Just A Minute With: actor Kamal Hassan

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Tamil superstar Kamal Hassan, one of India’s best known actors, is wooing Bollywood audiences with a dubbed version of his 2008 film “Dasavatharam”.

Actor Kamal Hassan speaks during a news conference in Hyderabad in this June 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

The film, renamed “Dashavatar” in its Hindi release, features Hassan in ten different roles and opened in cinemas on Friday.

The 54-year-old actor, filmmaker and screenwriter spoke to Reuters about scripting “Dashavatar”, his upcoming projects, what he thinks of movie audiences and why he will never join politics.

Q: Is there a period of uncertainty when you are writing a script?

A: “Actually, the indecision comes after you start fleshing out the idea. You are so caught up with the idea you think it’s wonderful but when you sit down with it there are so many questions. Those are the questions, which if you don’t answer, the audience will axe you.

“‘Dasavatharam’ also has similar questions. As an idea, it’s just that I am doing ten roles. But what? How is it going to progress? It should talk about the world, not just be a funny caper. So how do you balance this?

“It took fourth months for me to work on it everyday and even then so many people disagreed with it, because they were worried. People are savvy, so the screenwriter’s work has become more difficult.”

Q: You spoke about the audience being savvy. Do you think our filmmakers have kept up?

A: “It’s not that they are dumb. They are dumbed-down.”

Q: By whom?

A: “By business. And the business is run by people who don’t fully understand the aesthetics of it. That is where the marriage should happen. Everybody should understand that. That is how an industry flourishes.”

Q: Can you elaborate a bit?

A: “Everybody is trying to dumb the other person down.”

Q: Why?

A: “Because they feel the audience is dumb. And I refuse to believe that. Because I am the audience, you are the audience. They forget that there is something called a niche audience. There is a niche for everything and we need to use it as businessmen. They don’t think about it.

“How many people actually read a script before they get into making a film out of it?”

Q: Isn’t that the most basic thing a filmmaker should be doing?

A: (Shakes his head) “No, they don’t. And yes, it is the most basic thing. There are very many people who can read a script very well but they are still told a story. You can cheat while you are telling a story. It depends on the personality of the teller. It’s like being a snake oil salesman.

“Not that Hollywood is any better. They also have their own problems.”

Q: You have been shooting for ‘Unnaipol Oruvan’, which is a remake of the Hindi film ‘A Wednesday’. Why did you choose this particular film?

A: “I was to do a film called ‘Marmayogi’ but the financing company sort of fell through. I had put in nearly one year of work on that film. The script was ready, pre-production, prep, everything. It was a sort of a sudden brake. I had to do something.

“My company was always ready, so the idea came up that we should do a remake rather than me sitting and writing again. My friend, who is a debutante director -- ironically, ‘A Wednesday’ was also directed by a debutante -- liked the idea. He is directing the film.”

Q: There were reports of some problems as far as acquiring the film rights were concerned.

A: “There were some misunderstandings, not from our side, but those have been sorted out now and the film will be jointly presented by UTV and my production house.”

Q: Are you campaigning in the elections? A lot of film stars are.

A: “When they ask me to solicit a product or a political party, the reason is they probably think that I am honest in what I am saying. Whatever I have said, I have said openly. I am godless, without religion and without party. And I think all the parties should work for me and not vice versa.

“I will choose when the time comes, which one will be good for the country and I will not be alone. I am a billion - that is my strength. That is how I want every Indian to feel, that you are choosing civil servants, not your leaders.”

Q: Do you see yourself in politics at some point?

A: “When I stain my finger in every election that is how far I would like the stain to spread. If I do that job, who will do the acting? Are they doing their job? That is my question.

“I am doing my best -- it may not be the best in the world according to the Oscars or the National Awards, but I am doing my job, and people know that. Are you (politicians) doing yours? My anger will be reflected by people.

Q: A lot of stars have got into election activism this year…

A: (Interrupts) “Yes, but it cannot stop there. And it cannot be just one person. The independence struggle cannot be attributed to just one person.”

Q: Isn’t there pressure to enter politics from those around you?

A: “No, it is too demeaning for me. In this scenario, the kind of politics I want to indulge will get me killed in 365 days. The rest of them fight for seats, they don’t fight for ideology. They cannot be my leaders.”

Q: Does that sadden you?

A: “Oh yes. That is why I made ‘Hey Ram’. What will these people lead in? Votes? I will not follow, because there is nobody who is capable of leading. I am not Congress or BJP or even Communist.”