Notebook Comment

The elusive film stars

A still from Valimai

A still from Valimai | Photo Credit: ANANDKUMAR

The pandemic has brought forth many positive aspects for feature journalists. Sitting in my modest bedroom in Chennai, I can now have conversations with celebrities from across the world. Even interactions with celebrities in the city can be planned quickly with little logistical issues.

But all this has come with a price. The rising dominance of OTT platforms and their aggressive PR machinery has reduced the time that journalists can spend interviewing actors, directors, writers, content creators. This is probably because the production house wants as many publications and channels to cover the film or personality within the stipulated time given for promotions. The more, the merrier perhaps – and this is quite understandable given the number of print, television and online media outlets available to them.

As a consequence, in most virtual interviews, we are given only 10 minutes. This naturally provides little scope for a detailed conversation or even detailed answers. The celebrity parrots the routine “I was very excited to do this project” answer to every interviewer and before we know it, the interview is over.

This is the case with most celebrities today, but there are also some actors who prefer to stay away from the limelight. Take Tamil film star Ajith, for instance. He has a big film, Valimai, coming up, but he has not obliged any journalist with an interview. In fact, it has been several years since he has given an interview. His PR team, when asked, simply says, “He doesn’t give interviews these days.” This is the case with other big stars like Rajinikanth, Vijay and Nayanthara; it has been years since they have sat down for a long conversation about their work or state of mind.

Things were much simpler a decade ago when Twitter and social media were not all the rage. Back then, we mostly had direct access to big actors, who had the luxury of time while promoting their projects.

As a young journalist with another publication more than 10 years ago, I remember sending Ajith an SMS with an interview request. A couple of polite calls later, we met up for breakfast at a hotel in the city. After the customary greetings, he put my recorder aside. “Tell me about yourself,” he said.

And so, for the next 20 minutes, I regaled the actor with stories about my family members and my neighbourhood. He then went to the kitchen counter to tell the chef, who he seemed to know from before, to prepare a special dosa for me. Once it was made, Ajith brought it to me, even as I sat there wondering what was happening. The others in the room were giving me envious glances, perhaps wondering who I was and why I was getting so much attention from the actor. After breakfast, we settled in a quiet place and he spoke to me eloquently for almost an hour about life, films, the choices he made and why he made them.

Today, Ajith is a social media sensation despite not being present on any social media platform. A couple of years ago, he called a pizza outlet to place an order. Someone uploaded the phone conversation he had with the store manager on YouTube and woke up to a million views a few days later. Every rare public appearance of his is now viral material.

Some day, I hope to have a long conversation about why he decided to go incognito. And other conversations with other actors. But for now all I have are 10-minute Zoom interviews to look forward to.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 10:12:17 pm |