Kamal Haasan well known as Universal Hero by the fans, Tamilian by birth, is an Indian film actor and director, considered among the leading method actors of Tamil cinema. Hassan is known for winning several Indian film awards, including National Film Awards and Filmfare Awards, and has the distinction of being the actor with the most number of films submitted by India in contest for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
In addition to acting and directing, he is a screenwriter, lyricist, playback singer and choreographer. His film production company, Rajkamal International, has produced several of his films.
Kamal Haasan’s breakthrough into lead acting came with his role in the 1975 drama, Apoorva Raagangal, in which he played a rebellious youth in love with an older woman. He secured his first Indian National Film Award for his portrayal of a guileless school teacher who tends a child-like amnesiac in 1982’s Moondram Pirai. He was particularly noted for his performance in Mani Ratnam’s Godfatheresque Nayagan (1987), which was ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 best films of all-time.
Early career: 1960s – early 1970s
Kamal Haasan made his film debut as a 6-year-old child artiste, in the 1960 film, Kalathur Kannamma, directed by A. Bhimsingh. He was cast along with the veteran Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan in the film, which won him the National Film Award for Best Child Artist.He acted as a child actor in five other Tamil films in the subsequent few years co-starring with popular actors at the era, including Sivaji Ganesan and M. G. Ramachandran.
Following a nine year hiatus from films, to concentrate on his education, Haasan returned with a series of low budget films in 1972, in all of which he played supporting roles to more established actors. These films included roles in Arangetram and Sollathaan Ninaikkiren, both co-starring Sivakumar. His final supporting role before establishing himself as a lead actor was in Naan Avanillai, which became a trendsetter for some of Haasan’s later ventures.
Classic period: 1970s – 1980s
Kamal Haasan first received a regional Filmfare Award for acting for his role in the Malayalam film Kanyakumari (1974). In the next four years, he won six regional Best Actor Filmfare Awards, including four consecutive Best Tamil Actor Awards. After a series of less-successful films, his acted in director K. Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal, an exploration of age-gap relationships; the film is also known for introducing another prominent Tamil actor, Rajinikanth.
The 1970s, especially between the mid- and late 1970s, was a period that saw Kamal Haasan’s frequent collaboration with K. Balachander, who also cast him in many of his socially-themed films such as Avargal (1977). The film won Haasan his first Filmfare Best Tamil Actor Award. In 1976, Haasan appeared in the drama Moondru Mudichu with Rajinikanth and Sridevi, another K.
Balachander film, Manmadha Leelai, and Oru Oodhappu Kan Simittugiradhu, which won him his second consecutive Best Actor Award. 16 Vayathinile won him his third consecutive award, where he appeared as an mentally ill villager, once again alongside Rajinikanth and Sridevi.
The fourth consecutive award came with Sigappu Rojakal in which he appeared as an anti-hero who is a psychopathic sexual killer. Furthermore in the late seventies, Haasan appeared in successful films such as the comedy, Ninaithale Inikkum and the horror film, Neeya.
Following his increased prominence in the latter half of the 1970s, Haasan was considered a major Tamil film star at the turn of the decade. His popular pairing with the actress Sridevi continued with Guru and Varumayin Niram Sigappu in 1980. Both films were blockbuster successes for these actors. Kamal Haasan also made guest/cameo appearances, such as in the Rajinikanth film Thillu Mullu; Rajinikanth had previously appeared in some of Kamal Haasans previous films.
Haasan’s 100th career film appearance was in 1981’s Raja Paarvai, which also marked his debut in film production. Despite this film’s relatively poor reception at the cinemas, his portrayal of a blind session violinist earned him a Filmfare Award. His next acting role, in Ek Duuje Ke Liye, became his first Hindi-language film.
It was the remake of his previous Telugu-language film, Maro Charithra by K. Balachandar. Following a year of starring in commercially-oriented films, Haasan won his first of three National Awards for Best Actor with his portrayal of a school teacher who looks after a mentally retarded girl in Balu Mahendra’s Moondram Pirai.
Till 1985, Haasan began to appear in more Hindi language films, which went relatively unnoticed but his performance in Saagar, won him both the Filmfare Best Actor Award as well as the Best Supporting Actor Award, making him the first actor to win both awards for a single film in the award’s history. Saagar portayed him alongisde Rishi Kapoor both of whom were pinning for a woman, but Haasan ultimately loses out.
Haasan also appeared in Geraftaar, a film which failed to make an impact upon release, but today is known for featuring three prominent actors in Indian cinema: Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth and Haasan. He featured in Tamil cinema’s first sequel Japanil Kalyanaraman, which followed up his previous, Kalyanaraman as well as acting in Uruvangal Maralam co-starring Sivaji Ganesan and Rajinikanth.
In the mid-1980’s, Haasan appeared in two legendary Telugu language films, Sagara Sangamam and Swathi Muthyam with director, Kasinadhuni Viswanath. The latter film was India’s representative for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 1986. Whilst, the former film portrayed Haasan as a drunkard classical dancer, Swathi Muthyam portrays him as an autistic person attempting to change society.
Following more successful film such as Punnagai Mannan, in which he portrays dual roles including a satire of Charlie Chaplin and Vetri Vizha as an amnesiac, Haasan’s most worldwide recognized role came in Mani Rathnam’s 1987, trendsetter, Nayagan. Nayagan, commonly referred to “The Godfather” of Tamil cinema, portrays the life of an underworld don in Bombay.
The story revolves around the life of a real-life underworld don called Varadarajan Mudaliar, whilst sympathetically depicting the struggle of South Indians living in Mumbai. The film helped Kamal Haasan secure a Indian National Award for his performance and Nayagan was nominated by India as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 1987 as well as being included in the Time top 100 movies list.
In 1988, Haasan appeared in his only silent film to date; appearing in the black comedy, Pushpak, which was dubbed as a “speechless classic” with reviewers stating that “Haasan surpasses himself”, delivering an all time best performance. Apoorva Sagodharargal became Haasan’s first attempt at playing a triple role. The commercial film portrayed him in a role as a dwarf, making it the first time that an actor had attempted to play such a role. He then attempted dual roles in Indrudu Chandrudu and its Tamil remake, winning the regional Best Actor Award for his performance.
Kamal Haasan in his yet-to-be-completed Marudhanayagam
1991’s Michael Madhana Kamarajan, he acted in four different roles as quadruplets, the film started an ongoing collabaration for comedy films between Haasan and Crazy Mohan, a dialogue writer. Haasan won successive best actor awards for his portrayal of the protoganist in Guna and in Thevar Magan, where he played the son of noted actor, Sivaji Ganesan. The 1990s saw Kamal breaking out of the romantic hero mould to explore some more gritty, unconventional roles.
Following a series of unsuccessful projects in the mid-1990s, with experimentals such as Singaravelan, Maharasan and Kalaignan; Haasan began to appear in comedies such as Sathi Leelavathi, based on the English film, She-Devil as well as renewing his collobaration with Kasinadhuni Viswanath in his last Telugu language film till date, Subha Sankalpam. In 1996, Haasan starred in the police cop story, Kuruthipunal, which met with a strong critical reception is recognised by some to have set high benchmarks for other action films in that period.
His success in Kuruthipunal, was followed by his third National Film Award for Best Actor in Indian. Playing dual roles of a freedom fighter and his untrustful son, the film also won Haasan regional awards and plaudits for his portrayal in the blockbuster. Haasan’s performance was described as “superb” by critics, who also dubbed the “The biggest film ever made on the Indian Screen”.
Haasan appeared as a woman in Avvai Shanmughi, which was inspired by the comedy flick, Mrs. Doubtfire, bringing him praise for his portrayal. In 1997, Haasan began his maiden directorial venture, the biopic of Mohammed Yusuf Khan, Marudhanayagam. However the film, which was started by Queen Elizabeth II, failed to complete its schedules with only half an hour and a trailer being recorded during its shoot.
The film’s ambitious budget forced Haasan to abandon the project at the time; if made, the film would have been been the costliest film ever made in Asia. Haasan soon made his debut as director with a remake of Avvai Shanmughi in Hindi titled Chachi 420, which became a success upon release. Kamal Haasan’s direction was praised as “fantastic” and that he “handles every scene with precision” with “the fine tuning it takes to become a wonderful director”, whilst his performance was applauded as “nothing less than brilliance”.
2000 to Present:
Kamal Haasan pictured with Manisha Koirala in Aalavandhan
Following a two year hiatus in Indian cinema, Haasan opted against reviving his magnum opus, Marudhanayagam and filmed his second directorial venture, Hey Ram, a period drama told in flashback with a semi-fictional plot centering around India’s Partition and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Haasan also donned technical roles as the writer, the lyricist and the choreogrpaher as well as producing the film under his home banner.
The bilingual venture, starring himself in the lead role alongside Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukerji failed to become successful commercially but became critically acclaimed. Haasan was praised for his “technical wizardry” and acting, but critics called the film “hard to categorize” and “too controversial”. His following film, the much-hyped Aalavandhan, where he portrayed two distinct roles; of one, he had his head tonsured and gained ten kilograms for also failed to live up to expectations at the box office.
Following a series of successful comedies in Thenali, Panchathantiram and Pammal K. Sambandam and a couple of guest appearances, Haasan directed his third feature film in Virumaandi. Virumaandi, became the first Tamil film to feature different sides of the story, surrounding the controversy of the death penalty. Haasan’s directorial work earned reviews that claimed it was “technical excellence in every sphere”, however the film only broke even at the box-office, failing to capitalize on its publicity.
Haasan also appeared in Anbe Sivam alongside close friend, Madhavan, in a film he was claimed to have ghost-directed. Priyadarshan, who started the film departed allowing commercial director Sundar C make a film unknown to his usual genre; furthermore the film also preached views of atheism, which Haasan is renowned for following. Anbe Sivam told the story of Nallasivam, enacted by Haasan as an idealist, social activist and communist, whose past is poignant and present moving.
Kamal Haasan’s performance was highly lauded by critics with The Hindu stating that Haasan “has once again done Tamil cinema proud”, however in contrast, the film failed to become a success, with Haasan later lashing out at award judges, claiming he deserved credit for his script writing and acting.
Haasan appeared in the remake film, Vasool Raja alongside Sneha, which triumphed at the box-office, whilst his following film, Mumbai Express, which he had written for flopped at the box-office, as it opened with the record-breaking Rajinikanth starrer, Chandramukhi.
In 2006, Haasan’s long delayed project, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu became a blockbuster at the box office. Gautham Menon’s Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu was Haasan’s first cop film in a decade since Kuruthipunal, earning his portrayal as the New York detective rave reviews. His latest release, Dasavathaaram is the longest film taken for Kamal Haasan to complete.
Pairing opposite Asin Thottumkal, the film became the second highest grossing film ever in Tamil cinema and won him critical praise for his performance. He had also undertook the opportunity of being the story and screenwriter for the project. Following the completion of Dasavathaaram, Kamal Haasan opted to direct his fourth directorial venture, with a film tentatively titled Marmayogi, which after a year of pre-production became stalled.
He then opted to produce and star in a venture, Unnaipol Oruvan, co-starring him with Mohanlal. The film, which had Shruti Haasan appear as the music director, became a successful venture for him the box office. Kamal Haasan has completed his fifth movie with Ravikumar, in Manmadhan Ambu, in which he also writes the dialogues and screenplay. The film also features Madhavan and Trisha Krishnan and it released in Dec 2010.
Despite his much praised and applauded film career, his personal life had some setbacks which have been exploited by the media. His marital strifes were more in the limelight in his latter years than the movies he acted or made. He has married actresses: Vani Ganapathi first and later Sarika which bore two children: Akshara Haasan and Shruthi Haasan. He divorced her and currently living-in with Gauthami another famous Indian film actress of yester years.