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Tallest of actors falls short of fave role

- Kamal Haasan misses playing Netaji & wishes he were born 25 yrs earlier to fight in Burma
Actor Kamal Haasan with Harvard professor Sugata Bose, who is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s nephew, and his mother Krishna at Netaji Bhawan on Sunday morning. The car in the background is the one in which Netaji had fled Calcutta in January 1941. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

What’s the difference between Kamal Haasan and Sachin Khedekar? A few inches and a coveted film role.

While Khedekar’s turn as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Shyam Benegal’s acclaimed 2004 film Bose: The Forgotten Hero is a career landmark for the Marathi actor, Kamal Haasan can only look back wistfully at a missed opportunity to play one of Indian history’s most enduring icons — and a personal favourite — on the big screen.

“I really wanted to play Netaji in Benegal’s film. But I missed it by inches, literally, as I am shorter than how Benegal Saab had conceived his hero,” rued 5ft5 Kamal Haasan during his visit to Netaji Bhavan on Sunday morning, ahead of the inaugural ceremony of this year’s Calcutta International Film Festival.

“I had asked Benegal about Netaji’s height. I kept quiet after his reply,” the 59-year-old actor said.

But he has no regrets. “I know Benegal wanted a taller Netaji. It’s okay; the film was very good. A friend was very lucky to get the role,” added the veteran actor, whose love for history was evident in his Hey Ram (2000), which captured his interpretation of the communal hysteria that marked the 1940s.

Kamal Haasan’s fascination with Netaji runs so deep that he wrote in the visitor’s book at Netaji Bhawan: “Had I been born 25 years earlier, I would have joined Netaji and died in Burma.”

He spent quite some time looking at the car in which Netaji had fled the British from Calcutta in the dead of night on January 16, 1941.

According to Netaji’s nephew and Harvard professor Sugata Bose, who had accompanied Kamal Haasan to Netaji Bhawan, the actor visited the Indian National Army memorial — a replica of the memorial in Singapore — Netaji’s bedroom and study. He spent about an hour and a half in the three-storey building on Elgin Road.

The actor said his interest in India’s freedom movement and politics developed out of dinner table conversations in his house. He also said that one of his ancestors was a freedom fighter.

Besides Hey Ram, Kamal Haasan’s fondness for historical subjects comes across in Dasavathaaram (2008). Though fictional, the plot moves from the 12th to 21st century with the actor playing 10 characters. In his 1980 film Guru, Kamal Haasan plays the son of a freedom fighter. In 2011, there was talk of him playing Tipu Sultan in a Malayalam film.

Kamal Haasan has spent almost his entire life associated with different aspects of cinema, yet he considers himself “an extramural student of cinema” who has something to learn from every film festival he attends.

“All my life I have learnt from the studios and film festivals as I never attended any film school. Film festivals are the temples of learning. Amidst so many national and international film festivals, the Calcutta film festival is a pioneer in so many aspects. The film society movement started from here. I feel honoured to be invited,” said the actor, who had received a handwritten letter from chief minister Mamata Banerjee along with the official invitation to the film festival’s inauguration.

Do you think Kamal Haasan would have made a better Netaji than Sachin Khedekar in Shyam Benegal’s 2004 film Bose: The Forgotten Hero? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com