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Rooted in reality

If `Alai Payuthe' catapulted him to fame and made his ride to success a joyous and smooth one, his attitude towards life proves his feet are on terra firma. Meet R. Madhavan who has loads of zeal.

R. MADHAVAN had a meteoric rise — just what any actor would aspire for. Catapulted to fame and success with Alai Payuthe, Madhavan has triumphed on the film path. Unfazed at the `phenomenal' accomplishments and accolades showered on him, Madhavan has his feet solidly grounded. Effervescent and self-effacing, Madhavan (with a new hair cut) is quite as candid and forthright. Maddy is happy to share his thoughts.

Is he under pressure to deliver considering he has touched stardom in three years?

"The only pressure I acknowledge is from within. The external pressure starts applying when you try to reach beyond what you are capable of doing and try to take risks on other people's behalf. I am under pressure from myself to try and improve as an actor."

Is measuring up to the expectations of people in the industry and the audience taxing?

"It's not. There is a selfish reason why I do not choose not to acknowledge that pressure or expectation because it is too much of a baggage to carry for an actor who is keen on performing according to the character of his film. So, I don't want to go on the sets with something at the back of my mind nagging me. I have lot of faith in my directors. So, I don't take the pressure. The moment I do I would be responsible for the outcome."

Mani Ratnam gave you a head start. How much do you think you have been moulded or influenced by the ace director? "I think that the sensibility one finds in my way of acting or the films I select are greatly influenced by what Mani Sir makes or believes in, in terms of cinema."

How do you see yourself in other director's hands? "I strongly believe I am a director's actor and it reflects in my performance in the films. I do choose to put in my own few bits in every scene or dialogue but that is entirely for the director to accept or reject. There is a good rapport between the directors and me irrespective of whether the film is a hit or a flop and I think that is important. I just choose to enjoy my process of filmmaking. For me, it is imperative that the three months I spend with the crew, cast and director have to be an enjoyable experience."

The success or failure of a film does not bother him. He moves on with his feet on terra firma. "Not because of humility. It's a nice safety mechanism I have worked out because it tends to throw you off — especially for me, a middle-class guy who was suddenly catapulted to fame, hounded and chased. You are constantly in the fear of people saying you are behaving like a star, which has become a taboo. I don't want to be considered a nasty guy. So to be able to balance all that, I have to keep my feet on the ground. I have to know where I am coming from and where I am likely to go." How difficult is all this? "It's difficult for people around you. My wife, family and friends find it difficult. But, over a period of time it has become smooth."

Madhavan has been fortunate to work with Kamal Hassan right in the beginning of his career. Does he think so? "In a way I am very fortunate — working not just with Kamal but with Mani Ratnam, Balachander, Priyadarsan, A.R. Rahman and Harris Jayaraj. I am right now at a crossroad not knowing what else to look forward to in terms of the film industry. I would love to do a film with superstar Rajnikanth and probably a film with Shankaran and that's it — the loop of all the greats has finished and I am on my own after that. Probably now, it's time for me to look back."

Does that bother you? "Yes it does, but a little bit. The biggest bother is to make a film where everybody gains a little out of it — that is the biggest concern now considering the state of the industry."

Are you looking at thrillers? "I have a formula. For any actor his life is as long as one of the films for which he was popular. So, if I choose to do another film like Alai payuthe after three years and if that film does well I have a lease of life till I do another film like that. For actors, it is important to try and cover as many genres of successful films as possible. I've done action (Run), romance (Alai payuthe, Minnale, Dum Dum Dum), serious roles (Kannathil Muthamittal) and comedy in the forthcoming Nala Damayanthi which I hope works. I have these genres to repeat again till people say it is not working. A thriller would be another genre I would like to include as a feather in my cap."

Madhavan's forthcoming projects include Nala Damayanthi (where he plays a cook), Priyamana Thozhi, an untitled film with K.S. Ravikumar produced by Padmalaya Films, Jayam with Linguswamy produced by A.M. Rathnam, Mani Ratnam's Tamil film which is being done in Hindi (with Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi) as well and, perhaps, a film with a new director Santosh in February next year.

"Because I do one film at a time, that is as much forward as I have been able to go. Now people are prepared to wait for my dates, which is very flattering. Right now, I have enough in my hands." Bollywood is one of the luxuries Madhavan indulges when the subject is good as "that is not my bread and butter," he says.

Do you see your success as a tryst in destiny? "Not only for me (laughs). It is not easy for a family to adapt. We have been an upper middle class family. All of a sudden, we are talking numbers (of rupees) that don't relate in the family at all. My parents have categorically denied taking advantage of my wealth and do not interfere in my life. Sometimes, it is exasperating for me, because as a son I want to do something for them."

Do you constantly introspect yourself? "My favourite pastime is either Internet or introspection." The 2 I's? "Yes" and laughs. "Constantly to keep in touch with what I am thinking and whether it is in line with what I have set myself to do. I surf a lot be it to know about a new word or find out about a new car."

Madhavan's stress busters are yoga and sleep. "I am very serious about yoga. I have an instructor who teaches me between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. I indulge in some workouts as well. Sleep is a stress buster." But is that not too precious and scarce? "Very" (laughs). He monitors his diet as well to keep in shape.

Madhavan is serious about vegetarianism. "I have always been a vegetarian and I am not physically weaker than any non-vegetarian. We have seen the downside of being a non-veg."

His all-time favourite is thair sadam (curd rice) with pickle. "It provides great energy, is easy to digest and safe to eat." Next is pani puri. "I love to eat roadside stuff like corn on the cob, roasted corn, mangoes, guavas with a little bit of masala." Can you afford to indulge in this right now? "I still do shamelessly."

Madhavan emphasises that the process of education is extremely important. "Academics may constitute 20 per cent. One has to learn to take care of oneself. Being not pampered is not a negative thing, being made into a survivor is a positive thing, which all parents should indulge their children in. They should let them face the hardships of life soon. One learns to live life and deal with people."

Are you content with life now? "Dangerously, I am very content with it now. I never think about the future nor have thought about the past." Take each day as it comes? "Yes and I would advocate that's the best thing to do," signing off on that note.


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