Kamal Haasan has been conferred with France's prestigious Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres. In an Interview with Subhash K Jha he talks about what it means for a self-proclaimed "unlettered" artiste to be honoured by intellectual minds.
You've been conferred with France's prestigious Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres. What was your first reaction on hearing of this exceptional honour?
The first reaction when scholars either praise me or even call me a friend is a mix of pride and secret embarrassment. In my mind I always wonder if they know I am a high-school drop-out or are they being kind knowing the fact? Then I realize all pride about my art and letters can be attributed to the company I keep.
You mean you cultivate intellectual company?
I gravitated towards my more cerebral friends who would not be obvious about it but would teach me. They did so ever so gently that I did not even fathom their tutelage. Those are the friends and Gurus who came to my mind when I was chosen for my service to arts and letters.
You may not be highly educated but you have a highly developed mind and intellect?
Thank you. A certain Prophet was called unlettered. Yet look at his best seller book. I'm not religious but I admire great minds lettered or otherwise.
I remember being a front-line volunteer when the Chennai film industry decided to celebrate Mr. Shivaji'sChevalier award with a grand function. The function became grander than our design and the Chepauk Stadium was thronging with his fans and star gazers. After the function we wanted to escort Shivaji Saab back to his car before the crowds closed in on the stage itself. Love knows no boundaries, nor black-cat commandos. The crowds tried to rush us. In spite of the melee a lady managed to dodge the crowd-stopping security bandobast and at a vantage point, stood with her hands folded in a namaste to Shivaji , her eyes glistening wet. Then she turned to me and shouted above the din of the crowd, "Soon, next you for this honour. Looking forward" and she disappeared into that crowd.
I thought of that unknown lady when I was informed of the honour. This Chevalier seems to also be my people's desire. Like mothers handing out food to hungry children they decide who is next in line.
Whom did you share the good news with?
You mean, besides you? I looked at the letter From the French Ambassador in India Monsieur Alexandre Ziegler. I showed it to my life partner Goutami and my daughter Subbu and sent a copy of the letter to my elder brother Chandrahaasan and my elder sister Nalini. I sent texts to my elder daughters Shruti and Akshara. I tried to be graceful when congratulatory texts poured in.
What did the fans and well- wishers say?
Most of them insisted I was so deserving a person, and the melancholy of fame hit me. Most artists suffer this. At least the thinking kind. Without excessive humility most bestowed with honour find the selves lacking, yet feel fortunate. They do think of the more talented who died without such honours and find themselves fortunate to have jumped a long queue. I thought of all the above.
But you've been given so many awards and honours?
I never get bored of awards and accolades. As I've told you before I am a limelight moth and my journey is towards the hottest point in that light.