Manoj K. Bharati on playing a graphic designer in Suresh’s upcoming film 13 and his long-cherished dream of becoming a director

In an industry steeped in sentiment, this isn’t a title you would think of for a film, particularly if it happens to be your first. But Suresh, Balaji Sakthivel’s assistant, has named his maiden venture 13! “Number 13 can be both lucky and unlucky, is the premise,” explains the film’s protagonist, Manoj K. Bharati. “And director Suresh has done a marvellous job.” Manoj plays the father of two, in this family drama.

Well-crafted

“It’s a poignant story, very well crafted. I’m thankful to the producer and director for giving me this break,” says Manoj. Beginning with dad Bharatiraaja’s Tajmahal, Manoj has been trying to hit the bull’s eye for a decade now. But success has been eluding the actor, and director-aspirant. “It’s been a struggle but I’ve not given up. Some erroneous moves on my part have proved costly for my acting career. But my goal is to make it as a director.” His candid takes make the exchange worthwhile.

For those of us who have been closely following Manoj’s career, his performance in films such as Alli Arjuna, Samuthiram and Varushamellam Vasantham remain vivid. Yet, nothing much happened for him. “It hasn’t been easy. But truly, acting was never my first choice. I’ve always wanted to be a director.” What happened in between working as assistant under Mani Ratnam and his father was that the latter wanted his son to become a popular actor — something Bharatiraaja himself had aspired to be. So Manoj was off to South Florida to study theatre arts.

But still the director in him is eagerly waiting to emerge. “He will, very soon,” Manoj announces. “I’ve re-worked on the entire script of my father’s evergreen hit, the Kamal-Sridevi starrer, Sigappu Rojakkal. It isn’t a sequel. But for a thin line of resemblance to the original, my story is very different.” Even in Annakodiyum Kodi Veeranum, Manoj was only helping out Bharatiraaja as a technician, till one day he was told that he will play the role of Sadaiyan. “The trouble I had sporting a big, ruffian-like moustache was much, because it doesn’t grow naturally for me,” he laughs. The film might have been a dampener, but Manoj’s performance gained notice. And it led him to 13. “This film is very close to my heart. It’s as though I’m playing myself. I’m a software guy in 13 — a graphic designer with two kids. Subtlety and spontaneity mark the character. Sangeeta, a debutante, plays my wife. A very talented actor, she’ll surely score. And you will see some commendable performances from child actors, Sandhanya and Srivarshini.”

According to Manoj, screenplay is a highlight of 13. Anand, who has apprenticed under U.K. Senthilkumar, is the lensman. “His work is amazing, the way he has captured the ambience, the angles he has used, and the way he moves his camera around, have floored me. Visually too, 13 should impress.”

How it happened

Shivankar, a friend of Manoj, suggested that he listen to Suresh’s script. “In no time, Suresh had me totally engrossed,” says Manoj.

The film has been completed and is gearing up for release. “The 75 days of shoot has been a rewarding experience. And the entire unit was like family. So much so, on the last day I got a little emotional. Annakodi … was like home ground, but feeling at home in an outside unit was a new experience,” says Manoj. “It’s a wonderful team, well-organised in its functioning.” So, probably it’s only natural that the same group plans to get together for another project too.

“Yes, we are!”

Annakodi … marked Manoj’s comeback to the acting arena after a seven-year hiatus. 13 should ensure this innings continues for long. Meanwhile, the day he will don the director’s hat isn’t far away either.