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November 18, 1999


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Walk Out!


Kamal Hassan and Shahrukh Khan in He Ram He Ram -- Kamal Hassan's under-production movie -- is still in its shooting stages, and already the controversies are mounting.

For starters, there is the curious case of
L Subramaniam. Regulars of this column will recall that Subramaniam had been hired to provide music for the Kamal opus. In a startling development that has set the rumour mills buzzing, Subramaniam walked out of the film without -- officially -- assigning any reason.

Catch being, by that time, the songs had been recorded and even picturised -- and Kamal Hassan, who is also producing the film, couldn't stomach the idea of doing it all over again. So he hired the one man they all turn to when all else fails -- Ilayaraja.

And the doyen of music composers has done a bang up job. Consider the task he had -- the music had been laid out, the songs tuned and picturised. So Raja had to come in, stay with the lyrics and score music that was different from what Subramaniam had done -- but which would yet fit with the lip sync.

Which is precisely what he achieved -- and no one asks Raja how he does what he does!

L Subramaniam But to revert to Subramaniam (right) -- why did he walk out? The reason is that, in his opinion, the movie was going to offend a lot of people, especially the Hindu community. And the music maestro did not want any truck with such a project.

Subramaniam, though, is not the only prominent personality to get cold feet on He Ram -- add to the list, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi. In the movie, there is a sequence where the Sankaracharya is being interviewed. It was shot on location, at the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, with His Holiness participating. And the sequence was meant for incorporation in the film.

Later, however, His Holiness began rethinking his involvement. And realised that if he appeared on-screen, it could be construed as an endorsement of the tack Kamal takes in his film -- a tack the Sankaracharya is distinctly uncomfortable with. So the Mutt got in touch with Kamal's office and asked that the interview sequence should not be used in the film.

Interestingly, Kamal has given no such assurance -- and word from the actor-producer-director's camp is that Kamal is of a mood to use the sequence anyway, come what may. For now, 'no definite decision has been taken' about sums up Kamal Hassan's stand on the subject.

Kamal Hassan in He Ram While the above is fact, what follows is speculation. Subramaniam, you will recall, recently got married to premier playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy. And it was the Kanchi Sankaracharya who was approached to bless the couple's intentions and to suggest a suitable date. Now then -- did the Sankaracharya have a hand in Subramaniam's pulling out of the film?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Makes you wonder, too, just what this film is all about. What do we know already? That it stars Kamal, Shahrukh, Rani Mukherjee (as Kamal's first wife, who is a Bengali), Hema Malini (as the mother of Kamal's second Iyengar wife, played by Vasundhara) and Naseeruddin Shah as Gandhi.

And that, at some level, it touches on the Mahatma's assassination.

To take that further -- Kamal initially intended to call it Satya Sodanai. Which, loosely translated, is My Experiments With Truth. Which is the title of Gandhi's autobiography. Kamal's take is that this is precisely what he is doing with the film -- experimenting with truth, with public perceptions.

Thus, Saket Ram -- the character Kamal plays in a film that kicks off in the year 1999, but has as its storytelling arena the period between 1946-1948 -- attempts to assassinate the Mahatma, well ahead of Godse's eventual, and successful, attempt.

Kamal Hassan in Hey Ram Intensive research, says Kamal, has shown that there were at least two assassination attempts on the Mahatma before Godse, and this film revolves around one of them. The attempt, the motivations, the historical background, and the reason why it was a patriotic Hindu who made the attempt.

It explores the Mahatma's last days, says Kamal. But it also explores the actor's roots, his caste (Iyengar), his community.

But why this particular tack? Why the focus on violence? You cannot, says Kamal, separate Gandhi from terrorism. In ahmisa, the word himsa is implicit. And, adds the film-maker, the attempt here is to search for, and talk about, the truth, not to whitewash it.

That is all he is saying. For now.

One thing's for sure. The film, being simultaneously made in Hindi, French and English, is calculated to create quite a few waves.

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