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`MAN'of the moment

Skinny, awkward, unheroic and not yet twenty... What makes Dhanush tick? SUDHISH KAMATH finds out

He weighs less than some of his heroines. He is yet to sprout a full-grown moustache. His arms are the size of Schwarzenegger's wrist. And his hair style is... well... non-existent. And to cap it all he is not yet 20.

But none of this has really mattered. Having turned out one of the biggest hits of the year — "Kaadhal Kondain", Dhanush - two movies young - has already signed up a string of other films.

Could he be tinseldom's most unlikely hero? Easily. So what makes the boy called Venkatesh Prabhu, better known by his screen-name Dhanush, the man of the moment? What makes some of the best actors adore him and say `My favourite actor is Dhanush for now'(Surya)?

"People accepted me because I'm not special. I'm one among them. I'm very normal. I look like a neighbourhood boy. The movie is doing well because of the director's job. Please don't give me any credit," a bed-ridden Dhanush tells us when we finally get him for an interview half a dozen calls later.

Had the success gone to his head, we wonder. "I've been down with fever for the last two days... 104 degrees. I'm sorry I just couldn't call back," he explains.

With both his films being super hits, it surely must have proved to his critics that he wasn't just a fluke. "It's not a fluke. The credit goes to the director. If my third film `Thiruda Thirudi' is going to be a hit, it will be because of the director. A movie's fate is in the hands of the director," says Dhanush.

Did it hurt when his first film was called `soft-porn' by a section of the media? "Is `Titanic' a soft porn film? Why do you make a big issue out of sexuality? `Thuluvatho Illamai' is almost an Indian-English film. What we have shown in the movie is happening in schools today. We are just telling the facts, you probably do not want to accept the truth. But the movie was a hit because people accepted it".

While the first film was by accident (Dhanush was forced into it by his father after the original hero dropped out last minute), `Kaadhal Kondain', he was chosen on merit. "I was scared. But then my brother, the director, gave me tips on `How To Behave Like Vinod'... It's almost a book. If people think I've done the role, I don't deserve the credit; it should go to the director. I still think I could have done a better job. I have probably executed only 40 per cent of the director's expectations out of Vinod. It's only because of dancer master Kalyan, Prasanna master and fight master Rambo Rajkumar that my dance and fight sequences have come out well. They did the magic".

Not only have the sequences come out "well" as Dhanush understates it, the young hero has been compared to Bruce Lee for his mannerisms. "Maybe because of my looks. But I don't want to be called that (`Indian Bruce Lee' as his fans call him). It's humiliation to Bruce Lee," he says.

Not once during the shoot did his director-brother Selvaraghavan tell him how good his performance was. "Only after the first copy, he called me aside to tell me two words: Good job. However good or bad, he never really said it during the shoot; he would keep it to himself. So I was happy when he said I did a good job". Selvaraghavan himself, had written the thriller of a boy deprived, four years ago, when he was in the second year of college and when Dhanush was in Std. X. "As a brother, one day he called me to the room and told me the whole story. I was shocked and impressed. I went back to my room, stood in front of the mirror and tried to give a psychotic `Vinod' look. That day, I didn't have the slightest clue that I would be playing the role four years later".

It was after `Thuluvatho Ilamai' that Selvaraghavan told him: "Try this character. Your look suits Vinod". "Frame to frame, he took me through the movie. No actor would get a character like this in a second movie. I'm lucky to have him as my brother. I'm lucky to have him as a director," says Dhanush emotionally.

What makes for a good actor, we ask him. "It's 80 per cent talent and 20 per cent luck. I wasn't lucky to be a natural actor. I had to work on it. Hard work pays. I tried out something for my role as Vinod. I observed the body language of a lazy dog on the street. I spent hours watching the animal. I practiced before the mirror. Practicing before the mirror is the toughest thing you can do because you have to act and at the same time evaluate yourself. I spend a lot of time watching movies. I admire Tom Hanks, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Jim Carrey... Just like how Jim Carrey modelled himself on a monkey, I copied the mannerisms of a dog for the first half. For the second half of the movie, I tried to emulate the body language of a cheetah. This wasn't a tip from my brother, it's something I tried all by myself".

Dhanush spends hours standing in front of the mirror, replaying bits of scenes done by his screen idols. "I try to follow their timing and delivery, even that is tough. You need great talent to copy a Kamal Hassan or a Tom Hanks or Jack Nicholson".

As he rattles out the other movies he has signed absent-mindedly, you notice that this young man had been shooting days and nights without a break. And he's excited about all of them. "I'm blessed. I'm blessed to get an opportunity to work with Balu Mahendra".

"I'm only playing roles that suit my age. I can't do a police officer or play a don or a rowdy. I want my character to be realistic. Not like I hit and send 10 people flying. I want people to say `It has happened in my life or it could happen to me'.

And there lies the four letter word that describes the phenomenon he is today. He's not the star. He's not an icon. Nor is he a hero. Dhanush, is simply you call real. And his audience sure seems to like the honesty.

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