Charuhasan with brother
“Can anyone claim to have seen a film 100 times? I do,’’ said lawyer and actor Charuhasan referring to the 1959 film Kalathur Kannamma. The film had brought his much younger brother Kamal Haasan (Charu is older than Kamal by a good 24 years and was married before Kamal was born) into the limelight as the slightly precocious but well-behaved 4-year-old son of actors Savithri and Gemini Ganesan in the AVM production. And, in real life, following the success of the film it was given to Charuhasan, as a father figure, to escort the child actor to the theatres around the State where, during the intermission, the audiences could see the child ‘star’ in flesh and blood.
Recently, speaking with a hint of humour on the ‘supporting role’ he has played to his family members over the years, Charuhasan said at a film awards function in the city that, as a junior lawyer in Paramakudi in 1952, he was introduced as the son of advocate D. Srinivasan and, then, in 1959 as the brother of child actor Kamal Haasan, still later, in 1980, as the father of National Award winning actress Suhasini, then as the father-in-law of noted director Mani Rathnam, and now, after 2008, as grandfather of Nandan who released a pamphlet Contours of Leninism at a CPI(M) summit!
It is not as if Charuhasan himself has no claims to fame. He is the eldest of the sons with the Hassan suffix which their father D. Srinivasan gave them to remember his jail-mate Yakoub Hassan who saved him from the blows of fellow-prisoners when they were imprisoned during the Indian freedom struggle.
A still from Kalathur Kannamma (1960) with Kamal Haasan, Gemini Ganesan and Savithri.
The second in the family is Chandrahasan (born 1936, six years after Charu) who acted in the 1981 film Raja Paarvai as the hero Kamal Hassan’s father. Kamal plays a blind violinist in the film. The film was the 100th film of Kamal and the first production of the Haasan brothers.
Nalini, the only sister (born 1946) of the Hassan brothers, is the sibling immediately older than Kamal, the youngest of the four, who was born in 1954.
Now in his eighties, Charuhasan recalls that he was an average student, joining Class 5 directly at the age of nine without being schooled in the basics. He started studying law in 1949 and was one among the few youngsters in a group of 200 working people in class in the then Bombay State. After qualifying as a lawyer in 1951, he started practising law in Paramakudi and even appeared against his father in a case.
In 1957 he moved a bail plea for the All India Forward Bloc leader, the iconic Muthuramalinga Thevar, in a case consequent to followed the murder of Dalit leader Immanuel Shekaran. He had represented Immanuel in an earlier case too. During Charu’s days of legal practice, rebelling against his parents’ mindset, he was attracted by the honesty of the iconic atheist leader Periyar E.V. Ramasamy Naicker who used to refer to Charu as his sishyan.
Meanwhile, while Charu was building a practice, their father, Srinivasan, decided that the 14-year-old Kamal would join movies, discontinuing his studies, notwithstanding Charu’s view that Kamal should qualify for the IAS. Between 1962 and ’63, the child Kamal acted in five films including one in Malayalam and one each of MGR’s and Sivaji’s films. Srinivasan felt that as an actor his son Kamal would earn more fame than as the Collector of a district. Providence proved him right. Later, when Charuhasan was 46, he was sent to Madras by his father to assist the actor-sibling. A few years earlier, Charuhasan did get a chance to influence Kamal when he dissuaded him from turning a full-time writer and director at the age of 20. At 17, Kamal Hassan worked as an assistant director in the film Annai Velankani in which he also acted in the role of Jesus Christ.
Charuhasan’s debut in films came when he was 49, in the 1979 film Udiripookal made by the acclaimed director
J. Mahendran based on a story by Pudhumaipithan. During the shoot, a not-so-confident Charu was not sure if his role would see the light of day, but that was not to be. Incidentally, the same director helmed the film Nenjathai Killathey which won for Charuhasan’s daughter, Suhasini, the National Best Actress Award.
In the 1987 Kannada film Tabarane Kathe, directed by noted director Girish Kasaravalli, Charu’s role won him the National Award for Best Actor, and the movie won the Best National Film Award. The story is about the struggle of a watchman, Tabara, who is seeking his pension dues from Government to treat his suffering wife. Towards the climax, he runs to the local butcher for help in amputating the diabetes- and gangerene-affected foot of his wife. The pension finally arrives, but Tabara’s wife dies. Tabara berates the staff of the post office and others for the delay and the loss of his only companion. The movie made an all-India impact when it was telecast on the National Doordarshan channel. It is said that R.K. Hegde, who was then the Chief Minister of Karnataka, influenced by the film which won eight State awards, passed a law cutting red tape and hastening the process for retired government employees to get their pensions.
Charuhasan has directed two movies, IPC 215 (as he was against this law) and Puthiya Sangamam. As an actor, he has played roles in more than 120 films in six languages, including two English films. Charuhasan has had more than his share of surgeries, including more than one he had to undergo when he rolled down 39 steps of a building in Paris. When health permits, he drives to the Chennai beach at 5 a.m. for his constitutional, stopping at the Hotel Saravana Bhavan on the way for a coffee.
Others in the Hassan family to make a mark in films are Anu Hassan, Chandrahasan’s daughter, who also hosts the TV show Koffee, and Kamal Hassan’s elder daughter Shruti who has starred in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil films.