Not many people can claim to have transformed from being a scrawny 16-year-old into a performance powerhouse, who is one of the most revered actors in the industry. However, Dhanush can stake claim to this and lots more! An actor who is known for his performances not just in Tamil and Hindi but also on the world stage, Dhanush has also established himself as an able director, eloquent lyricist, highly talented singer and intelligent producer! In short, Dhanush is a league unto himself! We caught up with this all-rounder and picked his brain on cinema, his career and lots more! Read on for some excerpts…
Text: MOHAN K
How was your very first day as an actor?
I didn’t have much interest in acting and came to movies only by chance. I was not nervous that I had to perform well but at the same time, it wasn’t too pleasant also. I just wanted to do what I was asked to. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t something very exciting and I just wanted to get the first day over with, as I did not take it very seriously. That was how my first day in Kollywood went!
How was the feeling on your first day of being a Bollywood actor when you began shooting for Raanjhanaa?
It was a very pleasant feeling. There was something I was mentioning to almost all the people around me. Not everybody gets a chance to start from the beginning and even before I could enjoy the process of shooting and all that was happening around me, five of my movies had already been released in Tamil. So, for me starting out in Bollywood was like a new start and an opportunity to start as a newcomer and enjoyed it as a fresher. The whole experience was very pleasant for me.
How was the experience of adapting to a new language, a different people and their working style?
Delivering dialogues in a new language and emoting at the same time is a difficult process. I am not familiar with Hindi so I had to understand the meaning, get my emotions right and then memorise the dialogues and deliver it at the shooting spot. I had to do my homework each day prior to shooting. Initially, no… to be honest, throughout it was difficult but it still provided an exciting challenge and I enjoyed doing it.
We were very proud that one of our own had reached great heights, when we came to know that you were going to act in a foreign movie. How was your first day of being a Hollywood actor?
Thank you very much for the kind words. For me, I am acting in Tamil predominantly and when I entered Bollywood, it was a new language for me. Similarly, I thought of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir as just being yet another new language. I don’t deny that it took me to an international platform and gave me more exposure. It was indeed exciting but I approached the project as just another new language. I approached the first day shoot of this movie as a student who was going to learn more. There is a lot of difference in the pre-production stage in projects made abroad but as an actor I am more involved only with the shooting part and my place is on the sets. My job is to bring a character to life and so I didn’t find much of a difference there. As English is not the language I think in, there was a slight delay between thinking in Tamil and acting in English. That was there for a few days but then I got used to it, quickly.
Could you take us through the Pudhupettai scene where after being left behind by your gang, you face all your enemies with a rage. How did you prepare for that scene and how did you execute it?
In Pudhupettai, from the first frame to the last frame, I just mimicked Selvaraghavan. He used to come to the spot and enact the scene and if you could recreate even 10% of what he does, you have passed! I can understand him more easily as he is my brother. Also, as he has directed me from my first movie, my basics and foundation as an actor are based on his timing, delivery and body language. So, it is rather easy for me to replicate about 60-70% of what he does. Not just for the scene you mentioned but for all scenes, I used to go to the shooting spot with an empty mind and do what Selvaraghavan asked me to. It is not easy to pick on his timing as it is very unique and difficult to absorb. I would just absorb whatever he did and repeat it. So, the whole movie, I just replicated what he did and didn’t do anything by myself.
There were many scenes in Maryaan which touched all the viewers hearts. Tell us about the movie…
Maryan is a very emotional movie for me, which gave me some scenes with amazing scope to perform. There was a particular phone sequence in the movie for which I had been mentally preparing for two days. I had a request to the director (Bharat Bala) to get the scene in a single take as I didn’t want to go for multiple takes for this scene. We shot in Namibia for this sequence and I remember it very well, even now. I am a strong believer that my first take is almost always my best take and I was very particular that I didn’t want to miss out on the first take for this scene as I knew the importance of it. The director understood the situation and luckily we got the output in a single take itself. Looking back at it now, I find that there are a lot of things that I could have done better but what I did then, felt good for me that time!
Tell us a little about how much Asuran means to you…
Asuran, as a film is very important for me! I got very involved with the whole movie and every single day of shoot and every scene was very attached to me. There’s so much to talk just about the title Asuran itself. It is a very wrongly perceived term. Asuran shall forever remain one of the movies closest to my heart!
Have you missed out on any characters or roles because of your diminutive frame and physique?
No! I haven’t missed out on any roles because of my physique. Also, I mostly choose characters that would suit me only. Actually, I was very hesitant to work in Pudhupettai. I even refused to do it to Selvaraghavan, at one point. Even Selva sir thought about it as I asked him to do it with some big star. However, Balakumaran sir who worked with Selva on Pudhupettai, called me and spoke to me. It was he who asked me if I had seen such characters in real life. He explained to me that physique had nothing to do with the character. It was Balakumaran sir who gave me the confidence to play the role in Pudhupettai and convinced me to do it. Like this, there have only been roles I have been hesitant to take up but I’ve never missed out on any roles because of my physique.
You are an actor who transcends your stardom and still explores various characters. Was it a conscious decision to position yourself this way?
Let me tell you about my stance, without going into the term of stardom. I am somebody who wants to experiment in all kinds of roles. I believe that this is what has got me to where I am today. I had and still have a very strong thought that I want to be looked upon as a complete actor. Even if not now, I have the confidence that some day, I shall get to that level. When working with more directors, I will learn more and before my time is up, I have the confidence that I will be remembered as a complete actor. As of now, my journey is towards that goal!
At any point of time in your career, have you had any confusions as to what kind of movies to work in?
That is a confusion or thought that comes in almost every Friday! There are some movies that we would have the utmost confidence in and be sure that it would turn out to be a hit and begin celebrating its success even before release… But, it might turn out to become an utter flop. There might be movies that we would have no clue as to why we worked in it and be resigned that it would bomb and suddenly it might turn out to become a blockbuster hit. I think no actor has still cracked the code of which movies to choose and act it. We believe in something and work towards it and sometimes it would click and at times not! I am sure that I would be having the confusion of what kind of movies to work in, all through my life!
From being not accepted as hero material during your initial days to being in a different league altogether now, have you ever thought about making this transformation consciously?
I would say, more than it being a conscious decision, it was the sincerity and despite coming to be an actor involuntarily I have given my best at whatever I do. I have to thank my brother and especially my father for instilling in me the dedication and punctuality and giving my best at whatever I do. Likes and dislikes apart, he has taught me to put in my everything in every single thing I do.
How has your cinema journey been over the years?
I entered acting when I was 16 and I did not have a burning desire or passion to be an actor then. It was only after Kadhal Kondaen did it register in me that this is where I am going to be. Even after that, I just looked at this just a profession. However, there are certain films and filmmakers who made the difference. Balu Mahendra sir has played a huge part in me taking this profession very seriously and bettering myself every day. Of course, Selvaraghavan sir is my building block and the very alphabet on which I have built all my learning. Vettrimaaran sir is another such person who defined my career and my mentality towards my craft. Bhoopathi Pandian is the person who showed that I could do comedy to, as according to me till date Comedy is the most difficult thing to do. I guess I’ve kept meeting the right people at the right time and I tried to be as sincere and dedicated to my profession as possible and that has shaped my career.
What would Dhanush tell to somebody who looks up to him and wants to be an actor?
I don’t think I am eligible enough yet to give such advice and I am not sure if I can guide anybody as I’m pretty much lost myself and still finding my feet here. If I have to tell off the top of my head, first – believe in yourself. That is the most important thing to do and as the Bhagavad Gita says, “What you think, you become!” Even if there are a lot of struggles and failures, continue giving your best and don’t give up. Third and most importantly, focus only on your job! Don’t look at what others do as what is meant for you will surely come your way!
How important do you think being detached from your character is important for an actor?
On a health level, it is very important to be detached. However, on a professional level, a movie’s result or whatever happens around a movie is going to affect you and might even hurt you at times. However, as an actor I feel that being attached and getting hurt is also important and I am prepared to accept that too as at times, detachment might leave me in a dangerous place. The result and outcome of each of my movies are very important for me, especially to take it personally and work on bettering it. There have been times when I have been stuck or attached to a character for over a year and it has hurt not just me but also the people around me. For example, my character Ram in 3 and the character from Mayakkam Enna. Unfortunately both the movies happened at the same time and those one-and-a-half years was a very difficult period for me. I remember making life difficult for even the people around me, then! Some characters like Maari and Anbu from Vada Chennai have affected me for a couple of months. However, I would again take up such characters and those who know me and understand me would stick by me even if I put them through this torture again. I am blessed with a few such handful of people around me and this gives me the confidence to take up such difficult characters again!