The Politics of Kamal Hassan
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Kamal Hassan: An Honest yet Naive and Inferiority-Complex Ridden Self-loathing Soul?

The first thing I read as soon as I woke up today was Prasanna’s pithy review of Kamal Hassan’s “Vishwaroopam”. So I decided to add my two pence to this line of thought. I haven’t watched the movie, so this post is less about the movie and more about Kamal’s political hues as reflected by his movies and interviews.

Before I proceed any further with this post, I must clarify that I am an ardent second-generation admirer of Kamal as an artist, but have never been a great fan of his political proclivities or his selective reading or interpretation of history.

But first, let’s give credit to the man where it is due. Kamal’s ideology may be flawed, or even perverted, but I don’t think even the worst of his detractors can accuse him of being an opportunist who chooses to espouse a certain cause to feather his own nest. Only a handful of people have put their reputations and livelihoods on the line for the medium they so passionately love and live for, and Kamal is certainly one of them.

In fact, Kamal’s love for his art is as passionate and intense as his character Balu’s in the film “Sagara Sangamam” (“Salangai Oli”) where he plays a talented yet unrecognized classical dancer. In short, Kamal truly believes in what he stands for, be it the brand of cinema that he wishes to be known for, or his political stance (which tend to be naive and crude, besides misinformed).

Since Kamal is pretty vocal about his political views in his interviews and through his films, he must be treated as a public personality who cannot escape scrutiny or criticism for the views he holds. Consequently, the defense of being a “private citizen” is not available to Kamal.

The question that forms the subject-matter of this post is what does Kamal stand for politically and what could be the contributory factors for the manner in which he airs his views?

Kamal has always called himself a great admirer of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Kannada-speaking Balija Naidu (from a devout Vaishnavite family) who came to be known as the atheist protector of the Dravidian Tamil language and “tehzeeb” (“panpadu”) “Periyar” E.V.Ramaswamy.

Kamal appears to blend Gandhi’s brand of one-sided pacifism with Ramaswamy’s virulent anti-Vedic anti-Brahmin fabricated rhetoric and the inevitable generous dollop of communism, which passes off as “rationalism” or “rational atheism” (“Pagutharivu” as he calls it in Tamizh). The communist hues are partly, but certainly a consequence of his association with his mentor K.Balachander, which was apparent from the brilliant roles he essayed in movies such as “Varumayin Niram Sigappu” or “Unnal Mudiyum Thambi” or “Anbe Sivam”

Subsequently, in the movies that Kamal directed or ghost-directed, he appears to have made it a point to shove his half-baked political message and pseudo-theories forcibly down the throats of his audience with the sincerity and naivety of his 4-year old “Selvam” from “Kalathur Kannamma”.

Take “Hey Ram” for instance. Portions of this movie deserve credit for the authentic manner in which certain aspects of Partition Riots and “Direct Action Day” were handled and depicted, particularly the character of the back-stabbing tailor “Altaf”and the agonizing rape scene.

In this scene where Kamal and Rani Mukherjee are over-powered by Jinnah’s faithful, Kamal’s depiction of the psyche of the aggressors is pretty convincing. While one of them is the turncoat tailor “Altaf” who was trusted by Kamal’s character “Saket Ram”, the other attacker is clearly shown as having “unnatural” preferences.

18hey1Saket Ram’s instant change to a revenge-seeking husband (not as a Hindu, but as a husband) as a consequence of his wife’s brutal gang-rape and murder is probably one of the most powerful and persuasive depictions in the entire movie, or even cinematic history. Until this point, Kamal truly gets his character right in terms of consistency.

But the part where Kamal’s political leanings start interfering with the character arc of Saket Ram is when he introduces “Shri Ram Abhyankar”, which is clearly inspired by the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Shri Madhav Sadashiv Golwakar. In fact, the make-up of Abhyankar leaves very little to imagination.

Right from the “Abhivadanam”-laced introduction of Abhyankar to the subdued elation on spotting the “Yagnopavit” (Janeu/the Sacred Thread) across Kamal’s chest, the insinuation that the right-wing is essentially a Brahminical clique again brings to fore Kamal’s Periyar-esque intense hatred of the faith and heritage of his own family.

The references to the now-debunked Aryan-Dravidian Theory through the dialogues of Shah Rukh Khan’s character “Amjad Ali Khan” must have been a moment of pride for the monumental ego of the inferiority-complex ridden school dropout in Kamal who must have wanted to shout from the rooftops that he had read his Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and R.S.Sharma.

The focus in the movie is on demonizing the RSS by accusing it of plotting M.K.Gandhi’s assassination, and to portray the assassination as the response of the Hindu community which, according to him, was emasculated by the shaming of its women.

Barring a token rant at Suhrawardy holding him responsible for Direct Action Day riots, nowhere in the entire film is there an attempt to strike a balance and understand the ideological underpinnings of the “right” de hors the spectre of Partition. After all, the Partition was a consequence of the Two-nation theory, and not the other way round. Probably, for some, the Partition Riots were a corroboration of the Two-nation theory. But none of this is explored in the movie.

Instead, throughout the film, Kamal’s character is portrayed as one whose anger is used and manipulated by the “right” to turn him into Gandhi’s assassin, all of which is based on Leftist lore, without a shred of evidence to support it. Ah yes, cinematic liberty and the artist’s freedom of expression must conveniently come to the rescue when the “right” is the subject of scrutiny. Facts can not only go to hell when the “right” is critiqued, they dare not be used or presented when the “Left” is under the scanner.

After Hey Ram, again in “Anbe Sivam”, it is the Hindu’s faith which must measure up to the lofty humanitarian goals of Communism and the Church (Kamal probably hasn’t heard of Gulags or the Iron Curtain or even Maoism or the Inquisition. I am not sure if Kamal has given thought to what Maoism could do to Tamizh and its history).

Yet again In “Dasavataram”, Kamal’s pederastic love for E.V.Ramaswamy and his ideology finds aggressive expression in the form of Hindu-bashing and mischievously pitting Shaivaites and Vaishnavites against each other, with Islam and Christianity being spared from his tirade against religion. Or does he not consider them true religions at all? Only Kamal can answer this question.

After all the BJP and Hindu bashing in Hey Ram and Unnai Pol Oruvan along with the mandatory mention of the 2002 riots (and the thankfully shelved monstrosity called “Marudanayagam”), poor Kamal must have believed that he had won the hearts and minds of his brothers, and their consent (not his right, mind you) to make a movie against Islamic fundamentalism/Taliban. It must have come as a genuine shock to him when some of these brothers accused him of fanning Islamophobia and hurting their sentiments for the nth time.

Incorrigible and stubborn that he is, I am pretty sure Kamal will not draw the right lessons from this experience. In fact, to prove his Muslim-friendly credentials, he might go the extra-mile to make a movie on “Hindu Terror”, and probably just to gratify his self-loathing nature and the sense of aesthetics of the protestors whose sentiments he has hurt, he might throw in yet another gang-rape scene of a Hindu woman.

Having said all this, I do believe Kamal has the right to release “Vishwaroopam” without any edits or cuts to pander to the whims or diktats of the mob. Instead of placating the mob, Kamal would do well to display vertebracy and state without mincing terms that the movie is against Islamic fundamentalism, and that those who oppose its release are sympathizers of the Taliban. The question is, does Kamal have the spine to do it?

(Image Courtesy – Indiaglitz.com)