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THE FIRST HOUSE ON ELDAM’S ROAD

It was around 11 am when we entered past the unassuming black gates of the first house at Eldams Road in Chennai. Past the gates, it could have been anyone’s house, so simple and so much reminiscent of Chennai when it was still Madras. We were standing in the courtyard of Kamal Haasan’s office; it took some time for the feeling to sink in. In spite of spending the whole of the previous day mentally preparing for the moment one was surprised and a bit overcome, not by grandeur or flamboyance or style, but by the fact that a man who has completed 50 hugely successful years in cinema can still be so simple and true to his tradition.

If you don’t understand what one means by tradition, it is hard to explain, because you have to see it to get the actual feel. The simple courtyard, the steps that led up to the house, the narrow verandah, the plain wooden door that opened up into the living room and the most simply lit interior that you would come across in the neighborhood; unchanged by the years or the success that they brought. Simplicity, not so simple a thing to maintain in our times, but Dr. Kamal Haasan has.

Inside, we saw the first signs of being at the office of a phenomenal star which were the banners of Unnaipol Oruvan set up on one side of the living room. There was Kamal, a stout beard, a stern look and cell phone in hand; beside him was Mohanlal, concentration writ on his face
  Kamal Haasan

as he tried to find the right answers to the man on the other end of the phone. There was also Shruthi Haasan. The first thing that everyone wanted to do was take a snap with the banners as the backdrop. It took a while before anyone actually noticed an unassuming presence in one corner of the room, a black vintage motorbike. As we looked more closely, we got the feeling that we have seen it many times before, in Kamal Haasan’s films, but no one was really sure where. The well kept automobile which itself could tell a tale of at least 30 years told us once again of how success or times have not changed him a bit.


In no time, everyone was comfortable, chatting up excitedly while waiting for the clock to tick to 11:30. But, before the man of the moment (year, decade etc….) arrived, there was another pleasant surprise, something we did not expect at all. On a tray arrived refreshments for everyone present. Were we guests? No, we were just star struck fans who had come to catch a glimpse of their idol, but yet we were being treated like guests…. a rather suppressed and bewildered ‘thanks’ is all everyone could muster up to the person who brought us the refreshments.

Everyone was asked to get ready, ushered into the central space of the living room and we knew that he was coming. It was just a few moments past 11:30, he would be bang on time. Guess punctuality is one of the foremost qualities that make greatness possible! A white car drew into the courtyard and for the first time perhaps in everyone’s life we saw Kamal Haasan getting out of a car without any background music, but believe us, it was no sight less spectacular. Perhaps, it was even more spectacular than all those times that we have seen him on screen. He walked straight in, not bothering to go into his office room or anywhere else. He was not making an appearance in front of his fans; he was just walking in to meet a few people who had come to his house. Once again, more than anything else, it was his simplicity that floored everyone.

One hardly remembers the first words that he spoke. It was excitement coupled with a sense of wonder. Was he looking more handsome than in the movies? One cannot be sure whether it was the occasion getting better over the mind, or a genuine observation; he did look more handsome than ever, than all those times he has been seen on the silver screen. One thought that photography and camera technology was very advanced, but looking at him from close up, one realized that sometimes, even the best lens and cameraman in the world cannot tell the whole story. Everyone was queuing up for a snap with him and he kindly and patiently obliged all. 50 years in cinema would have taught him that there is no more valuable possession to a fan other than a picture with their favorite star.

The photo session went on well and we were all more than happy. But, more than us being aware of the importance of this session, Kamal seemed concerned about keeping us waiting. What he said should actually be quoted, it cannot be reported. He said,

‘The photos that you have just taken with me are not free. You have to pay for them! Don’t look surprised, I am not asking you for money or any such thing. You have taken time off from work and studies, waited for over an hour to see me. I know it is your love for me that has made you do this and I appreciate it. I also know that you will have to travel back to your respective destinations before resuming work. Now, just think how many man hours have been used up. If you are prepared to do this to see me, you should be prepared to do the same for a social cause. I am not asking you a great deal, just a little bit of your time, maybe an hour a week. That will do the trick. Do this, and you would have paid for the photographs. I will keep monitoring you’.

As he walked out of the room, everyone followed, eager to get an autograph. He walked into is office room and waited as all the autograph seekers sent in their notepads to get it signed for posterity.

As we lounged in the courtyard, reluctant to leave and wishing the moment to go on, we noticed a rather huge figure moving about the room, something we were not used to seeing. It took some time for us to realize that it was a cat, but not any ordinary cat; this was a big one, a rare breed perhaps. It moved around, unfazed by all the unfamiliar faces around. In fact, it seemed to be exchanging pleasantries with everyone around, rubbing itself against our legs. It was a novel and a cute sight.

It was getting late, it was time to leave. We had been face to face with the man who has completed 50 years in cinema, we had rubbed shoulders (literally, watch the photographs) with Dr. Kamal Haasan. As we stepped out of the unassuming black gates onto Eldam’s Road, we thought, the next time we come this way we should be on Dr. Kamal Haasan Road. Thank you Kamal, you made our day, week, month, year……. Wishing you all the very best……. Thanks.

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