Sundaylite Interview | Movies

Otha Seruppu needed an excellent performer, says tamil actor-director Parthiban

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Imagine watching a film shot in a single room, and looking at just one man for its two-hour runtime. Actor-director R. Parthiban himself finds it unimaginable, yet he is breaking all conventions with his latest

Radhakrishnan Parthiban is a dreamer.

In the 1980s, as a 20-something college dropout looking for a job to make ends meet in Madras, the multi-hyphenate artiste joined a drama troupe managed by the late SV Ramadas (yesteryear junior artiste, notable for playing the villainous sidekick in Tamil movies). In Parthiban’s words, “...he was the one to rip the heroine’s clothes off in MGR’s films.”

He was to play the butler — a character which the actor-director was not too kicked about portraying because his dialogues were next to nothing. It hurt him, considering how highly a young Parthiban rated himself.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban

Radhakrishnan Parthiban   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I would sneak into these events where actors like Kamal Haasan and [the late] Jaishankar were being felicitated. When they received those awards, I used to have tears in my eyes. What I’m about to say may sound a bit off track but I used to think why can’t I be that person on the stage. I mean I had no qualification. What I did have was a rabid desire to be part of cinema,” he says.

Simply said, he wanted to be a movie actor — whatever the cost. This burning desire led him to memorise the entire script that Ramadas had written including the dialogues of other actors. “I thought if I memorised the whole play, and if some actor doesn’t turn up, I can step in,” he adds.

Solo trip

Life has come a full circle for Parthiban since those days because in his next film, Otha Seruppu Size 7 (in short: OS7) — scheduled to release on September 20, Parthiban does it all.

Shooting star
  • Otha Seruppu Size 7 is Parthiban’s 14th film as director. Yet, despite brushing shoulders with big stars as a co-actor, he has never directed any of them (The 1999 film Housefull featured Vikram but that was before he punched his ticket to stardom with Bala’s Sethu). Ask him why, and he says, “There is no point in me trying. They (stars) should want it too.” Parthiban adds that he was to have directed actor Vijay in the Tamil remake of 3 Idiots (eventually filmed by S Shankar). “People ask me on Twitter when will I make a film with Vijay anna but the point is Vijay thaan manasu vekkanum (Vijay has to will it). It’s like I’m captivated by this beautiful woman but unless she reciprocates, there is no space for love,” he says.
  • Could it also be because the stars are a little apprehensive about your liking for unconventional stories, which may not work for their market? “Look, I’m not a person who would say ‘This is my story and this is how it will be’. Whatever story suits them, I’m prepared to do it. Whenever a big star speaks to me, I tell them ‘You first decide that we will do a film and then I’ll tell you a story you like, or I’ll keep telling stories till you like it’,” he laughs.

He has written, produced and directed a film whose cast is just one person — him. “Actually, the film has 10 characters in it... but I only show one,” he says, with a faint smile.

In a 30-year career (he started life in cinema as assistant director to K Bhagyaraj and made his directorial debut with Pudhea Paadhai in 1989), Parthiban acknowledges that he never quite touched the heights that the gentlemen in the film industry he had looked up to have achieved. But it is also one reason why we now have OS7.

“If I had had more success and made a lot of money, maybe the fire in me would have been extinguished,” he says.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As its intriguing trailer suggests, OS7 is a murder mystery.

“Films in this genre are always interesting. The story is simple. Did you or did you not commit the murder? The two logical answers are — yes and no. But my character, Maasilamani, has a third answer,” he explains.

While he has directed films with other actors, Parthiban knew it had to be him, and only him, for OS7.

“For a solo act film, we needed an excellent performer... someone capable of holding the audience so well that they can make the viewer forget they are watching a film. I always knew my talents [as an actor] no matter how humble I am about it. I knew that only I could handle this character because I have travelled with this script, and so separating me from the script is not possible.”

Singular belief

Most Tamil cinema buffs are privy to Parthiban’s penchant for apophthegms. This interview is not short of it either. When I meet him, the actor — dressed in a white dhoti and shirt — looks sleep deprived.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I haven’t been sleeping properly. But that’s how it has been these last 30-35 years. You could attribute the sleeplessness to my vizhippunarchi (in millennial speak, that is him being #woke),” he says. I am caught off guard, but I did not expect anything less.

He goes on, “If at all I have one peraasai (greed) in my life, it is to do something that nobody has ever done before.”

That is OS7 for him. He calls the film “my baby”.

And he has gone to great lengths to ensure that it comes out the way he intends it to. Which is why — the freedom of being his own producer helps — he has left no stone unturned in terms of expenditure.

Faithful few
  • Parthiban refers to those who would take a chance on his film on the first-day-first-show as “true cinema lovers”. “They are more important to Tamil cinema than me!”, he exclaims

Even as we speak, he concedes that he had requested an 11th correction in the final print — a process that altogether costs several lakh rupees, although he understands the “limited business potential” OS7 has keeping in mind how the revenue algorithm works in Tamil cinema.

“I have placed my faith in the audience. Enakku 10 paisa kooda guarantee illa (I’ve no assurance of the film’s success). So, the fear automatically increases because it is not just the money I have made, but also the money that I may make in the future which I have invested in this film,” he says.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

This has led to outbursts of anger in the run-up to its release, an emotion, he reveals, he struggles with far too often. Because it grew unavoidable, the day before we meet for the interview, he went to a temple, took a vow of abstinence and formalised a pilgrimage to the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple with a ritual. “It is just to calm myself down,” he adds.

His work is far from over, though. A week to go, he knows he will have to address the challenge of making the audience believe in his film as much as he does. He has already shown the film to a select few, each one walking out the preview screen with glowing reviews.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’

Radhakrishnan Parthiban in a still from ‘Otha Seruppu Size 7’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Every time a fresh set of audience walks in, they say ‘Wow, sir. Someone I know gave an excellent review’. But after watching the film, they still say ‘I didn’t expect it to be so good, sir!’ So, despite the good things people have to say about OS7, there is still that disbelief. That is what I’m up against,” he says, adding in conclusion, “But I believe the result of my efforts will speak for itself. If I don’t hold that belief, isn’t this whole process a waste of time? I mean, who else but me will believe in me?”

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:30:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/r-parthiban-interview-otha-seruppu-needed-an-excellent-performer/article29415789.ece

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