For the last year-and-a-half, R Madhavan has had a dental brace. “When boxers get bashed up in the ring, more often than not they have some sort of a speech problem. I decided that I could either act like I have a lisp or actually have one. Saala Khadoos is a bilingual, so I was doing Tamil and Hindi simultaneously. There was only that much that I could focus on,” he explains his very extreme but not the only physical transformation for the film.
To play a former boxer, the 45-year-old actor had to look the part. “I had the good fortune of meeting a guy called Alexander Cortes who taught me a lot about my body and how I should train. Simple things like how it’s useless to grow big muscles if my core is not strong. Then they are just cosmetic muscles.” For over a year, Madhavan worked out for 45 minutes every day and by the time he finished the film, he has 18.5-inch biceps. “It was great to see how my body slowly transformed. I didn’t make any dietary changes. I didn’t take any supplements and I am a vegetarian. It’s good to know that at this age, my body can transform. If I was to do Rang De Basanti today, I might want to have a different look. But if I have to play a man 40-year-old, I will do it happily. It’s all about the script and not how I look.”
Madhavan describes Saala Khadoos as a ‘story of two broken people’ and it’s a story that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about for almost three years now. “I was at a turning point in my career where I knew that the chocolate boy, romantic hero image has a very short shelf life. I needed to make a transition, so I have another image that will take me through the next phase of my career. My wife Sarita pointed out that I wasn’t as charged up about work as I used to be. I realised that she was right. She told me to go out and do whatever I wanted to. Even if we had to move to a one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai, we’ll do it. That’s around the same time that this script came my way.”
Written and directed by Sudha Kongara, Mani Ratnam’s former assistant, Madhavan loved the script instantly. “When a woman director approaches you, you expect it’s a story about relationships or a woman’s lib film, where the guy is bad. But here was this woman who had brought to me an outstanding script about a boxer. Along with it, she had interviewed boxers from all parts of the country. There was so much research to back the film. It completely blew my head.” He bought the film from her and started looking for producers to partner with.
Saala Khadoos turned out to be a tough film to green light. “As usual, a set of people who were interested in the script, asked for the heroine and director to be changed. I refused to do that. We came to a point where my director said we won’t be able to get a producer, so let’s just drop the film and look for another subject.” Around the same time, a friend told Madhavan that if he didn’t take the risk, he would regret it. “That kind of hit home and that’s when I decided to reach out to Raju (Rajkumar Hirani). I went over to his house at midnight and I started narrating the story to him. When I got to the second half, I knew that this film will be made,” he says, with a smile.
In his 15-year career, the Hindi-speaking audience has mostly seen the actor play nice guy in romances. Saala Khadoos is a big departure from that image. “I would like to think that the image that I have is of someone who does quality work. You are right that most of the films I have done were love stories. But there was also Guru and a Rang De Basanti. I don’t think the audience cares if I romance or if I beat up people as long as I entertain.”