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The dark knight

R. Madhavan on how edgy roles give him a chance to push envelopes within the safety net of cinema

Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Hero with a heart Madhavan

For R. Madhavan, the toughest part about shooting simultaneously for Rajkumar Hirani's “3 Idiots” and Leena Yadav's “Teen Patti” was not the acting, which incidentally called for heavy-duty mind games, considering he plays a student in the former and a professor in the latter.

“Managing the different looks was the tough part,” he says with a grin. The actor, who plays a maths professor in “Teen Patti”, admits to “despising maths in school. I was in love with my maths teacher when I was in fourth standard, that's about the closest I got to the subject. I am excited about maths now, because there is no pressure to deliver.”

The actor rues the fact that today, you are judged by “your ability to compute or to regurgitate your text books. There is something wrong with this kind of evaluation as a person who does not have bookish knowledge is not unintelligent. It was after the Industrial Revolution that the sciences became paramount.

Earlier, there was no hierarchy in learning. You could go to the university and study whatever you wished — arts or philosophy.”

Ever the fond papa, Madhavan insists he will not force his son to excel in maths. “Things are changing however. Human Resource Development Minister, Kapil Sibal, is putting many reforms in place.”

In “Teen Patti”, Madhavan plays Shantanu, “an ambitious professor who believes in instant gratification. He wants the perks and is not too worried about consequences”. Talking about what drew him to the role, Madhavan says: “The ensemble cast was to die for. I liked the enthusiasm of the cast and crew. The other thing that attracted me to ‘Teen Patti' was the grey shades in the role.”

The actor, who gave a millennial expression to the conventional chocolate boy hero, says he enjoys edgy roles. “Playing a character with decided grey shades, offers a chance to explore your darker side. And you can let go in film, something you cannot possibly do in real life.”

The ensemble cast that Madhavan sings praises of includes the incredibly versatile Sir Ben Kingsley and the towering thespian Amitabh Bachchan. Predictably, Madhavan says working with the two of them was “a complete privilege. Initially, I was in complete awe of them, I was blown away. The level of professionalism and the years of experience they bring with them is terrific.”

While Madhavan had only a day's shoot with Sir Ben in London, which did not allow him much time to swap actor stories, “I had a great time with Mr. Bachchan. We played many sports, including table tennis, which he is incredibly good at, and golf which I won. I think I am no good at games that require a delicate touch. I am better at bullish ones.”

The number three seems to follow the actor, what with “3 Idiots” and now “Teen Patti”. “Hmmm and don't forget ‘13 B!' It's just a happy coincidence as I don't have the power over the name of a film. However, may be, I will be able to coax my producers to include the number in all my future titles!”

Madhavan is all for the present trend of aggressively promoting films. “It is very important and the only way of fighting piracy. We need to build an initial buzz so that people come to watch the film. It is a new trend because piracy is also a fairly recent phenomenon.”

The actor, who turns 40 in June, has houses in both Mumbai and Chennai. “I am at home in both places. Mumbai has incredible energy while Chennai is more my kind of place — laidback, with time to do stuff.”

Future plans include “two Tamil films and ‘Tanu Weds Manu', a romantic comedy. I would like to do an action film in Hindi. But, I only am offered romantic leads.” With good reason, considering the solid fan following Madhavan has had thanks to his many variations of the sensitive millennial man right from “Alaipayuthe.”

Madhavan does not want to try his hand at direction, “I am not qualified,” he says modestly. “You need to know all the technical aspects of filmmaking.” And he says a firm no to producing as well. “I am not a good producer.” Probably after burning his fingers with “Evano Oruvan”?

So, if not an actor, what would he be? “A bad actor,” says Madhavan, cheekily.

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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