Kamal Haasan: The legend turns 53

Kamal Haasan’s name needs no introduction. He is one of India’s most methodical and versatile actors, one of the finest gems that Tamil film industry or Kollywood (as it is commonly known) has produced.

Ritesh K Srivastav

Kamal Haasan’s name needs no introduction. He is one of India’s most methodical and versatile actors, one of the finest gems that Tamil film industry or Kollywood (as it is commonly known) has produced. He has carved a niche for himself in the field of mass entertainment through his immense acting talent, his directorial ability, his high production values and his eagerness and penchant for experiments, which cannot be put into any watertight compartment.

The actor is regarded as a living legend and an institution in himself because of his acting prowess, his lifetime achievements and invaluable contribution to the world of cinema.

Early life and foray into the film world

The Tamil superstar, who is today compared with Hollywood stars like Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, was born on 7th November 1954. He was the youngest of four children born to Rajalakshmi and Srinivasan Ayyengar. The actor who forayed into the film world at the tender age of 4, has reached such unparalleled heights, that it is a difficult for any one to emulate him. Kamal Haasan has spent more than 35 years in the industry with over 200 hundreds films to his credit.

Kamal Haasan won the President’s Gold Medal for "Kalathur Kannama" as a child artist. He has categorically refused to be typecast in an illustrious career spanning over three decades.

The multi-dimensional actor, who is also a trained classical dancer, had choreographed a handful of films and portrayed small roles in the early 70s before he was actually spotted by K Balachander, who is known for introducing several established names of the Tamil film industry. Kamal Haasan got his first big break in K Balachander’s offbeat movie Apoorva Ragangal that eventually turned out to be a milestone in his career. The film not only established Kamal as an actor but also enabled him to come out of the shadow of that other legendary hero of Tamil films – Rajnikant.

If the film critics are to be believed, Apoorva Ragangal also filled the vacuum created by the absence of stalwarts like Shivaji Ganeshan, M G Ramachandran, Gemini Ganeshan etc, who were fast turning into politics after gaining superstardom in the Tamil film industry.

His career progression in the Indian film industry symbolizes a prototypical journey. He started as a child artist, then appeared as a romantic hero, and eventually transformed himself into one of the best actors of his times. He may not have done as many films as the millennium superstar Big B and the King Khan, but today only a handful of actors could match Kamal’s wide range of memorable performances during their respective film career. Kamal’s rise to superstardom has been a roller coaster ride as circumstances often forced him to work through trashy movies just to be able to finance the movies he always wanted to produce from the core of his heart. It remains a fact that Kamal Hassan’s movies like "16 Vayadhinilae", "Nayakan", "Guna", "Mahanadhi", "Hey Ram" and "Alavandaan", which resulted out of his artistic potential, have won international accolades and still inspire those filmmakers who strive to make offbeat movies.

His amazing acting skill, his adroitness in Bharatanatyam and an in-born inclination to explore newer vistas, prompted Kamal to venture out of Tamil films and work in all the major Indian languages - Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Kamal’s portrayal of varying roles with envying perfection such as a rebellious hero in "Apoorva Ragangal," an aging mafia don in Nayakan, a desperate lover in Moondram Pirai and a grand old lady in Avvai Shanmukhi, is nothing but a testimony to the actor’s urge for newness. Apart from the flexibility of body movements, his ability to instantly change his facial expressions coupled with perfect timing of dialogue delivery in his own inimitable style makes him a unique actor.

Foray into Bollywood

The charismatic actor left an indelible mark, mesmerized millions of his fans and enthralled the cine goers through his intense acting in several Bollywood blockbusters also. They include memorable films like Sadma where he starred opposite Sri Devi, Sannam Teri Kasam, Giraftaar with Amitabh Bacchan and Rajnikant, Saagar opposite Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor- the chocolate boy of the then Hindi cinema, Raj Tilak and Chachi 420. Can any one forget Kamal Haasan’s immense portrayal of a devoted lover in Ek Duje ke Liye with Rati Agnihotri who breaks all societal norms and linguistic barriers to attain his love and in the climax dies along with his fiancée making his love story unforgettable and immortal.

The film’s huge commercial success made Kamal Haasan a household name to the millions. The entire nation hummed the film’s popular numbers "Tere mere beech mein kaisa hai yeh bandhan" and "Hum bane tum bane ek duje ke liye" which people like to sing and listen with the same intensity even today as when they were released for the first time. The actor later took a long break from Bollywood but reappeared in the mainstream Hindi cinema with films like Chachi 420, Hey Ram and Abhay last year, although they failed to recreate the same charm and fascination and repeat the success which his yesteryear’s movies did. In his currently unreleased film Dasavatharam, he attempts to portray ten different characters.

Interesting facts about the star

* His father added the suffix "Haasan" to the names of all his sons (Charu Haasan Ayyengar, Chandra Haasan Ayyengar, Kamal Haasan ) as a token of respect for his friendship to one Mr. Haasan.

*Kamal is also a playback singer and lyricist.

*He is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and has choreographed some of the dance sequences in his films.

*He is multilingual, self-professed atheist, and follower of E V Ramasami Naicker.

*He had two marriages (Sarika 1988 – 2002 with two children), (Vani Ganpati 1978 - 1988). Unfortunately both of them ended in a divorce.

* His innovative acting has earned him the title "the first, and perhaps the last, complete hero in Indian Cinema."

*Kamal`s hobby is magic.

*On April 27 2002 Kamala Haasan was detained at Toronto airport and denied boarding his flight to Los Angeles because he had an Arab name/look and was considered a potential terrorist.

*He is the only actor to have bagged a Best Actor in a Leading Role award and a Best Actor in a Supporting Role nomination for the same movie (Saagar (1985)) at Filmfare Awards).

*He is an ardent fan of Ilayaraja and always ropes him as the composer for all his home productions.

*Kamal’s ex-wife/girlfriend designs costumes for his films.

*Three movies that he has starred in have been sent to represent India in Oscars for Best foreign movie category, highest by any Indian.

*He is believed to have been offered a whopping Rs 4 crore as salary for his 1996 movie Indian.

*He was inspired by a man named Ershad and decided on acting as his profession. Interestingly, today the man Ershad Raja is no longer popular as Kamal Hassan.

Personal quotes

"A London editor once told me that the best way to put news hounds off your scent is to lie inventively."

"The person I feel closest to is Dustin Hoffman who shares many of my paradoxes. Physical appearance to begin with."

Hollywood remakes

Many of his films like Avvai Shanmugi and Chachi 420 drew inspiration from Hollywood’s Mrs. Doubtfire. Anbe Sivam was inspired by Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Sathi Leelavathi was inspired by She-Devil (film). Vetri Vizha was loosely based upon the novel The Bourne Identity and Magalir Mattum was inspired by Nine to Five.


Besides, Mammooty & Mithun Chakraborty, Kamal has thrice received the National Film Awards for Best Actor in India. He won his National awards for the films Nayagan, Moondram Pirai and Indian. He also won the national award for Best Child Actor for his performance in Kalathur Kannamma. He bagged the Best actor award at the Asian Film festivals held in 1983 and 1985 for Saagara Sangamam and Swathi Muthyam respectively. Seven of his movies have been sent as India`s official entry to the Oscars. Kamal has won the Filmfare awards 18 times. In fact, he even wrote a letter to the Filmfare committee not to consider his name in future and that be used to encourage the upcoming and promising young actors.

He was awarded the fourth highest recognition given to Indian civilians - the Padmashri in 1990. He was conferred an honorary doctorate by Sathyabama University, Chennai in 2005.

In the year (2007), FICCI, India conferred Kamal Hassan with a unique honour as "Living Legend" in the film business.

Apart from his films, he got the first Abraham Kovoor National Award for his Humanist Activities and Secular Life

Kamal Haasan was given the Nandi Award 20 times in his lifetime.

Foray into film production

From an actor Kamal turned into a film producer through his home production `Raaja Paarvai` in 1981. Although the film bombed at the box office, however it was well received by the critics. In 2004, he produced Virumaandi and later his production house Raj Kamal Films produced several classics like Apoorva Sagodharargal, Thevar Magan, Kuruthipunal etc. His more recent production ventures include the films Virumaandi and Mumbai Xpress.

In 2005, he launched a new business unit called Raj Kamal Audio in a drive to corporatise all his film commitments. In 2006, he purchased prime real estate for a state-of-the-art multiplex cinema.

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