`Cinema should entertain'
Has the father's role in ``Kannathil... " affected his image? What does life mean to him? Is he thinking of any dream role? Madhavan replies to CHITRA MAHESH.
THOSE DIMPLES are quite something. They appear like flashes charming all those who meet him - and there is always a gaggle of people wanting to talk to him or shake his hands. Some say that he has an `attitude', ` he can be troublesome' or `he is on the wane' and that the Hindi world has not really accepted him with open arms! None of that matters because he continues to have a hysterical fan following, especially in the South, as after "Alaipayuthe" and he remains busy "comfortably for a while," as he puts it.
He is on location at Mani Mahal, a dilapidated building where his shot requires him to arrive on a two-wheeler. On the camera is Jeeva - cool and collected, despite his instructions being misunderstood. He tells me he will be there, but I don't find him. I am told he is yet to come! And I think, "Typical star behaviour." I am proved wrong because as I prepare for a long wait, he arrives breezily before me saying, "I've been waiting for you.'' And it appears he was.
Amidst the din, Madhavan or Maddy, the heart throb of many, talks. He is clear, lucid and very sure about what he wants out of life, his present and hopefully for the future.
"It has been hectic for the past one year. I finished three important films, `Kannathil Mutthamittaal', Balachander sir's `Parthale Paravasam' and my Hindi one. On the career front, I have no complaints. Now I have started another with Kamal sir, `Anbe Sivam', which will go on the floors by May and then there is a project with Mr. Fazil and another in Hindi."
How was your tryst with the Hindi world?
Actually the first one, `Rehana Hai Tere Dil Mein' was not well received. The music did not have much time to catch up. And by the time it did the film was already out of the theatres. But I got a fair bit of response - enough to get me some good offers including the same producer who did `Rehana'. So not exactly a damp squib, I would say."
Do you believe that heroes from the south are somehow finding it difficult to make an impact in Mumbai? Do you feel the heroines have a better chance?
I don't think it can be simplified to that level. True, heroes have seldom made it to the top there. But then, now heroines are not doing well either. There is no campaign to prevent any South Indian actor from making it in Hindi movies.
Where is it that you would like to be, Chennai or Mumbai?
First it is very difficult to get good subjects, do the kind of films that you want to. I am lucky I am able to choose between two languages. So it really does not matter whether I am in Bombay or Chennai. But I definitely would like to do Hindi because I know the language well, andthere is some curiosity about me in the Hindi film industry.
What kind of projects stimulates your interest?
Something that Madhavan the person gets stimulated by. It can be the team. It might be an above average script. Not necessarily an excellent one. But the team and script together should excite me. It is important for me to enjoy the 70-odd days I spend with the crew. That for me determines the success or the failure of a film.
And you would enjoy a purely commercial venture too?
Only a completely commercial mainstream venture will excite me!
No offbeat ones for you?
It is not that. When we say `offbeat', I think we are talking about films that are made bravely but do not do well commercially. But then "Lagaan" is a bravely made film. It was commercially successful as well.
What would you say constitutes good cinema?
I think good cinema has to entertain.
I think we assume that it is going to be a vehicle of social change or trying to put one's point of view and in that attempt ignore the very basic intent of cinema which is to entertain. Also you can entertain while you educate.
But do you feel that you are responsible for what you do and what you enact or what is being portrayed?
"Definitely! But I will not overdo that by compromising the entertainment value . Cinema has the widest reach. There is television and the Internet. If you are talking about Internet, you are still talking about a minority. Whereas cinema is something, which even the poorest of poor, will patronise.
What is your dream role?
Something like Russell's role in ``A Beautiful Mind" or what Kamal Sir did in ``Nayakan" or what Tom Hanks did in ``Forrest Gump." Challenging, multi-dimensional, real characters.
Do you think that at some point of time, you might make this happen for yourself? Creating a dream role?
That is always an endeavour for any actor. But there is a catch here.Few actors have been good directors. I do not think I am ready to direct or create a role for myself.
What do you think is needed to be a good director?
The ability to understand and reproduce as close to reality as possible the nuances of life, something like what Mani Ratnam does.
How was the ``Kannathil... " experience? A film that received such mixed response. Mainly because you continue to be the heart-throb of young girls and this is a role where you play a father to three kids. It is quite a shift from your normal choice of films?
Every actor who is a little excited about his job tends to indulge... try and do something that he has not done before. And prove that he can do that. Sometimes when you do it with a wrong team, you can end up falling flat on your face. But if you do it with a person like Mani Ratnam, I am talking about the attempt itself, not the movie, what better opportunity can I ask for? He believed I could do it."
How much of that character reflected you, that brusqueness, for instance?
Personally I am not like that at all. Even if I lose my temper, it is after a great deal of being pushed to the wall. This man is basically angry. It was something I had to really cultivate. Mani Sir asked me to do homework, which I did. Read Ayn Rand's books and all those books he had asked me to and I also observed him. I studied my father, I studied Mani Ratnam as a father, as an angry man, I studied other individuals who would fit into that character and I used all of it.
There has been a lot of flak about the way the child was told that she was adopted - nine years is a long time to prepare for it - should it have been so abrupt?
Not really. Nine years is still very late actually to tell a child. It is not that Mani Ratnam got up one fine morning and decided he wanted to do a scene like that. Much thought went into it the way adoption centres suggest that you should tell your child! It has to be said as directly as possible, without embarrassing the child. This is what we found before we started the film, before we did that particular scene. Some other guy would have kept the child on his lap, kissed her and told her about it very gently. But this guy looks at her straight in the eye because he treats her like an adult. In fact he treats every human being as an adult.
You saw no contradiction there?
It was beautiful if you ask me. I mean here is a man who treats everybody, a child or a father-in-law exactly the same way. He gives them equal respect, importance and attention.
How was it to work with Keerthana?
Oh it was thoroughly exciting. Keerthana is the only actress I have worked with who cries without glycerine. And I cry without it too, simply because I am allergic to it. So it was interesting to see who would bring the tears up first. This girl was fabulous. Absolutely.
How would you describe your journey from "Alaipayuthey" to "Kannathil Muthamittaal"?
I would be insulting Mani Ratnam if I said that it was any different. The intensity, preparation and the lot of hard work that we put into both the films were exactly the same.
When I say your journey, I am also talking about your growth as a person, as an actor.
Doing television for a long time gave me this loud, slightly exaggerated, more pronounced dialogue delivery. That had to be reduced when doing "Alaipayuthey." Realism is my forte. Even on television people used to say that my acting was realistic. Even that was, according to me, a bit exaggerated. Something I have managed to completely grow out of in my journey towards "Kannathil... " Realised the importance of subtlety.
You have got used to working with a director like Mani Ratnam! How do you give your inputs to the others?
For me the director is king. If I have chosen to do a film, then I have also chosen to respect that director. Whether it is "Paarthale Paravasam" or "Minnale", my inputs to the film, if required, are before, never during the film. The credit or discredit for my performances are not my own. There are some people who are able to extract the best from me. There are still some others who think they are extracting the best from me, but it might not go down very well with the audience. I never put in my two bit in any role because I think that it is important to have a cohesive thought when you are doing a film and only a director has a complete point of view about what he wants the film to be like. But I know that I am a painful actor to work with because before the films starts I insist on, except for senior directors like Balachander to whom I surrender completely, a very rigorous convincing session.
In "Paarthale Paravasam" the role seemed more like you? Do you agree?
Oh I could relate to the character a lot because half of it is my real life. I mean there are women chasing me and stuff like that (laughs).
Were you happy with the film?
I was very happy. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting the film and that is how I say, I am very happy with it. Both Balachander Sir and I were not very happy about the outcome because it did not do as well as we expected it to, but then that is very relative, as it has done well commercially.
What, do you think, really happened?
If I knew the answer to that one, we would not be making too many bad films. I think it is my approach. With some directors I do not even bother to ask about the subject - because for me the whole purpose is to learn, to be a student. So that itself is the goal for me.
Now you have seen quite a few South Indian films being made vis-à-vis the Hindi. What is the difference?
There is a major difference. Though it is not really fair to comment, having done only one Hindi film and that with a South Indian team. But I have worked with Hindi television and I know that planning there is phenomenal. They are strict with their deadlines and they finish their work on time. I have picked up that kind of discipline. There are producers here who are worse than the worst in Hindi films. And there are producers in Hindi films who are as organised and disciplined as those in the Tamil film industry. But over a period of time, I think Hindi films have learnt a lot from Tamil films.
In film parlance you are booked for quite a while?
Very comfortably placed. At least till the first half of next year. (He laughs.)
Do you see a distinct difference between the way women handle a project vis-à-vis men?
Yeah, women are much more organised.
But what about the subjects?
That is totally individualistic. I cannot talk about it because I haven't been offered too many. But whatever little I was didn't appeal to me. Not because they came from women directors - the stories just did not excite me.
What do you do in your spare time?
Think about my next project.
Is this what you've always wanted to do?
Perhaps not what I always dreamt about doing. But now definitely what I want to. Plus there are a few places I would like to go out with my family. We are a very nice family stay at home and with very close friends go out for parties. But this does not happen very often. So the time that is left to us is spent on planning my next project, surfing the Net or watching movies.
What kind of movies do you like to watch?
All kinds. Whichever way they'll entertain me.
What have you liked, say in the last couple of months?
I think the best film I've seen in my life is ``A Beautiful mind." I've seen quite a bit of oddball films, which are very nice. They might not have done commercially well. I saw a film called ``Prahar" in Hindi, which has Nana Patekar. I really liked it. Sincere and genuine effort. Nana actually trained as a Commando to act in the film.
How do you deal with all the adulation you get especially from the women?
I am still as embarrassed today about it as before. It is just that I've never got used to it.
While I was talking to you, one of my friend's daughter called and said, please tell him I want to marry him.
(He laughs heartily) She's three years too late. But thanks for the offer anyway.
I should perhaps ask how your wife reacts to all this?
Oh, she's pretty cool. It was a little difficult in the beginning to see every phone call or every email making her a little tense. And then she realised that it was just a professional hazard.
Have you grown up watching films, liking them, wanting to be a part of them?
Not really. I used to watch Kamlahassan's films but never dreamt that I'd beworking with him. Or a Mani Ratnam for that matter. The only person who has managed to transform my, let us say, indifferent look at films to actually looking at them seriously is Mr. Mani Ratnam and a film called ``Nayakan." And having done that, my curiosity and my respect for the medium went up. If you believe in destiny I guess I was meant to be an actor. I trained for everything else in my life except this. I did my graduation in Electronics. I also pursued my defence career very determinedly. I was declared Maharashtra's Best Cadet and finally the All India Best Cadet. I went to train at the Royal Army, Navy and Air Force in England. Came back wanting to be a fighter pilot. But I was six months too old. I probably would have become a helicopter pilot.
What does life mean to you?
I cherish life. Every minute of it. That's the way I live. If I am sitting here giving an interview with you or I am going for a shot the intensity with which I am involved in both these moments, are the same.
Can you mention someone who has touched you deeply?
My Dad. And several others. Not as successful publicly as Mr Mani Ratnam but lots of them. The ability to come to terms with themselves, to cherish life and everything it offers and take it as it comes and live the life of a king, has always impressed me. My Dad is one of them. My wife Saritha has touched me deeply with her simplicity, her ability to deal with every second as it comes and not carry forward any emotion from the last, be it positive or negative.
Do you find time to read a bit?
I am a very poor reader. But a wonderful information gatherer.
Because you surf the Net?
Also because I am very observant. I can sit in front of somebody and see a lot of things about the person. I think that has helped me a lot in getting to where I am today.
Some principles that you live by?
Only two. I should not hurt anybody even inadvertently and I shouldn't cheat anyone. I am very upfront. I take what I deserve and I give without delay. Things my parents inculcated in me.
What's your Zodiac?
Gemini. Born on June 1.
Do you believe in God?
Very strongly! I am not ritualistic but I do my prayers everyday. It helps me keep my feet on the ground. That there is somebody above me to whom I can attribute my success. For me to sit in front of God is a very humbling and at the same time a very elevating experience.
Anything else you would like to tell the world at large?
I wish I were on a platform so that I could make an impact with what I say to the world at large. As we seemingly seem to progress we are losing tolerance and also the ability to act according to what our heart screams at us, not even tells us. We are just becoming indifferent to a lot of things as long as we are safe. I don't think that's a very nice legacy to pass on.
Since you are in such an influential position, do you think you can do anything about it?
In the smallest way I can at least teach my children not to be like that and on a larger scale I hope I can convey something like that in my films, and also tell anyone who cares to listen that it is good to dream, good to have constructive suggestions!
Live life to the fullest. Absolutely.
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