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He loves challenges

Maddy is a misnomer, because Madhavan is meticulous and values principles and discipline. That has contributed to his success, says MALATHI RANGARAJAN.

Madhavan ... success sits lightly on this actor's shoulders. — Pic. by N. Balaji.

FORGET THE rest of the cars lined up in the patio — what attracts you most even as you enter Madhavan's aesthetically done up house in Kilpauk, Chennai, is his sparkling Studebaker. Somehow it seems to reveal a lot about the owner. "This is the car we've had since I was a kid... " The actor punctuates the words with his characteristic, disarming smile as he walks you to the gate later after a friendly, informal chat. Surprisingly, success sits lightly on this young man's shoulders.

Madhavan has this knack of making people feel comfortable. As you introduce him to our photographer, he enthusiastically responds: "Oh! You're Balaji ... that's what I'm called at home." You had noticed the trait even earlier, a couple of years ago when he was shooting for the Bajaj Scooty ad at the Chennai Film City, and you tell him so. "I do have a temper and throw tantrums some times ... but only at home. My poor wife has to put up with these," he smiles.

In the couple of hours you spend at Madhavan's place he takes you down his memory lane — from the time he spent a whole year in Canada for his Class XII and his passing out as the best NCC Cadet to his ambition to become a fighter pilot flying MIGs ("these things have been written about ever so many times yaar... ") to his marriage and now films. The actor fields each poser with geniality, spontaneity ... and tact.

He has not been in Chennai for quite some time now...

"Yes. I've just returned from Mumbai after the post-production work of my latest Hindi film, `Ramji Londonwale' (the Hindi version of Kamal Hassan's Tamil production, "Nala Damayanti," that again had Madhavan as the hero). Before that I was shooting for an English-Malayalam bi-lingual in the U.S., and then for `Ramji ... '

The English film, "Nothing But Life," to be called just "Made in USA" in Malayalam (as of now) produced by Thambi Antony and directed by Rajeev Anchal, has two heroines, Neha and Kaveri.

"Made in ... " is Madhavan's first flick in Malayalam ...

"That's right. But basically it's an English film. I've not worked in Malayalam films before. The reason is that I'm not comfortable doing a film in a language I don't know. I was hesitant this time too, but the makers had all the dialogue taped and sent to me beforehand so that I could do enough homework before the actual shoot." So he should be dubbing his dialogue himself ... "I hope so ... I don't know yet."

With Mumbai girls flooding the Chennai film scene dubbing is so very common these days ...

"I personally feel that no actor can do justice to his or her role if he is not going to give his voice. That's the only reason why I have been turning down lucrative offers in Telugu. I am particular that I speak perfectly the language of the film I work in. The girls, who manage many languages with dubbing aiding them, are great, but I can't do it. I have to know even the lingo... a simple Tamil word like `cha' can denote so many different things. I would like the actor opposite me to understand the shades of meaning and emote. That's why I prefer Tamil and Hindi — the languages I'm at home in."

Working in Tamil films with actors who don't understand the language ...

"It does not affect me unduly. But at the same time it does not help enhance my portrayal either ... Mani Ratnam's `Alaipaayudhae,' my debut Tamil film ("Saathiya" in Hindi), had me paired with Shalini. She was brilliant with Tamil. And that helped me a lot."

Yet he came up with a splendid show in "Kannathil Muththamittaal" opposite Simran whose voice has always been dubbed ... "But that was because Mani Ratnam has complete rehearsals for every film. I don't know whether others insist on such meticulous preparation ... " is Madhavan's reply.

The factors that make him accept or reject a project ...

"Simple ... I work in only one film at a time. The only thing I insist on is the script. And I have to be sure that the maker will stick to it. Improvisations and slight alterations are fine ... but if he is not sure what he should do and keeps changing the script, it is bound to be a disaster."

Is it the rule for a Mani Ratnam film too?

"From my first film with him he has always given me the script before asking for my consent. A man of his stature doesn't have to. But he has this embarrassingly humble approach. Another fascinating fact about Mani Ratnam is that he insists on a make-up test for every role with him. I respect such discipline and I try to emulate it ... "

You have to give it to Madhavan. Even in this short span he has done a wide variety of characters from lover boy to a married man, from a father of three to a thug. He has shown that he is a performer who likes to experiment and luckily for him a man like Mani Ratnam seems to offer such challenges on a platter.

Back to the basics ...

"You mean my entry in films? Santosh Sivan introduced me to Mani Ratnam. It was for `Iruvar.' I was ready with the dialogue in chaste Tamil that had been given to me earlier but Mani Ratnam asked me casual questions and decided I wouldn't suit the role. He would call me later, he said. (Call me he did, two years later and that was for `Alaipaayudhae.') Frankly, I was not disappointed then. The fact that I had met the great Mani Ratnam was enough. I would keep looking at his mobile number on my cell and preen about it."

Parents' reaction to his profession ...

"None in the family has ever had anything to do with films. My father Ranganathan was with a private firm and mother Saroja was with a bank. Both held managerial positions and we lived in Bihar. My sister is married and settled abroad. But I had been a kind of maverick from the beginning. Dad and mom wanted me to go to a management school, but I wasn't keen. Eventually I did electronics because they wanted me to and then went on to teach communication and public speaking, and television serials were a fall out. I never even dreamt that I would be a film actor. Only Providence has brought me here." So, is he religious? "Extremely ... " he smiles. "But I don't attach importance to rituals ... if you ask me whether I fast during Ekadasi, I don't."

Madhavan, the married man ...

Of late you've seen magazines splashing photographs of the actor and his wife Sarita, thus projecting an almost uxorious Madhavan. Is the happily-married image a conscious effort? "See ... I'm neither the patronising nor the sermonising kind. Nor am I trying to prove anything. They wanted pictures of both of us and we obliged ... nothing more."

His next assignment ...

" ... Is with director Seeman. It is to be called `Thambi' and I'm excited about the role. I've been asked to grow my hair for it," he says pointing to his newly acquired hairstyle. The heroine? " They are still on the look out. " Then what about director Susi Ganesan's next film which he is supposed to do? "Nothing is confirmed about that as yet," is his cryptic remark.

His foray into Hindi cinema ...

Madhavan's "Minnalae" was a super hit in Tamil. But the same in Hindi, "Rehna Hai Tere Dil Main ... " with Diya Mirza as the heroine, bombed.

"I insisted on having the same team that worked in Tamil. Till date Harris Jeyaraj's music for `Rehna... ' tops the charts, and including the recent telecast on the prime slot on Sunday last, the film has been shown on Zee for the 75th time." So what does it indicate?

"You tell me ... " is his retort.

The film opened up a lot of avenues for him in Hindi and he keeps getting offers. "Only I'm being very selective. `Ramji Londonwale' has shaped up well. Sanjay Daima is the director. And we've got a sprightly face, Samitha, as heroine. Let's see ... Ideally I would love to balance Hindi and Tamil films and divide my time between both."

Madhavan was supposed to do "Swadesh" which later went to Shah Rukh Khan. "They were candid enough to tell me that the budget would not be suitable if I was cast and of course, Shah Rukh Khan is a wonderful choice," Madhavan explains.

On the travails of producers and the spiralling hero fee ...

"Who defines my remuneration? No producer has lost money because of me. Also even if the film has been a grosser no producer will tell you so. He would claim loss, but come to you again for dates for his next film. And even offer you more. Ask him how he could do it when the film, according to him, came a cropper, the reply would be evasive. It's not like in Hollywood, or in Mumbai nowadays, where the statistics of hits and misses are right before you on the computer ... Do you know that films are announced here without the leading man's green signal? It is only later when the financier calls you up to find out when you would be doing the film you realise that your name has been used to get finance."

Madhavan has completed 19 films since his debut in 2000. "That's not possible without some discipline and work ethics ... that's why I'm particular about doing one project at a time and I don't hike my charges at will ... nor do I haggle over my fee."

Another incredible aspect is that Madhavan insists on having all transactions through cheques. "I wish to be an honest taxpayer, free from any kind of tension. Everyone knows that it's not just talk and that I mean business ... "

On films he wishes he had never done ...

"There are none such." You beg to differ and list those, which he could have done well without. "Probably you feel so ... but each learns with experience. I was absolutely naοve when I came into the field. Today when a director tells me a story I am able to see through the narration and judge whether he would be able to capture at least 95 per cent of it on screen. Any way every film is a shot in the dark ... a big gamble."

The best shot so far ...

" `Ayudha Ezhuthu,' without doubt. (Abhishek played the same role in `Yuva'). Nobody but Mani Ratnam could have portrayed me in the role of the rugged wrongdoer, Inba. And if I have acquitted myself well, it is only because of him. Even in `Anbae Sivam' there were a couple of goof-ups in the scenes where I did not have Kamal Hassan with me. But Inba is unforgettable ... "

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