Interview After flirting with other genres, Madhavan is back doing what he does best — setting hearts aflutter, says subha j rao

The year was 2000. And, Tamil cinema was introduced to a mint-fresh lover boy who would go on to rule the hearts of pretty young things with steeped-in-romance flicks such as Alaipaayuthe, Minnale, Dum Dum Dum and Run. A decade, and many noteworthy films, later, R. Madhavan is mulling a return to the genre. And, a million hearts are beating a wee bit faster.

Marking the beginning of that phase are Man Madhan Ambu (MMA) and Tanu Weds Manu. That's a good thing, considering not many people have forgotten his impish smile or his limpid black expressive eyes, and are waiting to see Maddy back on screen. “That was 10 years and 10 kg ago,” laughs the actor. “That was a different era. My initial audience now probably has kids! That said I can't do films where I lock eyes with or hold the hands of a girl or fall for someone I see dancing in the rain. The stories have to be different now,” he says.

Considering the world was at his feet despite him being a total outsider in the industry, was it a sensible decision to flirt with genres other than romance? “I was desperate to get out of the romantic hero mould. Now, I realise that a romantic hero lingers the longest. It was stupid of me to have wanted to throw away what I had. Now, I've decided to return. Why give it all up when you have your own hair and the physique? There will be variations, but, I'm game for romance again,” he says.

Now, the spotlight's on MMA, where he pairs with veteran Kamal Haasan after the poignant Anbe Sivam and the heart-warming Nala Damayanthi. “Working with Kamal sir is a privilege. It's been a while since Anbe Sivam, and it feels good to work together again. It was a wonderful experience, and a lifetime opportunity. We spent a lot of time together on the cruise liner, where the film was shot. It was like family. And know what? The more I know him, the more enigmatic he is.”

So, what's the film all about? “It's about three very nice people and the choices they end up making. It's also about how a relationship feels the strain when trust is lacking.”

As for Tanu Weds Manu, Maddy says his chemistry with powerhouse performer Kangna Ranaut rocks.

Maddy's had his big hits, and some misses too, but he's stayed alive in the collective consciousness, despite not doing too many movies. “I'm very comfortable where I am. I live well, don't have too many loans, and work for the love of it. So…” He continues: “My life as an actor has been a hell of a dream ride. A few bumps here and there, but it's been a good life. I've worked with the best in the country, and basked in the companionship of living legends. What more can I ask for?”

The actor turned producer and wrote the dialogues for Evano Oruvan, which journeyed into the troubled mind of a socially-conscious person, and won critical acclaim. Is he game for another stint as producer? “I'm happy just acting,” he says.

And, there's a lot to keep him busy. He's signed up for Adhirshtasaali by Yaavarum Nalam fame Vikram Kumar, Lingusamy's Vettai with Arya, and two more Hindi films. Despite the gap between releases, his fan following has seen no dent. They chat with him on Facebook and Twitter “from Theni, Dindukal and Pudukkotai. It's astonishing to see their responses,” he says.

The ‘rebel' who broke stereotypes without ever meaning to (got married early on, did not sport a moustache, was a Hindi heartland-bred boy making a Tamil debut, and a Tamil hero in Hindi), says his Bollywood journey was serendipitous. It helps he was a huge TV star (he shot for more than 1,800 episodes of major series such as ‘Ghar Jamai', ‘Saaya' and ‘Banegi Apni Baat'). “People don't relate to me as a star. They think I'm one of them. I feel blessed.”

So, what defines him? “Everyone is trying to put a finger on who I am. Well, what am I? I think I am a good actor who can play a variety of roles. And, I've found acceptance. If I am Madhavan anne here, I'm Maady paaji in Punjab and Maddy bhai in Lucknow.”

What keeps him grounded despite his fame, Maddy says, is his “middle-class upbringing. Staying grounded is a need. I can't survive otherwise — I grew up being told it's unacceptable to not be polite. The lesson has stayed.”

That's probably why his son Vedant, all of five, is amused that his ‘papa' gets so much attention outside of home!