July 16, 2002 
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Kamal Haasan
'I'm working to clear debts'
Things are looking up for Kamal Haasan with Panchatanthiram

High on life. That describes Kamal Haasan, as he overcame some personal setbacks --- including a painful separation with his wife and children --- when his new comedy Panchatanthiram, starring Simran, opened to full houses all over Tamil Nadu.

Optimistic and ever buoyant, the versatile actor spoke to Subhash K Jha on his career.

How has Panchatanthiram opened?

Very, very well. I should know because I distributed the film in Karnataka. I sat with the audience and watched the film. Believe me, the laughter never dies down. Of course there will be the naysayers who will tell you it is doing so-so business. So what? The fact of the matter is Panchatanthiram has had the best opening among the comedies in Tamil cinema in a long time. My comedies have always done well. I am grateful for that.

Coming to a less pleasant topic, it is rumoured that you forced the producer of Abhay [Kalaipuli S Thanu] to add half an hour of very expensive computer graphics which he later had to delete on viewers' demands.

Completely false. In fact the local Tamil television channels carried stories showing audiences protesting against the arbitrary cuts in the Tamil version of Abhay [Aalavandhan].

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What actually happened was the producer had borrowed enormous amounts of money as theatre rent and sent out the prints too late. To compensate for the losses, the running time of the film was reduced to accommodate more shows. He chopped off half an hour of the film at random to accommodate an extra show every day. He gave a letter of consent to theatre owners to chop off footage arbitrarily.

It is so ridiculous. There should be a law as to who should cut the film and for what purpose.

Abhay's producer has been saying he incurred heavy losses because of your demands.

We had agreed on a particular style and treatment right from the beginning. He said yes to everything I suggested. He was very good with his film's publicity in Tamil Nadu. But he had no idea about how to handle the film outside the State.

He went for overkill from the outset. The mahurat of Abhay was a huge, unmanageable affair, unlike anything we had seen before. But he could not maintain that grand momentum.

Kamal Haasan and Simran There is a lot of speculation about your financial status.

I was doing only one film at a time. I therefore spent a whole year working with one producer who was probably more foolhardy than me about money matters.

But I have learnt my lesson. Now I am working towards settling my debts. Instead of one film, I will probably do two or three films per year at the same fee that I got one doing one film per year. My new film Anbesivam goes on the floors this month. Hopefully, that will be released in Diwali.

Anbesivam is the film Priyadarshan was supposed to direct?

That is right. But now it is helmed by C Sundar. He has the reputation for delivering the goods. That is all-crucial for me right now.

You know directors who have treated me as a comrade instead of just an actor, have always got the best out of me. Even great filmmakers like K Balachander, Mani Ratnam and Balu Mahendra have treated me like an ally. That helped the entire project.

I am sure Mani doesn't take all his actors into confidence. But he would discuss the screenplay during Nayakan. That was really reassuring for me. My chest heaves with pride when my directors take me into confidence.

Is there another film with Mani Ratnam on the anvil?

Yes we have been discussing it for quite some time. But we haven't found the right vehicle. It has been 16 years since we did Nayakan. There is so much vested --- and invested --- and interests involved.

The expectations so many years after Nayakan are unbelievable. Our collaboration is now part of folklore. So we're both a bit scared. There's a dryness in the throat and palpitations. But it is going to happen soon.

Why did Panchatanthiram get into censor trouble?

The producer projected the film wrongly. He screened a song where actress Ramya comes out of a cake --- that is not an important part of the story. It was like promoting Sholay with the Mehbooba song. The song was a little raunchy. And it gave out the wrong signals.

We all worked like lunatics to complete the film in three months. While director K Ravi Kumar was cutting editing and mixing, I got busy writing Anbesivam.

Have you completed the script?

Kamal Haasan and Simran Yes. And a journalist friend, cartoonist and novelist Madan is writing the dialogues.

What did you take away from Panchatanthiram?

The pleasure of working with all those talented actors in this ensemble comedy is enormous. Everything about the film was joyous.

Despite the turmoil in my personal life, the film will always brought a smile to my face. It was just the balm I needed to keep me calm.

Priyadarshan out of Kamal's film
Will Kamal's lighthearted stunt pay off?


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