In the melting pot of Indian cinema, the crossing over of talent between various industries has always been happening. While female actors have straddled cinema across languages with ease, it hasn’t quite been the case with our male stars, even with the likes of Rajinikanth.
Arguably, the exception in this trend is R Madhavan, who has been successful across languages for a couple of decades now. “When I decided to do OTT, I didn’t care whether people would tag me as ‘a not-so big actor’.
When I decided to act in 3 Idiots, I didn’t care when people told me I could lose my Tamil market. When I did Anbe Sivam, they said my Hindi market could get affected, and again, I didn’t care. I have never been image conscious,” says Madhavan, in a video interaction with the media over a Zoom call.
What is it about Maara, the remake of Malayalam film, Charlie, that made you say yes to the project?
This is more an adaptation of Charlie than a remake. We have reimagined the concept to suit the actors in the Tamil version, while maintaining the essence of Charlie. My favourite aspect of Charlie is its world. Similarly, Maara will feel like a breath of fresh air. It is a simple world with simple problems and simple solutions. These days, when we meet someone, we exchange numbers and relationships are developed only in the digital world. We deal with their online persona, but they may be a completely different person in real life. The relationship gets strained. In Maara, the lead character doesn’t even have a cellphone; both main characters judge each other by their real-life actions. Considering that they don’t meet for a long time in the film, there is almost a cosmic connection between them. Also, both Shraddha Srinath and I have a sort of vagabond-ish outlook to life. We feel it necessary to interact with people. So, in many ways, I share Maara’s philosophies about life.
Have you fantasised over how life would be if we were not al l tied down by, say, cellphones?
Many a time, in a relationship, it is not just about the sights and sounds, but even something like, say, fragrance, that is important… All that is missing in this digital age. We don’t look beyond our social media personas. I miss the ‘getting to know’ part. I’m not sure if I need this much information about people. Of course, issues like privacy etc... are there, but I miss discovering something novel about a person after meeting, conversing, and understanding them over a period of time. During Alaipayuthey, I remember waiting for a week for a review. There was a sense of anticipation, and there was joy in that wait. Now, we see reviews even before the first show.
You are reuniting with Shraddha Srinath after Vikram Vedha...
Our chemistry is key to this film because we have very limited scenes together. If that doesn’t work out, then our relationship in this film sinks. In all my films, utmost importance is given to female characters; I only enjoy such stories. I come from a family of strong, powerful and independent women. Alaipayuthey, Minnale, Irudhi Suttru, Vikram Vedha… all the wives, lovers in these films have been strong characters. There are no scenes where they fall on my feet... In fact, there has been just one film where I had to slap my heroine, and I still regret doing that scene. Shraddha is a beautiful woman, a worldly-wise person. I enjoy working with professionals like her.
There were quite a few hurdles when it came to the shooting of Maara...
I hate to work simultaneously on many films because it isn’t easy for me to slip in and out of characters. We started Maara before Rocketry, but after the first schedule of Maara, we weren’t satisfied with what we had shot. We went back to the drawing board and decided to reshoot the film. So, I finished Rocketry and came back. The makers were understanding, and I could understand their passion and commitment as well. Once I returned, we finished the film in two schedules.
The film also marks your return to the genre people have always loved you for: romance.
At this time of my life, I’m not sure if I can be part of a genuine romance. I know it will not be convincing, and it is important to do age-appropriate romance. I know that if I attempt typical romance films, even my son wouldn’t be convinced. But if I’m playing a 45-year-old with a greying beard in films like Irudhi Suttru or Maara, and if I can convince my son with a love story within, then I am okay. I have always wanted to do a relationship based musical love story, but in my present state of mind, I also need the story to emotionally move me. Irudhi Suttru was the right kind of film for where I was then. In fact, before Irudhi Suttru, I wasn’t happy about the films I was doing. I didn’t like that the multifaceted aspects of my life were hardly reflected in my films. That frustration led to a three-year gap before Irudhi Suttru. My films can be deemed flops, but I am keen that they are not thought to be bad.
Malayalam cinema is becoming pan-Indian with films like Charlie getting adapted across languages.
Actually, even Hindi cinema is changing. Many of their Superstars are being questioned about the content they are providing. Over the past three years, the biggest hits in Bollywood were those without stars. Films like Uri, Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun, Mission Mangal… have made big business. Everyone’s looking for a good story. This quest has given rise to remakes.
Now that you have gained for yourself a pan-Indian brand, is it even possible for you to do a something local, something firmly rooted like, say, Thambi?
The world has become local. Sure, there are some expectations about a Madhavan film, but I don’t see this as a burden. We have to make stories that appeal across regions. When we see a Martian or an Interstellar, the cultures may all be different, but the storytelling impacts us. We should aim to do films like that. A film like Nayagan or a Thevar Magan will be celebrated across the world if it were released now because they created a rooted world with good character arcs. Look at how Dhanush is doing cinema that appeals across the world. We have to make local films, but with storytelling that is international. Also, the consumption of international content by the local audience is so high; we need to cater to those expectations as well.
In a way, you were ahead of the curve when it came to embracing the OTT space. With many of your peers finally waking up to its potential, does it feel like your faith has been vindicated?
My career is a prime example that our lives are determined only by the decisions we make. I have done a lot of things that were considered wrong in Tamil cinema. In Hindi, they called me a Tamil actor. In Tamil, some called me a Hindi actor. But as I knew both languages well, and knew enough about the industries, it all worked out well for me. All the decisions I took were scary, but thankfully, everything fell into place. The result of my perseverance is that I’m in a position where I am forced to say no to almost three projects every day.
You take time out to wish your fans on social media. You maintain a constant connection with them. Do you believe the exclusivity of a star is a myth right now?
Some of the biggest superstars of the world do this. Why does a Salman Khan or a Shah Rukh Khan need a Twitter account? Doing this is not just to show how good a person one is. People want to know if reel heroes are real-life heroes too. And you can’t put up with this facade for too long because the audience will see right through it. If someone wants a birthday wish, it hardly takes me a few seconds to send out a tweet. But for them, that acknowledgment could give them a lifetime of happiness. It is a boon that God has given us artists. I am able to spread happiness with almost no effort. This world could do with a lot more happiness. We should be worthy