'I am 30 years late!'
Kamal Haasan organised a function for the physically and mentally challenged people on World Disability Day
Shobha Warrier in Chennai
Don't ask me why I am doing this; ask me why I did not do it earlier! I should have started this work 20 or 30 years back. And please do not mix politics, caste and religion with this issue. I don’t know whether I am saying the wisest thing but I am willing to seek advice from somebody who is willing to give it to me..."
That is Kamal Haasan, the star. No, he is not mouthing dialogue for a film. It is his earnest appeal to the media when they started quizzing him about his recent philanthropic ways. He had organised a function on December 3, World Disability Day, where he distributed gifts to physically and mentally challenged people.
Of late, Haasan has been doing a lot of social work. First, he donated his eyes at a public function. Then, at another public function, he offered his body for research after his death. On his birthday, he donated wheel chairs to the physically challenged. Cynics doubted his sincerity and saw some ulterior motive in his actions.
Haasan tries to clear their doubts. "The reason I am doing it now is that I have realised it slowly," he says. "I am 30 years late. I have wasted a lot of time. Instead of explaining why I am doing it, I have to explain why I am late in doing it. There was no one to tell me what to do."
Why the publicity? "The function is simply to amplify the cause. I don’t need votes because I am not in politics. I don’t need popularity. Films give me that. This is not my 'cinema face,' this is my 'social face.' This face has a social conscience. I want to make everyone in society aware of their 'social faces.' In politics and religion, ideology gets diluted and institutionalised. Only those who are willing to die for a cause individually are people who will create that little momentum. That’s why Gandhiji spoke about individual satyagraha. It is not about politicians. But I shouldn’t do this as if I am seeking publicity or political footage from this.”
When asked if there was an ulterior motive for his social work, he answered in the positive. “Yes, there is an ulterior motive. I want all the cameras to cover me and put this out so that one sensible mind who is not cynical understands what I am trying to do. That’s good enough. If you find one more person like me, he, in turn, will find the other hundred, and it will go on."
Haasan’s attachment and admiration for the physically disabled started when he was in school. "Some of those boys were much stronger than me. I admired them as heroes. A cup with a handle need not contain the best drink. The cups without handles contained the best drink."
But he is peeved with the way society changes names but not its attitude. “You called them 'disabled' first. Then, you start calling them 'physically challenged.' But have you changed your attitude? It is still the same. You think of the blind only when you have conjunctivitis. You think of the deaf only when you have a ear infection. You think of the cripple only when you get hurt in your legs."
His future plans consist of adopting five people and helping them in life. "Please do not mistake adoption as buying a cradle and a rattle to please the child. It is much more than that. Age does not matter in our adoption. We will adopt a person who needs help. He must have the will to fight. We are looking for people who will work for us and for the cause. That’s why we need people who have the will to bear this responsibility. It is like realising someone else’s dreams. But they must have the dreams to begin with. We will do it carefully and with a lot of scrutiny."
Haasan chose Ramakrishnan, who, despite physical disability, joined the national television network, Doordarshan, several years ago, and rose to great heights. The actor confessed the reason why he decided to have Ramakrishnan in the forefront was to have a better person to lead the cause. "I want to have him in front to lead me."
All those who had assembled at the Raj Kamal office and received gifts from the superstar looked happy and content. Only Sridhar, whose legs and hands were disfigured, looked disappointed. "I heard about this function when I visited Anbagam (a home for the physically and mentally challenged)," he said. "I thought I would get a gift. No, I am not disappointed. I am happy for those who have received gifts from Kamal. At least somebody remembered us! Has anyone from the Tamil film industry remembered us today, World Disability Day? All they do is poke fun at us in their films!"
Ahmed, a blind man, happily clutched the colourfully packed gift and said, “I am very happy. Somebody remembered us! That’s enough for me. I will not open the gift now; only after I reach home.”
Physically disabled Gunasekharan spoke about the star's magnanimity. “I live in an orphanage. This is the first gift, a gift wrapped in such beautiful paper, I am receiving in my life. I feel so happy. May God bless him!”
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj