Viking boats, football teams and prepping nations for war were all allusions Kamal Haasan made at an interaction with fans and themediaatthe Metropolitan Museumof Art, New York, March26.
Covering issues as varied as freedom of speech, skill development in India, family history, reminiscences of Tamil film
icons, dance, favorite films, and more, Haasan answered
with patience, good humor and wit, with only an irregular
tapping of his right leg suggestive of any stress.
With help from Donna Williams, the Met’s chief audience
development officer, Sreenath Sreenivasan, the museum’s
chief digital officer, spoke of all the Met had to offer —
including at its new museum, the Met Breuer. Sreenivisan
made sure the pronunciation and memory of the Breuer
were nailed into the audience’s consciousness if only by the
simple expedient of having them to chant its name.
Getting back to Haasan, Sreenivasan spoke of the many
Indian film actors his family met as it wandered across the
world with his diplomat father (India Abroad contributor
Ambassador T P Sreenivasan). But he said there were none
like Haasan in that, besides fans, in the US he also was a welcome visitor at Google, Harvard, and the Wharton India
Haasan said he was primarily in the US to recce for a new
comedy, 90 percent of which is set in the US.
“For me, it’s a busman’s holiday,” he said.
Sreenivasan asked Haasan about his work with the
Federation of Chambers of Commerce in India and the effec-
tiveness of education in India. “What India has to do in edu-
cation is not optimal,” he said, adding that critics often talked
about how the Indian system was more about making clerks
“We had a very broad spectrum plan of educating everybody — whomever we can,” he said. “That is large, Utopian
idea, but not easily executable — not in 50, 60, 70 years.
Because without the people coming forward you can’t do
much. We tried feeding (students), free education... In spite
of it, we even brought down the quality of education,” he says
with a laugh.
But he is now the chairman of the media and entertainment section of a group devoted to developing specialized
skillets, Haasan said, and explained why that was required.
“The world requirement for engineers is about a million
per annum,” he said. “We (in India) produce... 900,000 of
them every year. (There are now) engineers ready to become
chauffeurs, engineers ready to take up any job. But what we
need is skilled workers — not just skilled workers, but (those)
of international quality.”
Haasan said he had thought about it rather selfishly from
his own industry’s needs and so increase the quality of work-
ers. He said it was hard to learn skills in India.
“I was fortunate I found kind gurus who paid me and
taught me.” He laughed and then added, “Not all are going to
be that lucky.” He said there were now efforts to create a master’s in carpentry, on the same lines as a master’s in literature
or other academic courses. The areas of learning would be
purely practical: Beauty, prosthetics, wig-making, boom
operation, radio jockeying, etc.
“The government is putting in some money, but I don’t
believe doles would work. I think we have to work towards
it,” Haasan said. “The industry has not yet invested money,
only time. In future, too, they will have to have social respon-
sibility, come forward and spend, instead of complaining and
saying our quality is not good. Now with Indian cinema pro-
ducing in (large) numbers, we have to increase the quality
also to meet international standards. We are so complacent
that we have a captive market at home. We must take pride
in our work to improve the skill.”
He spoke about the need for innovation, using as an exam-
ple his failed experiment to premiere one of his films
(Vishwaroopam) using direct-to-home providers. “The
whole industry, like an American football team, fell on me...
They sued me, banned the film. They did everything possible
because that’s the knee-jerk response to modern technology.”
Sreenivasan said one his favorite sayings was that people
think, ‘I’m all for progress; it’s change I cannot stand,’ and
spoke of a start-up (The Screening Room) that’s going to
charge $50 to let people see films released the same day.
Speaking about the influence of Indian cinema and possible
competition for it, he spoke of China being a possible formi-
dable competitor. But he said that one advantage India still
had was the use of English, which can help Indians reach
“Yes, we need to add another new accent to English — for
the Western English audience,” Haasan said.
ÂITÊS VERY DIFFICULT DIRECTING A DAUGHTERÊ
Kamal Haasan gives
us beautiful nuggets
from his life.
P Rajendran reports