An Atheist and a Spiritualist: The Friendship Between Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth.
In south India, in the state of Tamil Nadu, there are two superstars in the film industry. Two men, Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, who entered the film industry in the 1970s and have grown into incomparable powerhouses. Kamal is an actor par excellence. Rajnikanth, on the other hand, oozes with magnetism, like Michael Jackson leaping onto a stage. You will have to see them both in action to see what I mean.
Both men were strong-willed and brutish when they started out, but with time, age, and appreciation for where they have come, a sense of gratitude has really softened them.
Rajnikanth used to have a quick temper, and the pitch-black look of a panther. But at the turn of the century he became very spiritual and began going to the Himalayan mountains to live with the yogis. He became increasingly simple-hearted. If he goes out in public, he does not bother with appearances. Bald now, with a disheveled face, he carries himself purely on self-trust. If you ask him what his secret to success is, he will say, “All glory to God.”
Kamal Haasan, on the other hand, is an intellectual from the marrow of his bones to the pores of his skin. He is a humanitarian. He believes in the love of people for each other. In human goodness.
When he started out, he met some powerful thinkers who seriously influenced him. Some had radical political ideas, and fed some compelling logic to Kamal Haasan that Mahatma Gandhi was a man of ill intentions, and has done terrible things for India. For a decade, Kamal was the first person to criticize Gandhi openly, if anyone should broach the subject.
Then he went through a transformation – as if his heart opened up, and he finally understood where Gandhi was coming from. As an ode, he made a wonderful film called, “Hey Ram”, where the story goes like this: the main character’s wife is raped and killed during communal riots, he blames Gandhi for the atrocity, plots with several high-standing figures to assassinate him, and by the end, realizes his mistake. A film of self-transformation.
However, Kamal Haasan is the epitome of an atheist. In 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a screenwriting workshop that he had organized. A question was asked to him about God – to which he replied, “No one thinks about God as much as an atheist.”
His intelligence is uncanny. Now that I’ve given you some background, we arrive at the main point of this story:
In 2010 Kamal turned 50. The entire south Indian film industry organized a televised event to honor the actor. Several megastars were present from different regions of South India, and they all had something to say. Quite a few of them, including Rajnikanth, had praised God.
It was only a few days ago that I actually saw the event on youtube, and hearing Rajni and Kamal speak gave me goosebumps…
Rajni began by expressing that when he entered the industry back in 1975, Kamal was already a superstar. “If Kamal had wanted he could have told the producers not to put me in another film, and they would have listened. Instead, he encouraged them to cast me in roles opposite him. When people started to appreciate me, Kamal pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Rajni, now you must make your own films. If you continue making films with me, no one will let you rise. You need to suceed.”
He went on to say, “The Goddess of Creativity has been holding the hands of many proficient actors and guiding them along… but then I noticed, while she holds our hands, she is carrying Kamal on her shoulder. I said to the Goddess, “Devi, how is this fair? How can you take us by the hand and give him preferential treatment?’
“To which the Devi replied, “Look at the intensity and effort he puts into his art. He leaps into the deep waters, wanting to learn as much as he can, from dance, to music, to languages, to techniques. He has put his entire energy into this art… so now tell me, do you want me to set him down among you?”
“No Devi, no. Let him stay on your shoulder. I understand.” Is how Rajni expressed it.
He said he has prepared no speech, and it will be difficult for him to speak without crying…
“I was just gifted a bronze statue of my mother and father. They are no longer… but I don’t feel that they are not here. You are my family. This is my life. I don’t know how to call this celebration. So many of you have spoken, and many of you are spoken like this is not celebrating the end of my career, my art, at 50, but the beginning… but no, I know the truth, so I won’t think of this as my beginning. At the same time, I can’t think of this as the end either, because everyone is reminding me I have more work to do. Could I think of this as a halfway point?
“Many people said, “May you have God’s grace. May you live for a thousand years.” You all know what I believe in and what I don’t. You tell me, should I believe in God? Is it not enough to believe in you?
“So, I don’t know if I’ll have a thousand years left or not, when I was 18 I wrote down a big list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life. When I look at that list now, I feel like I haven’t even finished the first 3 properly. I know I have very little time left, and a lot of work to do – but when I am surrounded by so much love, I’m starting to have a thought – maybe I can still finish half of that list? I’m starting to wonder.
“Hearing you all speak, I wonder if I should believe it. But I won’t believe it. There are many things I will not believe. If I believe it and think I’m a big man, I know I can’t even take two steps forward.
“What has brought me so far is this love. You just heard Rajni’s speech! Who says things like that! He has humility, that’s why he makes himself seem like nothing and puts me on a pedestal! What love! There was absolutely no need for him to put himself down to make me look big.”
Kamal’s voice is shaking, Rajni is visibly moved, and it’s getting quite emotional in the audience now…
“You know where this is coming from? It is from the accolades you give us, calling us Superstar, or Universal Hero… we know who we are – Rajni knows who he is. He goes searching for himself in the Himalayas. I run around this city, not knowing where else to go. But this “Who am I” that we are searching for now isn’t what we wanted in the beginning… isn’t the “Superstar or Universal Hero.” We can clearly see now that the work for which we were born has not been accomplished. So, we search.
“He is searching for it in spirituality. I am searching for it in society… my daughter Shruti has grown up listening to my atheistic monologues, but now she goes to the Temple, but she won’t put holy ash on my forehead, because she appreciates my feelings on this. But even so, if she DID put holy ash on my forehead, I will not erase it. It was put there out of love.
“For all those who came on stage and prayed to God on my behalf, please do not think I am teasing you. Where did I say there is no God? I am saying it would be nice if he IS there. Being surrounded by all of you, with so much love from you, I feel like, what’s the fuss, let there be such a God – it doesn’t matter to me.
“But one thing I tell you – in future times it will not be atheists who break down temples. You will see. Only the religious will do it to each other.
“The humanitarians will only increase in more and more love for humanity. That is what I am seeing as I learn in my life.
“Standing before you all, I don’t know if I should joke, or speak happily, or angrily… I don’t know what to do. I didn’t prepare a speech. So, in thanks to you all…”
Kamal kneels in front of everyone, touches his head to the ground… while the audience rise to their feet… He remains there for a while, infused with emotion… stands back up.
“Now I bowed not to God. But to your love. Thank you for your love.”