He candidly admits that he couldn't have made it big in Bollywood without his mentor K. Balachander, that Hindi movies still enthuse him and that he loves the kind of films Aamir Khan is making.
He is also proud of his daughter Shruti Haasan's career in Tamil and Hindi movies as she has made a place for herself without his banner's support.
Excerpts from the interview.
Are you enthused by Hindi cinema?
Yes, some of it. I am very happy Aamir Khan is now attempting films that should've been done 10 years ago in Hindi. People attribute this new cinema to the entry of corporate houses in Hindi cinema. But where were these corporate houses when Hrishida(Hrishikesh Mukeherjee) made his films and Gulzar bhai made Achanak. Brilliant films are possible in every corner of India and at any time.
Your elder daughter Shruti has made a career in both Tamil and Hindi?
I'm proud of her because she isn't doing a product of our home banner Rajkamal Films. The only thing Rajkamal did for her was to give her a chance to do the background score in "Unnaipol Oruvan". It wouldn't matter to me if she failed as a movie actress. But right now it looks like a winning streak.
Do you advise her on her choice of films?
No. When we talk career, we get into an argument. In Hindi films, she is facing the same problems I did. If a K. Balachander hadn't come along to do Ek Duuje Ke Liye with me in Hindi, I wonder what would've happened to me! I would have suffered much worse because Shruti is far more savvy than me.
Don't you want to act in a film with her?
Shruti has been telling me that we should. But I don't want her to do it just for the heck of it. She is a star now. I want her to act in one of our home productions for the glory of our banner.
By the way, for the Tamil version of Dasavatharam, she was my coach for my American accent. She had just returned from the US and was the perfect medium to help her father's Madrasi accent to be transformed into a yankee accent. She was a bully. She made me do many retakes in the dubbing. And after dubbing, she wanted me to correct some more of my accent. Eveyone thought that was taking it a little too far(laughs).
And your younger daughter?
Every time Akshara stands behind the camera and says, 'This is where I want to be I am reminded of myself.' I started behind the camera and gradually moved to the front.
You are often forced to take over troubled projects. Wouldn't you just like to focus on acting?
But I was always a reluctant actor! I continue to be that. I announce a project, the camera rolls and I'm happy. I'm fortunate to be doing leading parts even now. Except for my mentor K. Balachander, for whom I can do even a walk-on part. When he directed his 100th film, I just walked in to do a small role. I just clowned around on camera.
Balachander is my inspiration. He had a heart problem 40 years back. He has been making films for another 46 years. He can never grow old. My father used to be like that until he suffered a stroke. Then I suddenly realized he was an old man.That's also true of my brothers Chandra Haasan and to an extent Charu Haasan.I can never imagine them being old.
Your brother-in-law Mani Ratnam too had a heart scare recently?
He is a cool cat. I was surprised when he had a heart problem...People think my film with Mani, Nayakan, is my best work. To an extent it's true. But I'd like to think my best is yet to come.
Another film with Mani Ratnam?
We keep discussing ideas...We spoke again on my birthday when he came visiting. He wanted to know what it felt like acting, producing and directing (Viswaroopam) all at once.
What does it feel like?
Direction is a lot of responsibility. But if you've been trained under Balachander as I have, it's a lot easier. You have everything down on paper before you start shooting. By now while directing I am experienced enough to know my moves.
There was one character Balram Naidu in Dasavatharam of a research analyst that became very popular. His speech and personality have become iconic. He was also played by Sanju Bhai (Dutt) in a Hindi film (Chatur Singh 2 Star). So yes, I am returning to comedy. Then someone wants me to play Tipu Sultan. My hibernating historical Marudanayagam is still talked about. People ask, When are we releasing it? They talk of it as their own.
Tipu Sultan was a very controversial figure?
We aren't taking the political angle at all. Tipu Sultan is now being researched and written.