A crumbled copy of VIP2’s script lay staring at me as I wait for Dhanush at his Alwarpet office. I’m tempted to flip through the pages in the sly, like it’s just the latest edition of any other glossy fashion magazine. I could perhaps have gotten away with it had there been the usual commotion one associates with a production office, getting ready for a weekend release. I soon realise this calm confidence is something the crew draws from their boss Dhanush in the course of the interview that followed. Excerpts:
It has taken 17 years for your name to travel from being the first name on the opening credits to the last. Has your dream to direct a film taken too long?
I’ve wanted to make a movie since 2007 but I felt I just wasn’t ready. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready now. It’s just that I know I have to take the plunge and that I’m reasonably equipped at telling a story.
Did you use this time to learn the craft?
I’ve been doing my home work. I made shorts films, learning the do’s and don’ts. Most importantly, I’ve been editing all these short films. Nothing can teach you filmmaking like editing can.
What about the writing part?
Oh, I’ve been writing since 2003. It started with stupid scripts and then I got promoted to mediocre. I can now write decently well…or so I think.
Once this passion to direct kicks in, is it easy to control your creative instincts on the sets of another director?
You have to stay calm. I leave that part of me at home. I don’t even look at what they’re doing and I just stick to my job. I go, act and I come back.
You could have made any film you wanted. Raj Kiran, Pa. Pandi’s hero, says you could even have cast Rajinikanth in the title role. Yet you chose to make a “small” film…
It’s a simple film with a lot of heart. I felt it was an important story that needed to be told and that’s why I wanted this film to be my debut.
When you say important, do you mean socially?
See, we all have roles we play in life. It could be the role of a son, a father or a brother but it’s important we play these roles well. Just take our parents as an example; I’m sure they don’t expect us to take them out every day or buy them all the gifts in the world. At times, all your mother needs is for you to ask ‘amma sappitiya?’. That’s all it takes to make their day but we still don’t do it. The film is about these little things, said in an entertaining way.
Was Pa. Pandi your first idea for a film?
Not at all. It’s actually my 13th script.
You must really enjoy the writing process then?
I enjoy writing and the power it comes with. I can do whatever I want. If I don’t like someone, I can kill that person. So I keep writing….when I’m in the caravan between shots, when I’m at home, or even if I’m at a restaurant.
Of all these scripts, when did you decide that Pa. Pandi was going to be the one?
That’s a long story but it’s like a supreme power made that decision for me. It just fell into place.
It’s interesting you say that because there’s an element of destiny at play even in Raj Kiran’s casting. Even your father’s debut was with him.
There are certain scripts you write with someone in mind but it ends up going to someone else. With Pa. Pandi, it was the script that found its lead. I feel a good film always finds what it wants. Raj Kiran sir’s involvement is the best thing that happened to the film. He’s like a sidhar, you hug him and you can feel the energy. As you know, the last few months haven’t been great for me. Whenever I feel low, I freeze a frame where he’s smiling and I find peace.
Did you take any conscious decisions, just to avoid any comparisons with either your father Kasturi Raja, or your brother, Selvaragahavan?
I don’t think I had to. I’d like to believe I have a style that’s different from theirs. But if someone finds a pattern, or says my film has shades of Selvaraghavan it’s certainly a big compliment.
But Pa. Pandi seems like a light-hearted film…
There was another script that was dark. We had a test screening after Pa Pandi and I saw so many people walk out smiling. That got me confused….if I can spread positivity through my films, then shouldn’t I be doing that?
Are you generally a positive person?
I come from a world like that; a simple world with positive people. But I no longer know where that world is going. It’s become OK to hate. People find pleasure in hating someone. I think it’s the beginning of kali. If someone has betrayed you it’s understandable that you hate them. But hating someone you don’t even know…that’s something I will never understand.
So when you immerse yourself in something positive like Pa. Pandi, does your world become positive too?
100 per cent! It’s one of the most beautiful phases of my life.
Contrarily, does working on a dark film affect you negatively?
That brings me to Dhanush, the actor. In your assessment, do you see yourself as a natural actor or as someone who learnt the trade the hard way? In other words, are you a Messi or a Ronaldo?
I’d rather compare myself with Nadal. Federer is a natural but Nadal had to fight his way up. He had to battle his body, his knees and his shoulders. He had to fight to dethrone the King of Tennis. I’m like him. I had to fight, I had to fall and I had to get hurt to be where I am.
So as someone who has polished his craft, do you feel like you’re better equipped to emote in a particular scene?
Yes of course. I wish I could do Puthupettai or Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam again. I feel I haven’t done any justice to Kokki Kumar.
Has this transformation to a great actor been a tough one?
It’s been painful, but joyful. It’s been humiliating, yet glorious.
You’re just 33 yet you sound like someone far older. When you meet people your age who live a simpler life, do you feel you grew up too quickly?
To be very honest, yes, I do feel that way. But that has good sides and bad. The bad side is that there’s nothing normal happening around you. The good side being that their lives are just too normal.
And you’ve become tougher too?
I’m much stronger now than I was when I started. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sensitivity. It’s just that I’ve learnt to handle all the negativity around me. When “stuff” hits the fan, it has a way of making you stronger.