CHENNAI: It’s interesting that Shanmuga Pandian, the lead of the recently released Madura Veeran, a film about jallikattu, has never seen the sport. “I got to know about the sport only during my college days. And once I knew about it, I wanted to actually go and watch it but that’s when the ban was in place. While doing Madura Veeran, I realised the importance of the sport, and I’m glad the film is able to educate the masses,” says the actor.
Unlike other films based on the sport, Madura Veeran, which has opened to positive reviews, isn’t based on the famous protests against the ban. “Muthiah sir wrote the story well before the protests. There are a lot of films that talk about the sport, but none of them have shown the sport properly. I think ours is the first film to actually talk in detail about it.”
The film has scenes shot while the real jallikattu was taking place. “It wasn’t a set as our director recreated an arena, and we actually held jallikattu there. The bulls that participate in the sport were brought in and so were the players.” Shanmuga Pandian brightens up when talking about one of his co-stars — a bull. “The first time I saw the bull, I was petrified. He was massive and stood as tall as me! They also said he was aggressive. I took time to get to know him, and even fed him,” says the actor, who apparently later developed a bond with the bull.
“Within a day, he recognised me and actively jumped around when seeing me. He wanted me to play with him, which I did. He even injured me unknowingly with his horns, but overall, it was a lovely experience working with him,” he laughs.
On his character, he says, “I play an NRI who returns to his hometown, Madurai, where he sees a couple of incidents that forces him to get involved in the jallikattu issue.”
Shanmuga Pandian is grateful to his fellow actors Samuthirakani, Vela Ramamoorthy, Mime Gopi and PL Thenappan for their inputs, and for making him feel at ease. “Thanks to them, it never felt like a shooting spot, but like a home filled with relatives.”
As the film is set in Madurai, he didn’t have to work on the dialect. “Right from childhood, my parents used to take me to all the villages, and my father was very keen on us following our traditions. So the transformation from jeans to veshti sattai wasn’t really challenging.”
What surprised him was actually the crowd that surrounded him while he was shooting for the film. “I realised that it was because of the love they have for my dad. They would come up to me and ask ‘enna thambi, nalla irrukeengala’. Though we shot in our hometown, it was the people who helped make me feel at home. Talking to them helped improve my dialect too,” he adds.
On his father Vijayakanth’s involvement in his career, Shanmuga Pandian says, “There’s no pressure from appa as he always encourages me to only do what I have to do. The only pressure is from outside — something all star kids have.”
Ask him if he’s aware of all the memes on social media that target his father, and he says, “I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. But yes, I’ve seen the memes and trolling of my father. He has achieved everything and he now only wants to do good for the people. Those who want to troll just need a topic and they’re using him. Appa doesn’t really let it get to him. He just ignores it and goes on with his work.”
Shanmuga Pandian himself was trolled for his first film, Sagaptham. “I still feel that the film was good and we genuinely believed that the film would do well, but I guess it wasn’t up to the mark. It was hurtful to see the negative reviews and memes. But if I take them too seriously, I don’t think I can get any better. The trolls only made me want to try harder and I’m sure that’s apparent in Madura Veeran.”
When asked about Thamizhan Endru Sol, the film starring him and his dad, that went into production in late 2015, Shanmuga Pandian says, “The film involves a lot of CG work that we are working on right now. There are a lot of underwater shots; so the search is also on for the perfect location to shoot those scenes.”
The actor wants to focus on his film career, for the moment but that doesn’t mean he has no opinion on politics. “Right now I’m concentrating only on acting, but I know the political scenario in Tamil Nadu isn’t good. It has to change!”
Apart from acting, I love photography. During my college days, a photo that I shot got the fourth place at an international competition. Wherever I go to shoot, I still take my camera with me. Favourites starring his father: Sathriyan, Ramana