60 years of Kamal Haasan: Staying ahead of times makes him 'Ulaganayagan'

If there is one word that can define Kamal Haasan, that would be 'versatility'


The past few weeks have been exciting for Kamal Haasan fans. The star confirmed he was resuming work on two pending, and highly-anticipated commitments—Indian 2 and Thalaivan Irukkindra. Sporting a clean-shaven look during the weekend episode of Bigg Boss Tamil, which he hosts, he said the new look was in preparation for these projects.

Indian 2 went on floors on August 12, a date which also marks a significant milestone in actor Kamal Haasan's life—completion of 60 years in cinema. Thriving 60 years in an industry so diverse and challenging is no mean feat; managing to still stay significant and at the top of his game is what fittingly makes Haasan 'Ulaganayagan'. Haasan, considered one of the finest actors in the country, is probably the only actor to have tread the wide landscape of Indian cinema, essaying challenging roles in multiple languages—Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, and even Bengali. He is also the actor who has the highest number of Academy Award submissions in Indian cinema—seven.

He debuted as a child actor in the 1960 Tamil film Kalathur Kannamma, which won him the President's Gold Medal. After taking a break from mainstream acting, he landed his first adult role in 1973 in director K. Balachander's film Arangetram. Balachander, whom Haasan considers his mentor, was not initially confident about the actor who was introduced to him by Gemini Ganesan. In fact, it was a meeting with Ganesan, while Haasan was working as an assistant choreographer, that changed the latter's life. Balachander, though openly critical of the young Kamal, trained him in dialogue delivery and taught him the nitty-gritty of acting and timing. “He made me. What I learnt from him is in-built in me. It is very difficult to break away from his style of acting,” Haasan told THE WEEK, in an interview after the success of Indian in 1996.

If there is one word that can define Kamal Haasan, that would be 'versatility'. The actor's direction, screen-writing or dancing skills are known to all. What will always stand out in his brand of films and acting, is his willingness to experiment with looks in his films—that too at a time when such daring experiments were not common in Indian cinema. Be it his deglamourised village boy look in 16 Vayadhinile, the buck-toothed mentally challenged in Kalyana Raman, the dwarf in Apoorva Sagodharagal, the dynamic middle-aged woman in Avvai Shanmugi, or the 70-year-old Senapathi in Indian, Haasan always gave his audience something to marvel at. In Apoorva Sagodharagal, Kamal also became the first regular-sized actor to to play a dwarf, in a film that did not fall back on expensive computer generated graphics. While Apoorva Sagodharagal was a game-changer, Indian set new benchmarks for art direction in cinema. Kamal sat through hours of painstaking makeup—designed by Academy Award winner Michael Westmore—before every scene featuring Senapathi. For his stunning action sequences in Indian, Haasan was also trained in varma kalai, a martial art form practised in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. As he gets back with the sequel, reports suggest the multifaceted actor has been training to get in shape.

Haasan also evolved beyond cinema, taking his brand further—be it on to television by hosting Bigg Boss Tamil, or his much-talked-about political plunge. The veteran actor launched his party Makkal Needhi Maiam in February 2018. Though his party failed to win a single seat in the recent Lok Sabha polls, it hopes to emerge as a strong alternative for Tamil Nadu's people. Haasan's statements have kicked up controversies in recent times, including his remarks about India's first 'terrorist' being a Hindu.

All said, it was believed Haasan would quit films once he takes the political plunge. He had said he would quit after release of Viswaroopam 2 (which tanked at the box office). Other reports claimed Indian 2 could be his last film. Now with his decision to take his two pending projects forward, Indian cinema is still to witness more of Kamal Haasan.