you are curious about an umbrella that somehow seems incongruous in the scheme of things ...
And apart from the huge portrait of his mother, is a large picture of Kamal Hassan and Jeppiaar in a convocation robe, adorning the windowsill. You assume that it was taken in January last when Sathyabhama Deemed University conferred an honorary doctorate on the actor. "Actually, its chancellor, Jeppiaar, gave me the picture more than three years ago ... much before the doctorate was conferred on me," laughs Kamal. "That man and I share a strange friendship," he continues, pointing to Jeppiaar in the picture. "Whenever he thinks I'm feeling low, he comes up with something ... Let me write a thesis, let it be evaluated and then give me the doctorate if you feel I'm worth it, I would tell him. `Your 200 films are more than a thesis. Keep looking at this picture and you will one day agree with my decision,' he would persist. Suddenly at the `Vasool Raja MBBS' function he announced that a doctorate would be awarded to me. `Kamal can't refuse it anymore,' he said and that's how it came about."
You can never take chances with Kamal quick thinker and fluent talker that he is your antenna has to be intact always if you don't wish to miss the point and the man keeps making one at every turn. Each sentence uttered comes with an analogy attached and each poser fielded has a simile, metaphor or at least, a repartee.
You notice the elastic strapping on his hand and remember that he had been injured while riding a bike for a scene in `Mumbai Xpress.' Are such risks necessary? "Of course, they are ... " he replies without batting an eyelid. "You don't ask why Gandhiji took the risk on that fateful day he was killed ... And what about Brandon Lee? Would he have realised his end was lurking at that innocuous shooting spot?" (Bruce Lee's son Brandon died during the filming of the climax for the film, "The Crow," when guns were brandished for the scene and real bullets hit him.) "If something has to happen it will ... "
Publicity and success
Soon after the release of that exquisite fare, "Anbae Sivam," which had Kamal and Madhavan, you remember Kamal Hassan mention lack of publicity as the reason for the lukewarm response it received ... "Sure ... till the reviews came out people hardly knew anything about the film ... " he reiterates. But excessive hype and hoopla can work adversely too ... "That's middle class mentality," Kamal cuts you short. "No publicity can be too much, provided your product lives up to the expectation created. `Star Wars' is a concrete example."
But what's middle class about it? "Such matters hardly affect the upper or lower stratum ... they look out for the film that follows the publicity. But the middle class attitude, particularly in the South, is very different. The man may possess an exquisite watch but he would stash it safe. `Why flaunt it ... I can give it to my son' he would say. The woman would prefer to keep her jewels in a locker, in case people think she is showing off. This class is driven by what people think ... it takes a lot of pride in humility. Why shouldn't they wear what they have and allow others to think what they want? So it is with publicity ... what's wrong in promoting your product?" Behind the circumlocution you see a solid contention.
"After `Michael Madhana Kama Rajan,' this has been the most difficult screenplay to conceive," Kamal says.
He was in charge of it for `MMKR' and in `Mumbai Xpress' besides the screenplay he has taken on the added onus of story and dialogue. "A potter, once he learns the art of shaping his ware at the wheel, can carry on with it easily. But basket-weaving demands greater expertise ... seamlessly weaving in symmetrical patterns is a challenge ... so has it been with ` ... Xpress.' So many characters have been conjoined to create a cohesive, interesting whole," he explains. Singeetham Srinivasa Rao is the director. You still remember the healthy hilarity the combo presented in the silent `Pushpak' and the action filled `Appu Raja.' "It is a wholesome holiday treat for the entire family," Kamal asserts. "Manisha Koirala has done a wonderful job. So has good friend Sharad Saxena ... and that young boy Hardhik ... he's unbelievable. The way he spoke the Tamil dialogue during the shoot was amazing. Watching the pilot in his own voice I was stunned at his clarity with languages. " Kamal commends every actor from Vaiyapuri and Santhana Bharathi to Ramesh Arvind, Pasupathi and Nasser (who worked in the Tamil version) and from Sourabh Shukla and Vijay Raaz to Om Puri and Dinesh Lamba in Hindi. The ` ... Xpress' will chug in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. To add to the fun there's Charlie, the horse and Munna, the monkey. Strangely, it is not trains but jumbo jets that are a part of the cast, if you can say so.
What's in the name
`Virumaandi' ran into rough weather initially because some insisted the original name be changed and Kamal complied. This time it is an enigma why a similar objection has arisen to a very colloquial term as `Mumbai Xpress.' "My only query is, what mistake have I done. Why target me? We've created logos, promos and all the stuff for the film with the name `Mumbai Xpress,' which is also being made in Hindi. It's a complex question of logistics. I'm willing to have a dialogue for good or bad. I don't seek trouble ... people who see me work will know that I have no time for it. I'm very busy ... I write, I act and I involve myself with every department of production. Not many do that. Charlie Chaplin did it ... and Tamil is very important to me too ... " Kamal heaves a sigh. Strangely recent Tamil releases with English names `7/G Rainbow Colony' and `New,' to name a couple faced no such hitch ...
The other day while talking to `Typist' Gopu you found that the actor was all admiration for Kamal Hassan. "Any one else who has had to face so many problems and challenges in life would have buckled under the pressure, but Kamal manages to scale every crisis with grit," he had said. Mention it to Kamal and he says: "I can never cry ... But like others I do have my bouts of irritation, frustration and anger. And if I get worked up at the work spot, it's only because I want good results."
Music in ` ... Xpress'
Ilaiyaraja is the composer. "The songs have come out very well. Leave alone the Hindi number you have to listen to Sonu Nigam singing in Tamil. His diction is excellent ... I've also sung a couple of songs." Kamal's eyes are aglow with excitement as he dwells on the maestro's composing skills.
"Ilaiyaraja went to Budapest for composing. At a time when synthesised music holds sway he has gone in for a live orchestra ... and the difference is discernible," says a happy Kamal. "He's done a wonderful job with the Hungarian orchestra, which he has used for the opening of the romantic number. The quaint piece, `Bandar Ki Dug Dugi Hai,' has been well sung by Sonu Nigam, KK and Shaan, and is a recurring theme in `Mumbai Xpress,' he adds.
Films and Kamal
"You could call it a kind of prem rog ... cinema is an obsession with me. Even if it's the most awful film I can sit glued to it for hours. I keep telling Rajnikanth how lucky we are that people have accepted us for so many years now. Kings like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan ruled the roost as film heroes for over two decades ... and in our case one of our major releases, "16 Vayadhinilae," happened in 1977 ... now it's 2005 ... and still we are in the field. After a period, the acclaim we have been getting is all a bonus. `When people like you so much, keep working Rajni, don't give a long break too often,' I tell him," he smiles.
More on the ` ... Xpress'
"It is a digitally shot film ... cinematographer Siddharth has done a splendid job. Vikram Dharma has choreographed believable stunts ... and there's no gore as in `Virumaandi.' Blending well with humour is racy, thrilling action," he assures. For the first time in cinema here, we are showcasing neo-realistic comedy. They are serious characters and as funny as in real life. It's more than just poker-faced humour," Kamal informs, as he goes on about Samir Chanda's production design and Nitin Wable's artwork.
So a perfect fare awaits the filmgoer ... "Perfection is a myth ... what is perfect today, could be deemed less perfect tomorrow when another new product comes in ... the early car is an example ... But you can aim for excellence because that's possible ... " he smiles.
You can't resist asking him about that umbrella in the corner ... "Oh that? I used to practise moving around with it for the film, `Anbae Sivam,' he says.
Kamal's words on perfection and excellence gain a new perspective ... It's not for nothing that the veteran is one of the most respected performers in the country.
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