Kamal Haasan, the leader: The politics of Nammavar’s characters


Written by Ashameera Aiyappan | Chennai | Published: February 21, 2018 6:10 pm Kamal Haasan has called himself a Gandhian-convert, something that his critically acclaimed film Hey Ram depicts.

Even as Kamal Haasan is all set to make his political debut, here is a narrative of how several characters the Ulaganayagan played embodied Kamal Haasan’s different faces as a politician.

For an actor with an illustrious career such as Kamal Haasan’s, it is surprising that the Ulaganayagan has not played a politician on screen. Let it be Nallasivam of Anbe Sivam or Udhayamuthi from Unnal Mudiyum Thambi — the actor had played characters who strive for reform rather than play the game of thrones. However, that doesn’t imply that his films are devoid of political significance. In fact, it is quite the opposite. What Kamal’s films have done is handle the different boxes that need to be ticked individually and in quite detail. As Kamal figures out his space, invoking Mahatma Gandhi and Dravidianism in the process, it becomes impossible to not connect the dots with his various on-screen personas who have said similar things.

The closest he has come to proclaim an ideology on screen was the cult film Anbe Sivam. Nalla Sivam is tough-as-nails commie for whom communism is omnipresent. However, traces of the communist identity can be traced back to K Balachander’s Varumai Niram Sigappu. Stuck in the throes of unemployment, the film effectively captures the socio-political situation during that period. In the film, Kamal attends an interview where he is asked if he is a communist for his unvarnished answers. The question enrages Kamal who shoots back, asking what was their problem with communists. Even though his left-leaning policies still crop their head up, Kamal has decided to adopt a centrist stance. He has realised that he needs cater to several frameworks of philosophies.

In terms of political history, Tamil Nadu is an outlier, thanks to its Dravidian revolution. The Tamil identity has been invoked by politicians time and again. And despite an elitist demeanour, Kamal has made sure that his Tamilian pride has shown through. He was one of the biggest stars to bat for Jallikattu that became a face of Tamilian identity. On his route to being Ulaganayagan, he didn’t forget his roots — films like Virumandi and Thevar Magan are testaments to that. And Kamal is also a fan of Tamil poet Bharathiyaar, who is one of the most celebrated faces of another important part of the Tamil identity, the Tamil language. It only takes me back to Varumai Niram Sivappu again where Kamal is a Tamil-espousing philosophy graduate. The point here is that politician Kamal seems to be the sum of several politically aware characters he played on screen.

Take Gandhianism. Kamal Haasan has called himself a Gandhian-convert, something that his critically acclaimed film Hey Ram depicts. In this context, Kamal’s choice to pick Madurai for his first big meet becomes significant. It was where Gandhi shed his clothes and swore to wear the loincloth. There is also another significance that Madurai holds — it was a region that heralded the phenomenon that MGR was.

Kamal’s adoration and adulation for the late MG Ramachandran can probably be best seen in his Suresh Krissna’s Sathya. (Sathyabhama was the name of MGR’s mother.) Sathya begins with a voiceover where Kamal credits the film to be an ode to MGR. “You are the name that has been tattooed on the tongues of the layman. You have shown me how to love fellow men and hold their hearts,” he says. As a man with a Brahmin background, Kamal doesn’t have the caste banks that other politicians enjoy. But it looks like he might choose what J Jayalalithaa did. An outsider, she rode on the popularity of MGR until she was ‘Amma’ herself. Ironically Kamal states his plunge into politics was triggered by the state of Tamil Nadu after her demise — that the existing government had enough scuffles inside their party to focus on larger issues. A similar monologue leads Sathya to rebellion in the film; that he is tired of being a spectator watching the antics around. When the factions of AIADMK are fighting over Amma’s legacy, Kamal might go a step further and invoke the name of MGR. And who knows, Madurai might witness the birth of another charismatic and popular leader who Tamil Nadu will not forget.


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