MUMBAI: Indian movie star Kamal Haasan, whose latest film releases Friday, enjoys causing a stir as an actor and now he is looking to shake up Indian politics as well.
Haasan is one of the biggest names in Indian cinema and has appeared in more than 200 films since making his debut aged six over half a century ago. The 63-year-old, who has endured battles with censorship, recently formed his own political party and plans to fight for artistic freedoms that he says are being curbed.
"It´s happening all around the country and should be challenged. Every artist should assert his or her right to speak," Haasan, from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, told AFP in an interview. The multiple award-winning screen icon is the latest in a long line of Indian actors hoping to transform their popularity at the box office into votes at the ballot box.
Haasan launched Makkal Needhi Maiam in February, a political party based in Tamil Nadu that translates to "People´s Justice Centre" in the local language. It will contest polls for the first time in India´s next general election, likely to be held in spring 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a second term.
Critics have accused Modi´s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of fuelling intolerance and giving a platform to anti-Muslim sentiment. Haasan, whose films have had a political hue since the 1980s, said his party´s priorities will be to "defend freedom of speech, and maintain and safeguard the diversity and multi-religious quality of the nation".