Born to D Srinivasa Iyengar and Rajalakhmi of Paramakudi town, Kamal Haasan might be one of the biggest superstars in Indian cinema, but for the people of Tamil Nadu, especially his hometown, he is still one among them.
Paramakudi and its people love the man because of whom their little-known town is in headlines, as the superstar formally began his political journey today with the launch of Makkal Needhi Maiam.
The newly founded MAKKAL NEEDHI MAIAM is your party. It’s here to stay, and to make the change we all aspire for. Guide us to serve you. #maiam #makkalneedhimaiamofficial website: https://t.co/cql8kgqGkkfb: https://t.co/2Gz1xRg5vftwitter: https://t.co/J9ywXrunOb pic.twitter.com/Xza62w4DcC— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) February 21, 2018
Kamal is starting a trend of hugging all those whom he is meeting on stage. At Rameshwaram he had said, “I don’t have a culture of putting shawls for people but only of hugging them as I am one among you,” @ikamalhaasan.— Akshaya Nath (@Akshayanath) February 21, 2018
Makkal Needhi Maiam.This is the name of Kamal Haasan’s newly launched political party. https://t.co/pQGgd00nZJ— Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran) February 21, 2018
Although there are very few people left in his hometown who have personally known the family, every single one of them has fond memories of the enthusiastic, lovable young Haasan.
Muthulakshmi, now in her mid-70s, was one of those people who played with Haasan when he was a child. Clad in a black and red sari, her voice changes as she starts recalling Haasan's childhood. “I was around 10 years old when he was a baby. He would never sit still, always up to something. He loved being carried around and I used to do that as they lived in the house next to ours. Aunty (Haasan's mother) used to pass him to me over the fence and I used to play with him.”
Muthulakshmi also recalls how inspired by his sister, Haasan started learning dance and even participated in stage shows. Haasan was five years old when he made his debut as a child artist in Kalathur Kannamma. While it went on to become one of the best films of the time, young Kamal too received rave reviews for his performance.
“It was a superhit and all of us celebrated it in a big way here. He was our boy,” says Soundarajan, whose family used to run a hotel nearby. Haasan's father was a regular visitor. In fact, after the family initially moved to Chennai and Srinivasa Iyengar stayed back, it was Soundarajan’s Kuppanna Iyengar hotel where he would go to have his breakfast.
After entering showbiz, Haasan had to move to Chennai, something because of which he slowly lost touch with many back in his hometown. One of the last extended family members who still lives in Paramakudi is D Sowmyanarayanan. “I am the only person from the family here in Paramakudi now. Though we are all related, we hardly get to meet each other since most of them moved out of Paramakudi. Moreover, in absence of any elders, that common link is almost dead. I met Charuhasan and Subhashini [Maniratnam], Kamal’s brother and niece, at a wedding recently. But it has been a really long time since I last met Kamal.”
But there are a few with whom the Haasan family continues to be in regular touch. Haasan’s neighbour in Paramakudi, advocate G Gopal, is one such person. In fact, the families still pay visits to one another. Talking about young Kamal’s love for cinema, Gopal says, “Kamal was in love with movies, as a child too. In fact, there was this MGR film, Maduraveeran, which ran for 100 days in Paramakudi, and Kamal had seen it every single day.”
"When he got his first ambassodor car, I was there at his Alwarpet residence in Chennai. Rajalakshmi Amma said ‘Gopalaa let’s go and take a ride'. Kamal’s mom and I were the first ones to sit in his car.”
Over the years these friends and well-wishers have turned into Kamal’s greatest supporters in public life too. In many occasions when he landed in controversies, they are were the first ones to lend their shoulders. One such recent incident was when Haasan was called “anti-Hindu” because of his remarks about sexism in Mahabharata and even targetted him for his alleged Islamic faith.
“Kamal got the Haasan surname because of D Srinivasa Iyengar, who as a tribute to his friendship with Yaakob Haasan, with whom he briefly shared a prison cell during the freedom struggle, gave the surname to all his children. His father valued his friendships a lot,” adds Gopal.
The actor though in his interviews has given an alternative explanation too. According to him, Kamal means lotus and Haasan is derived from hasya, meaning laughter in Sanskrit.
As the man embarks on his political journey, the one aspect he is threading carefully and focussing on is the need for peace irrespective of religion, caste or creed.
His friends and followers too believe so and are confident that caste and religion don't matter. “Bhaktavatsalam was a Mudaliar, Jayalalithaa was from a small Brahmin community. They too were from minority groups, but were successful. Kamal will also be able to make a difference,” says a confident Gopal.
Sowmyanarayanan, who is at present a DMK supporter, proudly spoke about his cousin saying, “Kamal has brought big laurels to Paramakudi. He has made our small town visible in the national and international arena. I really hope his political career too touches similar heights.”
In Kollywood, Kamal Haasan is also known as Nammavar (a moniker that means "our man" given to the actor), and for the people he is indeed one among them.
Haasan echoed the people's sentiments at the launch of his political outfit today, saying: “This is a party for you, for the people. I am your instrument, you are the leaders, this is a crowd full of leaders.”