Wednesday, June 3, 2015

R. Madhavan

“I think I’m an extremely selfless and at the same time, a supremely confident actor”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the May 24, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

He has never tried to fit into any mould. In the era of six-packs and eight-packs, he’s continued to take the criticism on his weight with a pinch of salt, allowing his acting to speak volumes. What has probably worked for R. Madhavan, is his effortless charm that’s remained ever since he played Maddy in ‘Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein’. Infact, when you meet him, you realise that off-screen he’s far more charming. A little break later, he’s back with a bang with Aanand L. Rai’s ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, that’s gone to do extremely well. Looking dapper in a kurta-pyjama teamed with a Nehru jacket, he settles down and talks candidly about his latest release amidst more….

Coming back to a film and character after a gap of few years, getting the same tone or feel to the character – how challenging was that?
The reason it was challenging has three folds – one it was never meant to be a sequel, second it was a very realistic film, Manu, Tanu and everyone involved were very real people. So mounting to a sequel with the same characterisation and now deal with a double role of Kangana, and still make it real and believable, that was the challenge. Third was to start the film after four years with exactly the same characters and obviously nobody was going to give us the leeway to not be in character for the first few days. But I think Aanand L. Rai helming the entire film really helped. He’s an exceptional director.

‘Tanu Weds Manu’ was an underdog film, which went on to do great. On the other hand, the expectations from the sequel were high….what do you feel about that whole change?
One word is vindication. When I was doing ‘3 Idiots’ everyone was approaching me with films, I decided to do Aanand’s film. When I met him, I thought he had a brilliant spark and I insisted on seeing his first film ‘Strangers’, and when I saw that, I knew I had a good film-maker in my hand. I’ve mostly worked with directors whose last film has been a flop or they’re just starting out, because I felt they had the fire in them to give me what I wanted. When he told me the story, I hugged him and asked him to promise me that he’ll keep the story as pure as he’d narrated it to me. Now that was a challenge but the good thing was, Aanand and our Himanshu Sharma both were on board. During ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, we didn’t have enough money to finish the film. I remember Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) worrying about whether the film will be completed or was it a right choice for me to do the film after ‘3 Idiots’. Nobody wanted to trust the film. But before the release, when we showed the film to Raju, he loved the film, and had some suggestions, and that’s when I knew we have a winner in hand. I knew that this desi love story is what I wanted to do, at that time. So, now I feel vindicated. I now listen to my instincts even more.

Not many sequels start from where they ended…this one being an exception…
I think by far, historically speaking, and even factually, I don’t think a film like this, has ever been made even in Hollywood, where you start a film four years later, stay true to the timeline, and show those characters 4 years later. Like I said, that was the challenge. It’s easy to make sequels of ‘Krrish’, or ‘Godfather’ because they’re extra-ordinary people. But to make a film like ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, where we’re bending over backwards to be real, then you do a sequel after four years, and then give a double role to Kangana which is as unreal as it gets and convince everyone that it’s a real story was difficult.

Mentally how was it for you to leave Manu behind and then come back to it after four years?
There’s a key to it. There’s a way of making sure that you never forget what you do, as a character, and that only works only when you give a part of your soul to it. I gave a part of my childhood to ‘3 Idiots’ to become Farhan Qureshi. I had a speech with my father, I knew how victimised I felt when that was happening, so you take a slice out of your life and stick it to your character. Similarly for ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, a slice of my soul was put there. My father was like that. He spoke less, he would bear everything and bear enough till it pushed him against the wall. So whatever you see in Manu is a very integral part of my life. When you’ve already planted a seed of your soul in it, you can never forget it. The only thing is; your physical dimension will change; the soul will be intact. So, I didn’t have to worry about his mannerisms or how he spoke.

With the film having a very strong part for an actress, weren’t you apprehensive about the limelight being on Kangana Ranaut?
There was no doubt about the fact that she will walk away with the limelight. I could have put my foot down and said I’m going to be the hero of the film, please give me all the lines and dialogues, and then it might have turned out to be a different film. But I think I’m an extremely selfless and at the same time, a supremely confident actor to let that happen. Instead, I’m such a kameena, that I’m able to take out the fish with my hook the way I want to and also what’s required for the film. So, if I would have stomped around, telling Aanand I won’t do the film, then it would have been sheer insecurity.

And you have always exuded immense security that comes across when you’ve chosen to do films like ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘3 Idiots’ or ‘Guru’. And despite an ensemble cast, you’ve shined in most performances…
I don’t consider a film as a tournament, the moment I think about what the other person is doing, I’m not looking at it as cinema. If it’s tennis match or something else, I would probably hit an ace, but there’s no point in playing a game in someone else’s court. If Jimmy (Shergill), Deepak Dobriyal or me, any of us wanted to take the scene from someone, that would have come across in the film. In other films, be it ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Rang De Basanti’, you see the camaraderie; we obviously had to be staying in the same hostel or same room which even otherwise, so that it reflected in our characters.

Do you ever look back and think about how your journey in Hindi cinema has been so far, right from ‘Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein’?
I feel blessed. I’m 45 with grey hair and I’m still doing solo-hero romantic movies. I get called Maddy by school girls (laughs). But I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched. I have to be very sure about the scripts that I choose. The respect from the audience is what matters. The quality of an actor because of which people go to see a film, I have to maintain that. The day I think I’m not a step ahead of the generation that comes to watch films in the theatres; I will stop being a hero.

Is that why you’ve also been choosy over the years?
Yes, but the thing is, I don’t feel jealous looking at any other films, or it’s not often that I feel I wish I was a part of a certain film. But if I wasn’t a part of ‘3 Idiots’ then I’d have been bloody jealous. There are very few films that induce that emotion in me. For example, I loved what Ranbir Kapoor did in ‘Wake Up Sid’ or I loved Zoya Akhtar’s film, ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’. There are very few films that I get jealous of, which isn’t a very good thing to say. The films that I see myself being a part of are less. The reason I’m selective is because I don’t get those kinds of scripts. If I had a body like Hrithik Roshan, then I’d have done more films.

It intrigues me to know if your choice of films, reflects your personality…
As far as scripts are concerned, something has to be intelligent enough for me, or perhaps, much more intelligent for me, because only then the younger generation will also get impressed. In the constantly changing era of these young guns redefining romance, sex and everything, it’s very difficult to stay ahead of them when it comes to films. Which is why, a script that appeals to me, also dictates that it’s intelligent. So, yes, maybe that also reflects my personality because there is a constant endeavour to look younger (smiles).

Tell me something about training for your next, ‘Saala Khadoos’. Of course, your look is also so different in the film…
Yes, that role was quite a contrast because my weight has always been a topic of discussion. But I think it’s very important that women find you attractive, physically. The cuteness will fade away and you want to look like someone they want to have for breakfast (laughs). I wanted to do a film which probably brought me into that genre to see if I can do it. The training in ‘Saala Khadoos’ was extra-ordinary because despite my army training, it was great to know that you can do something like that even in your 40s. My look in the film has obviously become a talking point. And after I achieved that body, I had to let go of it in two weeks for ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’. So, physicality for a character it’s important, so if I need to do it and if a script shakes me in my soul, then I’m ready! 

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