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March 8, 2000


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'People remember scenes, not episodes'

R Madhavan Forgive my gait. It's a bit wonky today. I was a little too enthusiastic at the gym." That's R Madhavan for you. Honest. Down to earth. And extremely charming.

A quick glance at his house reveals none of the trappings one expects of the star of serials like Banegi Apni Baat, Tol Mol Ke Bol and Saaya. Instead, a refrigerator, plastered with pictures of Mahadevan and his family, graced the corner of his tiny living room. Also squeezed into the room was a messy couch.

"You have to forgive the mess," he grins disarmingly. "I am single right now. My wife's gone off for a few days."

Madhavan tells Priya Ganapati he is taking it easy. He has just finished shooting for Mani Ratnam's latest film, Alaipayuthey. It's been a long journey for the former NCC cadet, whose biggest regret remains not being able to qualify as a defence pilot.

How did Alaipayuthey happen?

Around three years ago I had done a sandalwood talc ad for Santosh Sivan. I didn't know who he was at that point of time because I was totally new to the industry. He's a thorough gentleman. A very nice person. And that's not because he told me, "You have got potential. Why don't you give me your photographs and I will give it to Mr Mani Ratnam."

At that point, Mani Ratnam was like God. He is still but, at that time, meeting him was unthinkable for someone like me. Yet, thinking I should respect Mr Sivan's wishes, I gave him my photographs.

He's one of the few people in the industry who keeps his word. He gave the photographs to Mani Sir and Mani Sir saw it and said maybe I should try this guy.

So, about two years ago, he called me to his office for a screen test. It was for a senior role in Iruvar. Unfortunately, Mani Sir thought my eyes were too young. So he said we'd work together some other time.

Shalini and Madhavan in Alaipayuthey I left it at that. I was happy enough with actually meeting the man. Normal people don't get to meet him. He's a great guy. Two years later -- just after Dil Se.. was released and the fact that I had even visited him was becoming a fading memory and I had taken up all these serials like Ghar Jamai, Saaya -- there was a bolt from the blue.

Mani Sir suddenly calls and says, "Come down and we will do a photo session. I am starting a film with you." I was blown. Because I didn't think he was going to take me as the main lead. He just called and said, "Hey Madhavan, get on."

Why did he select me? I have no idea. But I was not going to question anything or argue with my luck. I packed my bags and left for Madras. The film's over now and ready for release on April 14.

What is Alaipayuthey all about?

I can't tell you. All I can say is that it's a love story. Well, if you are married or you are about to be married or if you have just been married, this is a film that you have to see! It's all about youngsters. It's all about marriages and love and everything. I think it is for today's youngsters who are in love. What happens after love? How long can you be charming? How long does charm and excitement and attraction stay in a relationship? That's what the whole thing is about.

What makes this film different from Mani Ratnam's other films?

The narrative. That's all I can tell you about the film now.

Okay. Then tell us what Mani Ratnam told you when he wanted to sign you for the film.

Mani Sir just told me the story. He told me it's about a guy...

R Madhavan I was not in a position to demand the story or screenplay. I would have just put myself at his feet and said, "Mould me." But, as he told me what the character was and how it had to shape up, I realised that it was me in real life. And the character of the heroine was personified in the girl he selected.

It was just amazing. Mani Ratnam could just reach out from across the country and pick up a guy who he thought was his character. It's almost like he wrote the character after me or, maybe, I moulded myself on the character.

See, what I can't tell you is the story. What I can tell you is how wonderful it has been working with probably some of the biggest geniuses of our industry. Like P C Sriram, who was the cinematographer. He's probably one of the best cameramen India has ever seen. Or Farah Khan, who was the choreographer. Or A R Rahman, who was the music director.

Who are your costars?

My heroine is a girl called Shalini who, I think, is a fabulous actress. She's from the south and she's been in the industry for donkey's years. She's been a child actor and everything. After the movie, she's getting married to Ajit, who's another superstar over there. She's hoping and praying that all the things in the movie are true and not true at the same time (laughs).

The others include Swarnamalya, who's a TV actress from the south. Then there's Natrajan... And we've also got Arvind Swamy and Khushboo in a guest appearance.

Would you be concentrating on Hindi movies only, or would you like to work in the south too?

I just want to do good work. I don't mind even if the film happens to be in Japanese. I can't see any difference between how the south works and how the Hindi film industry does. As far as I'm concerned, passion for work comes when everybody's giving 100 per cent. The creativity in that kind of atmosphere is almost orgasmic. For me, that is important. Even if it is in Bengali, I don't care.

There is this view in the industry that actors who make it big in the south can't succeed Bollywood. What do you feel?

Shalini and Madhavan in Alaipayuthey I am not scared by that. In the last four-five years I have got so much goodwill and love from the people in whatever roles I have essayed. I am probably the only guy to have done such varied roles in serials which are popular.

I did whatever I did with my heart. And I really enjoyed what I did. The fact that I may not make it really big in the industry or the fact that south guys don't make it doesn't really figure in my life plan at all.

Your first movie as a hero has happened after a long stint in television. Why did you shy away from Bollywood for so long?

People think I was not getting Hindi film offers. You will be shocked to know the kind of offers I got and didn't accept. I can't elaborate because it wouldn't be right for those who thought I was worthy of their offers.

They are all senior film people. But I was not able to relate to the roles they offered. I didn't see myself enjoying those roles. The story wasn't told to me because they somehow thought it was not relevant for me to know the entire story.

I don't want to throw my stones in the dark. I would rather know exactly where I stand. I have no qualms about doing a one scene role as long as I am excited about it. If I am not excited. I don't need to do it.

My film offers came to me right from Banegi Apni Baat. To a certain extent, people thought I was quite cocky because I wouldn't take up the roles. But, with due respect to all those people who have offered me roles, I just need to be excited about it. And I think they can understand that.

Someone like Ratnam does not need to come and tell me what the story is. There's a vast difference of approach. He just needs to say, "Madhavan, starting shooting on April 15. This is the money I am paying you." And he would have had me there.

Madhavan But the man calls me to Madras Talkies, takes me for lunch and explains the story to me. After the screen test, I ask him a million questions just to see how much he wants me in the film. He answers all of them with flair and interest and total enthusiasm.

He spends hours with me. There's no need for him to do that unless, of course, he's terribly, passionately involved with his project. Which is why I was interested. He explained the entire story and my role. In Bollywood, I didn't get an exciting role. I didn't find someone who was as excited about having me as I was about doing the film.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to wait for a very good offer to enter Bollywood?

No. Like I have said, I have only gone by my instinct and whether the person was as keen on having me as I was on doing the film.

You weren't particular about the banner or the director?

I did a film with Vinod Pandey called Lakeli. Unfortunately, it never saw the light of day. It's a very arty kind of film.

I did a Hollywood film called Inferno where I was playing an Indian police officer. It was shot in Madras. I have been doing those kind of roles. But I didn't see any point tomtomming the fact.

What happens now to your career in television? Will you stop acting in serials and concentrate only on movies?

I don't think there will be much of a difference. I don't want to be away from television for too long because eventually everybody will end up doing television, even the superstars. Television is the medium of the future. But, for now, I'd like to cut down on my work in television and concentrate on films. Films are bigger. People remember scenes, not episodes.

Have you signed more films?

I have signed six films in both Hindi and Tamil, but I can't talk about it now.

Who would you like to work with the industry?

Madhavan I would love to work with Kamal Haasan. That's been an ultimate fantasy. I never thought I would work with Mani Ratnam, but I have come close. I hope I'll be able to work with legends like Manorama from the south. And Mr Bachchan. I would love to work with Shah Rukh Khan. And Anil Kapoor. I think he's one of the most dedicated actors in the industry. Om Puri is another person I would like to do films with.

Among the current actresses, I would like to work with Karisma Kapoor because she is a really dedicated actress. I would love to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I think he is really good. His Khamoshi was a very good film.

I'd like to work with all the young directors, people with whom I don't have to go to with reverence. People with whom I can have a big fight on the sets and try to sort out problems. Where I don't have to be in awe of the other person. People who are my age, who are able to relate to me. I have qualms about working with very senior directors... unless of course it is Mani Ratnam who even takes suggestions from a spot boy.

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