An old interview of actor Rekha talking about her experience at the shoot of Punnagai Mannan is newly going viral. In the interview, Rekha speaks about how the famous kiss in the film between her and Kamal Haasan happened without her consent. In the 1986 K Balachander directorial, Rekha and Kamal played star-crossed lovers who jump off a waterfall because they will not be allowed to live together. While the scene itself became legendary, Rekha’s revelation has sparked outrage in a world shaken up by the #MeToo movement.
Speaking to TNM, Rekha says, “I’ve said this a hundred times. They shot the scene without me knowing about it. People ask me the same question and I’m fed up of answering it.”
However, Rekha adds that the end result of what happened was apt, as far as the film was concerned. “The kiss didn’t look ugly or aggressive on screen. There was a need for it, but I was a very young girl and I didn’t know about it. He (director K Balachander) said, ‘Kamal, close your eyes! You remember what I told you, right?’ and Kamal said that he did. Then we had to jump when he said 1, 2, 3... we kissed and then jumped. It was only when I watched it in theatres that I realised it had such a huge impact.”
Rekha was only 16 at the time of the shoot and had just completed her Class 10.
“They continued after that shot also, we had a location shift. Suresh Krissna and Vasanth were associate directors and I told them I wasn’t informed about the kiss and that I wouldn’t have agreed to it. But they told me to think of it as a big king kissing a small child. They told me it wouldn’t be passed by the Censor. I asked them what the Censor was!” she recalls.
Adding that these days an onscreen kiss isn’t a big deal, she says, “Whatever has happened has happened. It’s been many years now, but this question keeps coming up again and again.”
But isn’t the discussion different this time around, given the awareness created by the #MeToo movement on consent?
“The audience still doesn’t believe that it happened without my permission," she says. Rekha points out that people who watch films assume that consent has been taken for shooting such scenes and that they find it difficult to believe when someone says it didn't happen that way.
Adding that that unless Kamal Haasan spoke about it, no one would believe her, she says, "Only he and the unit that was there can confirm what I’ve said. Balachander sir is no more. Only those who were there at the shoot know that the kiss happened without my consent."
Asked if K Balachander or Kamal Haasan apologised to her after the shoot, she says, “Why would they apologise, the film was a superhit! I got many films after that too, with Ramarajan and Ilaiyaraaja, like Namma Ooru Pattukaran. We were all so busy in those days, going from one schedule to another.”
However, Rekha reiterates that though Punnagai Mannan paved the way for many more films for her, the fact remains that she wouldn’t have agreed to the kiss.
“I don’t know about getting an apology but it is a fact that I wouldn’t have said yes to the kiss at that time. They just did the scene suddenly. It’s over now and I don’t want to revisit it," she says, noting that even now, she doesn’t expect any apology to come from anyone.
“I learnt to be more careful from next time,” she adds.
Asked if she feels there should be greater awareness in the film industry about such issues, she says, “I’ve been in the industry for a long time and I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience as such. I’ve been here for the last 28 years. I believe in ‘give respect and take respect’. Nobody has ill-treated me, whether it’s an actor, director or technician. I haven’t had the kind of #MeToo experiences that people have talked about. This is work for me – I go and finish it, that’s it. I just focus on what I have to do.”
“I’ve been asked if I’ll wear a swimsuit, sleeveless or shorts and I’ve said no. I’ve told them that shorts won’t suit me and that I’ve done only homely roles, not sexy ones. I’d tell them this in advance. If we have to shoot a rain scene, we’ll wear a black skirt or a thick sari,” she says.
Rekha doesn’t want what she said about her experience to provide fodder for the rumour mills.
“I want to stay positive,” she says. “Kamal sir himself is 65 now. What’s the point of talking more about this now?”