Hip ’n happening Kamal Hasan

Subhash K Jha:

Kamal Hasan, who is back in Bollywood with his latest offering ‘Mumbai Express’, says his new comedy is a very young, very hip and urban film. He defended his choice of heroine for the film, Manisha Koirala, by calling her a true friend for accepting the role at the last minute. “She is looking very pretty and I am happy to have her in the film,” Haasan said in an interview to HNS.

About ‘Vasool Raja’, his hit Tamil remake of ‘Munnabhai MBBS’, he says, “I was sleeping through the shooting. They had to wake me up for the shots.” He also said there were no more tears in his personal life. Excerpts from the interview:

There is a controversy in Tamil Nadu about the title of your new Hindi-Tamil bilingual.

Yes, they think “Mumbai Express” is an Anglo-centric title. By calling my film ‘Mumbai Express’, I am practising cultural erosion and never mind if there are recent Tamil films with titles like ‘Boyz’. Never mind if dozens of trains in the country have ‘express’ in their names and if there’s a leading newspaper by that name in the country. Never mind if it is my job and prerogative to ‘express’ myself. It is a very provincial Tamil Nadu-centric attitude. First ‘Virumaandi’, then ‘Vasool Raja’ and now ‘Mumbai Express’... my films seem to be constantly getting into title hassles.

Is ‘Mumbai Express’ your return to Bollywood?

Had I really gone away? Or was I packed off? If I was told to leave Bollywood, thank you for having me back. But I cannot remember when I was given a send-off. So I am a bit confused. If my last Hindi release ‘Abhay’ could be considered a send-off, then I am back. ‘Mumbai Express’ could bring me back to Mumbai. Even Ramesh Sippy wants me to make a film.

Is ‘Mumbai Express’ a departure from ‘Abhay’ and your other Hindi films?

It does not have the dark dimensions of ‘Abhay’ at all. When my director, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, and I sit on the editing, there are all-round chuckles among the technicians. ‘Mumbai Express’ is a very young, very hip and urban film. The actors may not be 18- or 19-year-olds. But the mindset is certainly very young and heavily into contemporary attitudes. It is very difficult to do this kind of comedy. I cannot brag about it now until it is complete. But a little bit of preening is allowed.

Sure. What kind of comedy is ‘Mumbai Express’?

Though the characters are funny, none of them lose their identity or dignity. No one sweats it out to be funny. They are actually serious people. Great comedians like John Cocteau and Charlie Chaplin never lost their dignity. They might have been clowns, but they were gentleman clowns. In ‘Mumbai Express’ if we cut off the soundtrack, it looks like ‘Nayakan’ or any of my better films.

Your earlier film with Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, ‘Pushpak’, was a pioneering comedy.

I think ‘Mumbai Express’, too, would be pioneering. I know all filmmakers are enthusiastic about what they do. But I know ‘Mumbai Express’ is a trendsetter. It will be a different act to follow. Your leading lady Manisha came in at the eleventh hour.

Yes. My ‘Chachi 420’ heroine Tabu was approached. She said yes, then she disappeared. Bipasha Basu was willing. She asked questions about her character’s status as wife and mother. But we could not afford her. Most of the other heroines did not understand what the script required them to do. How do you explain a ‘Pushpak’ or an ‘Appu Raja’ to an actress? If you say she is going to be paired alongside a dwarf, she will recoil. It took an actress of Gautami’s guts to do ‘Appu Raja’. Manisha has proved to be a real friend. She put aside other engagements to accommodate ‘Mumbai Express’. Usually actresses take offence when they are approached at the last minute. Manisha never held it against me. She is looking very pretty and I am happy to have her in the film.

Your other favourite, Om Puri, is also in ‘Mumbai Express’.

Oh yes. In spite of undergoing surgery recently, he insisted. He explained what he can do and then chose his role. It was very touching to have Sir Om offer his services so generously. That is the spirit of an actor. It is not about the role, it is about being part of the whole. I wish I could be as humble as Om ji. He chose a role that required less physical strain. Besides Omji, there is Vijay Raaz, Sourabh Shukla, Dinesh Lamba and a 10-year-old boy Hardik.

Madhavan is remaking a Tamil comedy, ‘Nala Damyanthi’, written by you into Hindi.

I think I have always been useful to actors attempting Hindi versions of Tamil films. I wrote Anil Kapoor’s hits ‘Biwi No 1’ and ‘Viraasat’.

What happened to your plans of a Hindi film with Madhuri Dixit?

I would have to wait from here to maternity.