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‘The issue was how dare a Daniel speak this way’: Actor ‘Daniel’ Balaji on ‘Godman’ controversy

Daniel Balaji   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What connects ‘Jayam’ Ravi, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi and ‘Vennira Aadai’ Moorthy? These are actors who prefixed their debut film titles to their screen names in order to stand apart.

Then there are artistes who get quirky prefixes to their screen names like ‘Ennathe’ Kannaiah (because he used the word ennathe frequently in the film Naan), or the late ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimham, who came to be called so because of his frail physique.

Then there is Daniel Balaji — real name Balaji TC — who played a character named Daniel in his debut in a popular TV serial of the ‘90s (Chithi, for the uninitiated) so convincingly that people came to address him by that name.

Even so, he was against being credited as Daniel Balaji in his second project, Alaigal (another soap).

“It was an executive producer (EP) with the Vikatan group (producers of Alaigal) who credited me such because he thought that it sounded different since Balaji was a common name. I want to find where that EP is now,” the actor says, over a telephonic conversation.

Target for abuse

His tone suggests disappointment. In fact, when we greet him as Daniel Balaji, he pauses for a second, draws a deep breath and issues a correction, “Balaji...,” before letting out a laugh.

The actor, who made a name portraying villainous roles in films such as Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006) and Polladhavan (2007), is at pains to explain the history behind his screen name although he has done it umpteen number of times in the past.

In this particular instance, it was the fallout from a ‘controversial’ teaser for a web series titled Godman — set to premiere on the OTT platform Zee5 on June 12 — that has caused him to issue a clarification yet again.

“It is not my voice that says those lines in the teaser. I did not play the godman role, and I’m not the one talking about the Brahmin community but people started talking because the issue was ‘How dare a Daniel speak this way?’,” he says.

Sonia Aggarwal (L), V Jayaprakash (C) and Daniel Balaji (R) in a poster for ‘Godman’

Sonia Aggarwal (L), V Jayaprakash (C) and Daniel Balaji (R) in a poster for ‘Godman’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The objectionable part, as perceived by a section of the audience, in the original teaser (later pulled off YouTube by Zee5), involves a couple of lines in the voice-over.

The content only slowly gained traction online and so the ‘outrage’ materialised over a few days. Zee5 later published a revised teaser that pulled all of the voice content from the original only to take this version down as well. Representatives of Zee5 have not made a public statement so far in this regard.

The damage, however, was done to Balaji.

“You wouldn’t believe the kind of comments I received on my Facebook page. When I read them, all I can think is ‘How can people mouth such crass words?’. All of this is because of the name Daniel. The abuses were aimed at my mother and sister too,” he says.

The actor candidly admits that he is “curious” to understand how a ‘controversy’ generates over content that the public have yet to watch, and cites the example of the Malayalam film Trance (2020).

Trance was a film that was directed, produced, and fronted by a cast who were Muslims and it was a take on Christianity. The film ran in theatres even here too but nobody created an issue. Why is it happening in my case? I don’t know,” he adds.

It is never the case that an actor doesn’t know what he is signing up for. It is no different in Balaji’s case. He knew what he had signed up for — a non-controversial role.

Daniel Balaji

Daniel Balaji   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“As an artiste, I have never asked the director about the type of film he intended to make. I have only asked for details about what my character is and whether or not my role would have an impact. The second thing is payment. What is the need I have for me to sign up for this project now... to meet what expense. These are the factors I consider,” he says.

Balaji plays Ayyanaar, who, in the actor’s words, is a “normal but reckless guy” for whom boozing with friends is routine. One day, he comes in contact with a godman (played by V Jayaprakash); he puts him on a pedestal and looks up to him.

“The godman asks him to turn over a new leaf and to put his past behind him. Over time, Ayyanaar aspires to become a godman himself. This is what I was told about the character and these are the scenes I shot for as well,” Balaji says.

The actor remarks that it would be incorrect to assume that he plays “one of the lead roles” considering how he is featured extensively in the now-pulled teaser. “My schedule was only for 15 days. That is the length of my character. But the creators shot the series like a normal film for more than 40 days. A lead character would shoot for those 40 days,” he adds.

Quest for realism

A graduate of the MGR Government Film and Television institute in Taramani, Balaji does not like the fact that realism is compromised far too often in Tamil films.

Missing context
  • Actor V Jayaprakash, who plays Ananthar, the godman in the Zee5 web series, says that the lines were chopped out from the middle of a longer monologue with his disciple. And so, when heard out of the context, it becomes controversial. “For the teaser, they must have wanted something to sensationalise to make the people turn around and look at it. It was not done in the spirit of what the producer or the creator expected,” he says, adding that he has reached out to Zee5 asking them to come out with a “proper trailer” portraying the accurate sequence in which the dialogue is placed.

“There are a lot of actors here and everyone wants to be a hero. There are a few names who have a larger-than-life image. It is okay if they do such roles. The audience will accept it but why does everybody feel the urge to do larger-than-life roles? That is why films flop here. Why can’t people make a realistic film?” he asks.

The web series platform, although still in its nascent stages in Tamil language, has also evoked similar questions from critics and reviewers for the general lack of creativity and realism. Balaji agrees that web series in Tamil have been an “extension of TV serials”, unfortunately. He attributes the toning down of quality to a lack of funding.

Given how Godman was shot in multiple locations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and was shot extensively over many days, more than the usual for a Tamil web series, does he think that the issue of quality might just be taking a step in the right direction?

“To comment on that, I need to see the project first,” he says. “I did my part, came off, and went to dub when I was called. So I need to watch and find out,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 10:45:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-issue-was-how-dare-a-daniel-speak-this-way-actor-daniel-balaji-on-godman-controversy/article31723061.ece

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