Here, there, and everywhere: How Kamal Haasan established his superstardom all over again

 Here, there, and everywhere: How Kamal Haasan established his superstardom all over again

It was the prea-release interview for Vishwaroopam (2012). Kamal Haasan was asked why he didn’t opt for bigger names in the ensemble, and he said, “At the risk of sounding not humble, I am big enough a name to make the audience come watch my film.” Cut to a decade later, Vikram, a film that marks his comeback to the silver screen after a gap of four years, has a star-studded cast, which includes the likes of Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, and Suriya. However, neither director Lokesh Kanagaraj, nor the actors in the cast, and not even the majority of the audience overlooked one important fact about Vikram… It was of Kamal Haasan, by Kamal Haasan, and for Kamal Haasan.

Such has been his impact in the psyche of generations of filmmakers, actors, and audiences that even 60 years since he first donned the greasepaint, Kamal Haasan continues to tap into the basest of our emotions and makes us excited. But, let’s go back to that opening statement where Kamal said his name was enough to bring the audience to the theatre. Some suggest that him taking the backseat to give more screen space for other actors shows signs of him slowing down. But the answer to such suggestions does not lie in the onscreen proceedings but can be found in what preceded June 3.

Since February 24 this year, Tamil cinema has been having one big-ticket film releasing once every two weeks. The films that joined the list had the potential to change the very outlook of the industry and were poised to rejuvenate an industry that was constantly battered by pandemic-related problems. We had Valimai, Etharkkum Thunindhavan, RRR, Beast, KGF 2, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal, Don, and Nenjuku Needhi. Then… came Vikram. With the power of big-ticket films comes bigger responsibilities. For each of these movies, we saw how the cast and crew of these films went all out to promote their films on every stage possible. Even if some of the lead actors were, true to their usual character, missing out on the action, the rest of the team did go around promoting their films. It was but expected because post the pandemic, it wasn’t enough to have a good product, there was the need to push it hard into the minds of the people to urge them to come to the theatres and watch the film instead of playing the OTT-waiting game.

Team RRR did the promotional drive not once, but twice to ensure the audience across the country and the world thronged the theatres. A similar promotional overdrive was seen for KGF 2 too that saw the team travel to important places across the country to reintroduce us to the world of Rocky Bhai. We saw how both these films managed to make a major impact at the world box office. Back home, we saw how films like Beast or Don or Nenjuku Needhi or Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal greatly benefitted from the promotions. And that brings us to Vikram…

Weeks ahead of its proposed release, the makers of Vikram, Raajkamal Films International, went on a promotional overdrive. They plastered the posters on trains, water bottles, hoardings, and every place that allowed such activities to happen. It is probably reflective of the success of Bigg Boss Tamil, the reality show hosted by Kamal Haasan, that the actor-filmmaker embraced the idea of giving interviews to various TV channels, and went as a guest in popular reality shows. But this was just the beginning of the Vikram promotions juggernaut that hit Indian audiences without any warning.

Take, for instance, the promotional itinerary for Vikram in the week leading up to its release. First, on May 25, Kamal Haasan and director Lokesh Kanagaraj met the press in Chennai to kickstart the promotional activities for Vikram. It was almost like they were counting down from 10 to the day of the release. And what happened next was a whirlwind of promotions. Delhi on the 26th, Kochi and Mumbai on the same day, a trip to Malaysia on the 29th, and back to India on the 31st to visit Hyderabad for a pre-release event. Not wanting to stay back in India, the promotional overdrive hit top gear on June 1 as the film trailer was screened in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai. And two days later… on June 3, Vikram was released on screens, worldwide.

Now, this promotional overdrive might seem like par for the course for films made on this scale. Why make a brouhaha out of it when we have seen Ram Charan, Jr NTR, and SS Rajamouli do it for RRR? We saw the entire team of Don, including Sivakarthikeyan, SJ Suryah, Priyanka Arulmohan, and other members of the cast and crew gives interviews left, right, and center? So why are the Vikram promotions special, you may ask?

Well, despite names like Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, and Suriya involved in the project, and director Lokesh Kanagaraj, who is going through the purplest of patches ever since he made his debut, Vikram promotions were all about ONE person… Kamal Haasan.

At the age of 67, it was Kamal Haasan who did almost every round of promotions for Vikram. Not Suriya, not Vijay Sethupathi, not Fahadh Faasil, and not even Lokesh Kanagaraj. It was Kamal Haasan. Yes, in some of the events, we saw the likes of Anirudh and Lokesh joining Kamal Haasan, but it was a complete Kamal Haasan show. After the audio launch, which happened in the middle of May, and saw almost the full cast and crew in attendance, Kamal Haasan took over the reins after.

He was in Mumbai one day hobnobbing on a reality show, flying on a private jet to Kochi to give an interesting round of interviews, meeting reporters in Bengaluru soon after, standing on a hydraulic ladder outside a theatre in Delhi, visiting his fans in Malaysia, looking at his face lighting up the night sky on the Burj Khalifa, and even randomly visiting a theatre after one of the screenings of Vikram. Kamal Haasan was everywhere.

Did it come from his experience with a whirlwind campaign drive during the 2021 elections? Did it come from his need to push the film because it was produced by his home banner? Did it happen because it was his mainstream commercial cinema comeback after years together?

We might not know what really prompted Kamal Haasan to do what he did for Vikram, but let’s go back to the statement we started the copy with. “At the risk of sounding not humble, I am big enough a name to make audience come watch my film.”

Of course, Vikram had some of the biggest names of Indian cinema involved in it, but even if bringing the audience to the theatre might not have been as “easy” as it was during Vishwaroopam, KAMAL HAASAN will always be a big enough name.

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