A still from Saba Nayagan
A still from Saba Nayagan

I take pride in working with debutants: Actor Ashok Selvan

If I like the script, I see their previous works and gauge them as I talk.

It’s been a decade since Ashok Selvan made a debut with Soodhu Kavvum. Even if there were dips in the box-office returns, Ashok can be proud of the kind of films he has managed to deliver in this decade. In 2023, Ashok Selvan’s Por Thozhil became not just one of the most appreciated films of the year but also a bonafide commercial success. “Of course, financial success is joyful, but if someone sees my film, and it makes an unforgettable impact in their lives, I see that as a bigger success. I want to be part of somebody’s life,” says Ashok.

You have completed a decade in the industry. How has this journey been?

When I think of it, I feel I have come a long way but I also feel I have just started. I am clear on what I want but I am clearer on what I don’t. I am in a rush and there is that hunger. I always feel that time is running out. But I have also understood that it is also about finding the balance between personal and professional in this pursuit. My wife (and actor) Keerthi (Pandian) always says that I have to relax and calm down.

You have made an impact in romcoms, and Saba Nayagan falls into this genre. How important is it for you, as an actor, to be part of this genre?

When doing romcoms, I try to be in the moment. Only then can we improvise, especially in the case
of humour. I also learnt the art of clowning. The preparation is not to prepare too much. With romcoms,
I am just in a very happy space.

How has the humour worked out in Saba Nayagan?

In Indian films, the hero comedy is very loud. Be it Vijay sir or Rajini sir, they make it happen with their presence and reactions. We tend to exaggerate a bit more. In Saba Nayagan, my character (Saba), is the one who is doing comedy. While in Por Thozhil, the comedy was subtle, it’s the opposite here. Here, the director (CS Karthikeyan) wanted me to be notches higher and I followed his vision.

You seem to have a penchant for working with newcomer directors. Saba Nayagan too is helmed by a debutant. There are certain things I take pride in and one of them is working with debutants. If I like the script, I see their previous works and gauge them as I talk. Mostly I try to look out for their intentions; if they want to do a hit film or a good film. Those are two different things. I want to do good films. You cannot go out to make a hit film. Mostly we make a good film and hope it turns out to be a hit. Most of the time, it works.

If writing language is important, so is the visual language. That skill is very much important, and inc idental ly, most directors in our industry are also the writers. Not all good writers need to become good directors. I have to judge that and it’s the tricky part of my job.

You have done an A-rated film like Manmadhaleelai, slice-of-life films like Sometimes, and the short film, Maya. How do you see these experimentations?

I know that I may think about cinema all the time but people may not. I don’t want to do a film where I say ‘you didn’t understand.’ It started with Pizza 2 when my producer said that people did not get the climax. At that age, I blamed the people. That night my father called me and said he didn’t understand the film as well. That was when I realised that when someone like him who has travelled the world doesn’t understand, the mistake is not on the people. Like when I did Sometimes, it was not mainstream. We did not try to make it simple. It depends on what you aim for, and our target audience.

What is the experimentation with Saba Nayagan?

We have tried to evoke one particular emotion in a fun and entertaining film. It is a film where college students can come, enjoy and have fun. It is fit for a community- watching experience. It is not like a Por Thozhil where you need to concentrate on the details in each frame.

The Indian film industry is still hero-centric. What is your take on this system?

I wish it would change. The market should be about the film, the story, and how it is made. But realistically, the market is on the hero’s shoulders. When you get a story, you look at the hero’s market, which decides the budget. Say a story needs ` 30 crore and the director wants a certain hero. If the actor does not fit into that market budget, the casting can change. There is a compromise that stops the film from what it could be. But unfortunately, the production is also not so easy with so much uncertainty. Somewhere I feel I want to do certain types of commercial films and extend my market so that I can do the bigbudget films I want to do. I am doing an Army film next year, which requires a big budget. I had put that film on hold for a film to click. But after Por Thozhil, I am trying to revamp that project. I only wish I could do such stories even without these successes.

In this social media era, we are just one post away from pulling someone down. You seem to face trolls with a pinch of healthy sarcasm and humour. 

When the ‘Podi Vennai’ tweet was happening, my friends were saying that I should show my other side (laughs) apart from being sweet. We all have that side. But any criticism or hate, I mostly laugh it off and make the opposite party laugh as well. I don’t express much when I am not sure about something. But when I know and make a statement, and people criticise me, I give it back without hurting them.

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