A couple of days ago, I was chatting with Shruti who brought back memories of Kamal Haasan. I first ran into him at an award function. He was with wife Sarika, elegant in white-and-gold cotton sari, and his daughters. Midway through the event, the younger one, Akshara, nodded off. Sarika whisked the tablecloth off the table, wrapped her in it to ward off the February chill, and cradled her. The foursome made a cosy picture.
Having grown up on films like Swati Muthyam, Nayagan and Ek Duuje Ke Liye, I waited impatiently to interview Kamal. An appointment was fixed when he was down for the music release of Hey Ram. A burst pipeline, en route, delayed me. When I finally reached the hotel, I was frazzled. It didn’t help that the superstar preferred TV channels to pen pushers. I returned empty handed.
A year later, I was back in another hotel lobby. Kamal was down to promote Abhay. Once again the channelwallas took precedence. But this time I fixed a meeting for the next morning before returning. His answers were rambling.. I came back thinking he was a better actor than a speaker.
But last year, he surprised me with his frank speak: “Marriage is a folly, I’ve never believed in it. It was only because I loved the women that I went through with it.” The interview triggered off a flood of angry reactions.
May be his unconventional views had to do with the fact that he was now living in with Gouthami. Both his marriages, to Vani Ganapathy and Sarika, broke up supposedly over a woman.. in Sarika’s case Simran. “Unless it’s a gay marriage there’s always a woman involved,” Kamal pointed out calmly.
Just before the break-up, Sarika’s tumble from the terrace of their home grabbed headlines. Some whispered that it was a suicide bid.. the family insisted it was an accident. She was air-dashed to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital for an emergency surgery.
She survived the fall, the marriage didn’t.
In 2003, Sarika was at a Chennai studio to shoot for a Tamil film, Pungai Puvee. She’d last faced the camera 17 years ago, when she was seven months pregnant with Shruti. Her daughter, 15 now, asserted, “We are proud of mamma for her strength and patience. My sister and I will wholeheartedly support her.” Soon after, the trio relocated to Mumbai.
Sarika had reportedly refused alimony and life was a struggle. She didn’t mind moving in with friends and hopping into autos. When we met at an award function again, the sari had given way to a denim skirt and Sarika preferred to help out backstage to sitting in front with the stars.
Her daughters eventually went back to live with their dad. Today, Shruti’s affection for Kamal is as evident as her alienation from her mamma. But while both she and her dad have never shyed away from voicing their feelings, Sarika’s kept mum, literally. As for me, even today, when I think of the Haasans, I recall a picture of family bonding and wonder when the frame shattered.
If you're ready to experiment with new music, then listen to an early, undiscovered band called Sonic Youth. Sanjoy Narayan, the editor-in-chief recommends their latest album The Eternal in his column!