He is one of the most versatile actors in Indian cinema, who has won five National Film Awards. Kamal has been active in humanitarian work through his welfare organisation Narpani Iyakkam. He recently announced he would not be doing films anymore.
At the India Conference 2018 at Harvard University on February 10, actor Kamal Haasan, who has taken the political plunge in Tamil Nadu, bared his mind on the possibility of an alliance with actor Rajinikanth’s party. Edited excerpts:
There would probably have been a time when this audience would have said to you: Kamal Haasan, we love you, but don’t enter this mud called politics. There are people who look at politics as something dirty. So, why do you want to get into politics? Politics is not about the individual. Politics is surrender of the individual mind.
I don’t think I will have to surrender my individual spirit for the sake of politics. I can still be myself. And, hope people accept me as I am. But, they must understand that I have the good intent to do something which has not been done in my state, at least. Politics, you are right, was considered to be dirty. But, it’s the way you keep it that makes it dirty. And, the responsibility is with you, not with the politician.
So, we get the politicians we deserve?
That’s what I think. Because, once we take money for votes, then you can’t complain when he takes money off your pocket.
Can you share a bit of the journey of getting to this point?
I started Narpani Iyyakam 37 years ago. We were doing social service and that, I thought, will change society a bit. And, so there comes a time when you realise that you have spent 37 years with so many people, roughly about 10 lakh hardcore workers in this welfare association. That was a lot of enthusiasm, all being dampened by political apathy. So, if you want a change, if you want a great change, it has to be done through the government. My heroes, Gandhiji or Periyar, they all did not go into electoral politics. And, I [initially] thought I will follow in their footsteps. But, they lived in another time.
You were accused of speaking of Hindu terrorism when you had actually spoken of Hindu extremism. And, you said that something was lost in translation. But, you did not actually take back that phrase. You in fact made the argument that Hindu fundamentalists are beginning to ape Islamist fundamentalists; the Hindu Mahasabha threatened to shoot you.
I am used to being shot at. But, that’s with a camera.
This was not a camera. A more conventional politician may have said, ‘Oh I meant this, but, I didn’t mean this...’ But you stuck to your position on your concerns about Hindu extremism.
Yes, because I am concerned about Hindus, the so-called Hindus. I think of them as Vaishnavites, Shaivites and other religious groups. The idea of Hindus as one group is very recent. It was not there in the days of the Vedas or even about 200 years back, I guess.
What concerns you? You said you are concerned.
I am concerned about the amity of the nation. How come we have suddenly become so conscious and take quick umbrage at any statement? Why are we regressing to fundamentalism, when we should be going ahead?
There is another big star from your state [Rajinikanth] who has officially indicated his interest in being in politics. It’s quite an interesting moment in Tamil Nadu. You have said you and Rajinikanth are good friends. Before you publicly announced you would be in politics, you actually picked up the phone and you called him, is that correct?
No, I met him.
But, when everyone asks whether we can see you both on the same side, you are not so sure, are you?
No, the reason is, we can be friends on one side. But, politics is different. Our approach is for the good of the people. But, I believe that there is a certain way in which the good will come; I don’t like to take a detour. So, it might happen. We will wait for his manifesto to be out, and mine will be out soon.
On the 21st [of February]?
21st. So, if it gels, then in politics for the sake of the nation and betterment of the people, a good alliance [can be there]. But, I don’t think so. Because, he in his first announcement made some statements which gave him a hue; I hope the hue is not saffron.
You hope his hue is not saffron?
Yes, his hue should not be saffron.
I think that’s the answer. I don’t think there is any ambiguity anymore. Basically, you think he leans right and you lean left.
No, I don’t have to lean on any side. I like equipoise. That is why my site is called Maiam [which means ‘centre’].
As a rationalist you tend to question a lot of inherited wisdom and you don’t believe in a certain kind of ritualism, especially when it comes to religion. And, you see Rajinikanth as having a different school of thought on religion?
Absolutely. We are poles apart that way.
And, would that come in the way of a political agreement?
Absolutely. I think so. Unless, he has another take on how to take it to the people.
So, you are saying an alliance with Rajinikanth is unlikely.
Yeah. These are the conditions.
As of now, you don’t see it happening.
I don’t see it. If this is the route he is going to take and if the hue that he is going to acquire is going to be saffron, then I can’t see a clear understanding between us, unless, there are some explanations that he gives that can convince my rational mind.
What is your hue? Is there in the rainbow of political colours a colour you like?
No. Deep inside, this [points to his black shirt] is the colour. And that optically speaking reflects all colours. I would like to be versatile, but unite into one ethos, one thing—Dravidian. When I say ‘Dravidian’, people sigh and say ‘Oh, here is another politician with that ‘ektara’, that one string that keeps on going ‘Dravidian’. But, mine is a multi-string instrument.
What does being Dravidian mean to you?
It is pan-national. It’s not just between the two political parties in Tamil Nadu. It is a feeling.
What is that feeling?
It’s anthropological. If you look at our faces, you and I are Dravidian.
You initially met with other politicians, Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee. It raised speculation that you could join hands with some other political parties. As you embark on this journey, do you see yourself walking alone? Or, do see yourself holding someone’s hand, some other political party’s hand?
Right now, the terrain I have chosen is firmly my state, I know only that.
And, in your state could you hold someone else’s hand?
I don’t think I will have to hold hands. If that is the case, I wouldn’t have started a party. I would have joined a party.
What does the phrase ‘Love Jihad’ mean to you?
Love Jihad. I don’t know, you are mixing two metaphors. Well, if jihad means holy war, then it doesn’t fit. It’s a misnomer, that title. But, I think that a new revolution is on the way. I don’t know about jihad. Love will triumph.