Book Excerpt: ‘Kamal Haasan: A Cinematic Journey’ by Krishnan Hariharan

Book Title: Kamal Haasan: A Cinematic Journey
Author: Krishnan Hariharan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 280
ISBN: 978-9354899621
Date Published: Jul. 10, 2024
Price: INR 576

Kamal Haasan A Cinematic Journey by K. Hariharan Book Cover

Book Excerpt

CHAPTER 17

HEY RAM: COURTING CONTROVERSY

Pg 179 – 181

‘When I conceived the idea for Hey Ram,’ recalls Kamal, ‘it was developed like a crime thriller on the lines of The Day of the Jackal (1973). But after several readings, I felt that the approach of empathizing with the anxieties of Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, was very reactionary. I changed it around completely and made the story get some respect for the protagonist. Undoubtedly, the film got me a lot of respect, but it flopped. It’s then that you realize that perceiving one’s work is different from the reality of filmmaking, namely, this business of producing films and buying/selling tickets at the box office is not about respect.’

[…] The role of Mahatma Gandhi in this film is played by Naseeruddin Shah, whose ultimate desire had always been to essay the character of the Mahatma. Kamal set up the Gandhi assassination scene in the lush green gardens of a colonial bungalow in Ooty, since it would have been too hot to shoot in Delhi in July. Junior artistes were driven down from Bangalore, wearing North Indian attire suitable to the period.

One day, a small group of musicians were rehearsing the hymn ‘Vaishnava janatoh’ as they waited for Shah to get ready. When the camera set-up was finally ready, Shah emerged from his cabin, made up like the Mahatma. The noisy location suddenly turned silent as he walked towards the others like an old man, with his palms joined in prayer. All the junior artistes and musicians stood up unprompted, palms joined in deep respect. It was as if it were 30 January 1948 all over again. Kamal had goosebumps all over his body as he hoped that the audiences would also feel the same when the film hits the screens. Shah played up the illusion with aplomb until a young sound engineer walked up to him to pin the wireless microphone inside his shawl. By mistake the pin pricked his chest and Shah yelled, ‘Oh hell, what the fuck are you doing?’ and decided to pin on the mic himself. In a flash, the illusion was broken. A small pin caused a level of agony that the ensuing bullet would not! Everybody got back to work.

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Months later, truly constructed on the lines of a David Lean epic, we see this film journey through the dark vicissitudes of a nation in transformation and the struggle of an individual in realigning identities! Through the character of Saket Ram, played by Kamal, we see the various dilemmas in the Gandhian perspectives towards ethics and national freedom. In one scene, Ram declares Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, to be semi-fictional and the film goes on to show how the various narratives embodied in the work crisscross through Ram’s life. At a dramatic level, it is Gandhi’s ideological stance of strange mystic pacifism that traumatizes an enraged Saket Ram, who is reacting to the brutal massacre his beloved wife had to undergo during Partition. Why does Saket Ram turn fundamentalist?

Excerpted with permission from Kamal Haasan: A Cinematic Journey, written by Krishnan Hariharan, and HarperCollins India.

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