Raising the bar

Candid talk

Raising the bar

Known for his character-driven roles and comic timing in Tamil cinema, actor Dhanush is now all set for his debut in Hindi film ‘Raanjhanaa’.  Rajiv Vijayakar speaks to the actor about his experience shooting for the film and post-‘Kolaveri’ success.

Rajnikanth’s son-in-law makes me wait for over two hours. After the delay, a diminutive man walks in with a cheery smile and an apologetic air, looking like anything but a big star that he has been with about 25 films in 11 years.

In flat 15 minutes, Dhanush and his ready wit and earthy simplicity has charmed me. The hero of Raanjhanaa is in his element and enjoys the chat as much as I do.

We start at the beginning — of his new career in Hindi films. What made him go for Raanjhanaa? “To be honest, the narration by Aanand L Rai did it for me. When he first approached me, I was reluctant, but he asked me to listen to the narration for 15 minutes, after which, I was free to refuse the film. But after his reading, I just could not turn the movie down. I accept or decline a film based on how much I can see myself as the character, and 15 to 20 sequences in the film had actually happened to me.”

Real or reel?

Asked to elaborate on that, he replies with a mischievous grin, “Well, I was desperately in love with this girl when I was 16 — she was my first love, from a different school, and I did everything — and I mean everything to attract her. She did like me and we dated for a year, but she dumped me probably because I decided to be an actor.”

From his side, says Dhanush, “It was love, because love is something that makes you forget everything else.” Again asked to elaborate, he chuckles and says, “I have this habit of calling up my mom three or four times a day, and I never did that in that phase.”

His meeting with wife Aishwarya was far less dramatic: he had gone to watch the first day first show of his second movie with his entire family. The owner of the movie hall came to him after the show and said that Rajnikanth’s family wanted to meet him. “A casual handshake was my first meeting with Aishwarya, but on the following day, she sent me a bouquet with the message, ‘Keep up the good work.’ ”

He smiles broadly, “I like to think that it was my talent that made her fall in love with me. Who can fall in love at first sight with someone who has my looks?” A guffaw follows with a biceps-flashing gesture with his arm to show that his talent is his strength.

And what does he think are his strengths as an actor? “I think I can adapt very well to the expectations a director has from me. I understand what every director wants,” he explains.

Mention that the promos of his debut Hindi film (which will also be released as a Tamil version) make him look authentically North Indian, and he thanks his parents for his looks. “But I must give the credit to Aanand Sir, who was adamant about having me in the lead role, even in such a big-budget film, after watching only a YouTube video of mine. And to Himanshu, who has written the film and also worked tirelessly on my diction.”

Is his diction and Hindi fine now? “C’mon, you will have to give me some time, at least till my second Hindi film to get everything right,” he pleads with folded hands.

Language no bar

Dhanush would rather not be a Hindi film star even if the film clicks in a big way. “I want to do good films. Aanand Sir had discussed an idea with me that was so fascinating that we decided to make the film sometime later. However, by the time we finished Raanjhanaa, we became so close that we want to do the film immediately.”

He, however, adds that trends have undergone a complete change. “Today, we have the best of our cinematographers, for example, working in Hindi films. But there is a free exchange of actors and technicians across every language in our cinema. We will no longer be perceived as Tamil, Bengali, Hindi or Kannada actors, but as Indian stars and technicians working for Indian cinema.”

Even the competition has changed. “We are all Number One, Two and Three today. There is no race anymore.”

Being Rajnikanth’s son-in-law has neither benefited him nor raised expectations sky high. “My route, my method and my choice of films are completely different. And you cannot compare me with an icon anyway,” he explains.

And what does Rajnikanth think of him? “Oh, he is easier to impress than his daughter,” he winks.

Coming back to Raanjhanaa, how was the experience of shooting in Banaras? We hear he loved the food. “Oh, yes, I did. We would get up early in the morning and reach the sets at eight. Breakfast — with puris, rabdi, samosa and chaat — would be heavenly. But my greatest high in Banaras was actually playing Holi — proper Holi — on the streets.”

Almost serious for the first time, he adds, “I must tell you that Banaras is a divine place.
We were there for about 70 to 75 days, and I got dreamless sleep each night. There are similar places in the South — but there is something special and peaceful about Banaras.”
We go off at a tangent. What next after his viral Kolaveri di that he wrote and sang? “Oh, I have a long way to go, even if that song has crossed 67 million hits on YouTube. I am still someone who does not really know music. You can even say that I make noise. I have written a song for A R Rahman in my next film Mariyaan, though.”

Any regrets right now? “Only that my busy schedule and the mad promotions for Raanjhanaa, which is something we never do back home for Tamil films, keeps me away from my family, especially my two sons Yatra, who is six, and Linga, who is three,” the actor says disarmingly.

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