'There are no words to describe Kamal Haasan'
Kamal Haasan's controversial film Viswaroopam is finally gets ready to release in Tamil Nadu on February 7, the female lead in the film, Pooja Kumar, speaks to Radhika Rajamani about the film, her role and getting to work with Kamal Hassan.
How did it feel to get signed by Kamal Hassan for Vishwaroopam?
It was an extraordinary feeling to be working with an icon. Getting an opportunity to showcase my talent with him is a dream come true.
The way I got the role was through Skype. Gauthamiji had seen my work online and contacted my manager. So my American manager asked me, have you heard of Kamal Hassan as he is interested in talking to you about a project?
I told him, of course I knew. Immediately we were on a Skype call and Kamal Hassan said we were doing this project. Five days later, I was on a plane to Chennai.
Image: Kamal Haasan and Pooja Kumar in Vishwaroopam
'Kamal Haasan has this intimidating factor about him'
What was your initial reaction?
When I got the call, I was screaming, going up and down. My family said teekh hai (it's all right). They didn't believe when I told them. It has been a life-changing time with this film.
You live in the United States but you have acted in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi films and have appeared on television. How was it acting in a Tamil-Hindi bi-lingual and doing the first scene?
I have never done a multi-lingual film in Hindi and Tamil. In America, actors are normally not used to so many sounds. There aren't so many dialects. I welcomed the challenge.
One doesn't get an opportunity every time to work with Kamal Sir. It was tough as there were different languages with different nuances.
I got 10 pages of long dialogues! My first scene was with Zarina Wahab. I was nervous coming on the set. Kamal Sir has this intimidating factor about him which made us (co-actors) strive for excellence and go beyond what we do. After one hour, I felt less nervous and more comfortable.
Did you prepare for the role in terms of doing research?
I did a bit of research on nuclear oncology. My dad's a mechanical engineer and my brother's a doctor. I took on their demeanour, I discussed with Kamal Sir. I had five days to prepare and as a team, we came up with the best we could do.
Image: Pooja Kumar in Vishwaroopam
'I had to work on the dialogues and get the lip sync right'
How challenging was it to do the Tamil version since you don't know the language?
I used to mug up the dialogues and also memorise the scene as I had to catch the cues of the other actors. I worked hard. I focused on the scene, the relationship, and the feeling, all of which are important.
I had to work on the dialogues and get the lip sync right and say the dialogues. So it was a fantastic challenge.
How was it acting with Kamal Hassan?
I spent about five months shooting the film in both the languages in New York, Mumbai and Chennai. Kamal Hassan was acting, directing, producing, choreographing – wearing multiple hats. I enjoyed every bit of it.
Being next to Kamal Sir and listening to him was like going to University and studying cinema!
He has that passion, a sign of a great artiste doing something different and giving something new. He has the drive to make the difference. There are no words to describe him.
Were you nervous or overawed by him?
I was nervous. His experience comes from 200 films. I wanted to do justice to the character even though I didn't have that much experience.
He told me, you have to be this character. After that I didn't think of anything but the character and the relationship I share with Kamal Sir's character.
Image: A scene from Vishwaroopam
'Shekhar Kapur is a fantastic actor'
You also share space with Shekhar Kapur. How was that experience?
It was a memorable experience. Being on the sets and having these two people to speak to on films, their experiences, their trials and tribulations was fantastic. It was like a whirlwind. Shekhar Sir is a fantastic actor. He also has an intimidating factor about him. But I told him, as far as the Tamil version went, he and I were in the same boat as we didn't know the language.
He's truly a humble human being. In fact, both Kamal Sir and Shekhar Sir are down to earth. They want to show people good cinema.
You are trained in Kathak. The choreography was by Birju Maharaj and you are his disciple.
I was so happy that Guruji was choreographing a piece for this film and I was so sad that I am not in it. I did see a part of the shooting of it. After a long time there's a classical dance in the film which young people will also enjoy. It's been done so beautifully.
We get to see Kamal Sir dance after such a long time and he's such a good dancer.
You also work in short films. Could you talk about that?
I produced a short film, 1001 Auditions, which went to many film festivals. I'm always looking for scripts to be personally involved in.
I enjoy the journey I am in and believe in doing as much good as possible. We live life only once, so be passionate about what you do.
Image: Shekhar Kapur and Pooja Kumar in Vishwaroopam