Shooting for his 25th film, turning 30… It’s been an eventful year for actor Dhanush. He talks to Sudhish Kamath about the accolades that have come his way, making new forays in cinema and being there for his children
It has been over a decade since we last sat down for an interview. The last time we met, he was barely 20, two films young, fresh out of Kaadhal Kondain. He was shy, soft-spoken, humble and not all that fluent in English. We ran the story with a headline that went: ‘Man’ of the Moment. (‘Man’ because he was still a boy!)
He turned 30 this year, and shooting for his 25th film Velai Illa Pattathaari (VIP) which also happens to be the latest production for his own banner Wunderbar Films after 3, Ethir Neechal and Manigandan’s Kaaka Muttai, currently in post production, a film he says he’s “very very very proud” of. His 24th film Naiyandi directed by Sargunam is releasing today. As I make a trip to a software park in Navalur, where he is filming VIP, for our interview, I realise a lot has changed in a decade.
Dhanush is a lot more confident, extremely articulate and quite candid. He is still as humble as ever though. He is no longer a new kid on the block. Dhanush today is an award-winning actor, a sensational singer and lyricist, a producer, husband and father of two children. The boy is now a man.
After Naiyandi, he has VIP directed by Velraj (almost complete) and K.V. Anand’s thriller Anegan.
Has he finally turned choosy about his projects?
“No, I am not choosy. Any good script will do. I am open to new directors, new scripts, variety... As long as the screenplay and the characterisation convinces me, I am willing to do even commercial masala films... Or anything different.”
His last few films have raised the bar on quality that people expect from him, we point out. Vetrimaaran’s Aadukalam won him a National Award for Best Actor. After Selvaraghavan’s Mayakkam Enna, Aishwarya Dhanush’s debut film 3, his Hindi debut Raanjhanaa and Bharat Bala’s Maryan.
“I don’t know what kind of expectations people have from me. I just pick scripts on the basis of what has worked for me before and what hasn’t. Sometimes, I find commercial success and sometimes I get critical acclaim. I usually mix up these films but it appears like I am now only doing serious roles because those four films (Aadukalam, Mayakkam Enna, 3 and Maryan) happened. But the truth is that those films just happened. There were no interesting commercial scripts that came to me. But Naiyandi will break that spell of serious roles. It is a laugh riot for the whole family, a clean entertainer, that will remind you of Bhagyaraj sir’s films,” says Dhanush.
What is his “taste” or kind of cinema, we ask.
“What I want is and what I have to do are not always the same. What people expect is sometimes completely different from what I want. I don’t mind though. If they want something else, my job is to give them that. So I try to find a balance between what I want and what they want. I think like a newcomer. I am still experimenting with my kind of cinema. I still don’t know what my taste is yet.”
Very few actors would have dared what he did with Raanjhanaa considering he didn’t even know the language.
“I still don’t know the language. I just managed to dub it, with help from the director and a diction coach,” he reveals. He wasn’t really nervous about the language. “Initially, I told them that I wasn’t interested, I am not Bollywood material. I wondered why he wanted me. Then I looked him up and realised he had made Tanu Weds Manu and he could have anybody’s dates and yet he wanted me. I knew that if I worked hard, I could pull it off.”
He does seem to be playing the boy next door type in most of his 25 films. “I guess people are able to relate to me. They identify with my looks. They say ‘Nee namma veettu paiyyan’. This (he holds my skinny arm) is your biggest strength.”
He did something drastically different with Maryan, a role that was physically demanding, and he had quite a bit of screen time alone similar to James Franco in 127 Hours. Did it upset him when the film didn’t work?
“I endured so much pain for that film, made many sacrifices I can’t even talk about... But yes, it has given me so much back and I will never regret it. You cannot plan success. If everybody can plan success, every film can become a commercial success. We can only do our best.”
With the sensational viral hit ‘Y This Kolaveri’, his writing and singing skills caught the fancy of the world.
“Right from childhood, I used to write poems... From my third grade. I wrote about flowers, the moon... I always wanted to walk on the moon. I was fascinated, in fact still, am fascinated, with the space and the universe. So my ability to write never surprised me. When the right moment came, it worked out very well. I had written three songs in Mayakkam Enna but since Selvaraghavan was the director, they thought it was all with his inputs. After 3, I was recognised. I was never surprised that I could sing, we all sing in the bathroom. I had enormous interest in music and luckily today, there’s enough technology to make even my raw rustic voice sound somewhat tolerable.”
Very few people know he’s equally passionate about filmmaking. In fact, he has made about eleven short films (3 was initially a short directed by his wife). Why does he keep these films a secret?
“Because they would be full of mistakes. I didn’t want to waste producers’ money to learn the art. I wanted to make mistakes and learn the craft. Today, I can safely say that I can direct a film without making any basic grammar mistakes. I wanted to make my directorial debut last year but I ended up giving those dates to Raanjhanaa. Maybe soon.”
He has often said in his interviews that he is far from perfect. But then, not many his age have found success so early on, not been a husband or a father long before 30.
“Every man, every woman, has his/her flaws, desires, likes, dislikes... Nobody can be perfect. I have made mistakes, some forgivable, some unforgivable. I’m not a great son, I have not been able to spend time with my parents. I’m not a perfect husband, I have given Aishwarya a tough time. Even work wise… She has put up a lot with me during Mayakkam Enna and 3... I would take that character back home and it affected my personal life. But I am trying to be a good father, and I am happy with the way I have been trying not fail in that role. I want to be there for my children.”