‘I am still nervous in front of the camera’

In this conversation with CE, Rahman talks about his upcoming releases, Samara, a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual, Ganpath, changing sensibilities in films and audiences, his experiences, and much more     
A still from Ganapath
A still from Ganapath

Rahman was a sizzling star in the 80s and 90s in Malayalam and Tamil cinema. If his charismatic dance moves and innocence garnered him a raving fan base in Malayalam cinema, his earnestness won him hearts in Tamil. Four decades since he made his debut in Koodevide (1983), Rahman has played it all. When asked if there is anything that is left on his checklist, Rahman says, “Lately, I have been feeling like doing a superhero film where the hero comes out flying and jumping. It would be a larger-than-life character, something I have not done before.” It might seem like a far-fetched idea, but one never knows with Rahman, who recently starred in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan duology, and will soon be seen in Tiger Shroff-headlined Ganapath, which also stars Amitabh Bachchan. 

In this conversation with CE, Rahman talks about his upcoming releases, Samara, a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual, Ganapath, changing sensibilities in films and audiences, his experiences, and much more.  

Excerpts:

The Malayalam version of Samara hit the screens a few weeks back. Why the delayed release for the Tamil version?
The industry was in the Jailer groove while we were releasing the film back in Kerala. Let’s be honest, releasing the film here in Tamil Nadu wouldn’t have been possible at all. Therefore, we had to wait for an appropriate time gap for a theatrical release, which has finally arrived.

The contemporary scenario has pushed the audience as avid OTT consumers. At such a juncture, does a delayed release really work?
Despite the changes in the medium, whether it be theatre or OTT spaces, acting is my job; I am all up to deliver my whole calibre sincerely. When it comes to a theatrical release, the timing and competition are pivotal aspects that determine the project’s success. Given this aspect, Samara only catered to a few audiences by the time of its initial release. As art and its deliverance are subjective, I feel that Samara has elements that might warrant a theatrical release. This film has already catered to its set audience, and the makers observed that it was a satisfactory outing for them. That’s why we are bringing Samara to the theatres. 

Have you reached a point in your career where you are not bothered about scale or the pressure of only working in ‘big’ collaborations? 
Primarily, I haven’t been bothered about the scale of a film. Every film I do is a testimony to my unwavering love for cinema. As an actor, if I find a liking to the stories that come to me, I will pursue them. When it comes to the contemporary scenario, beyond the star image, notable production banner or celebrity filmmakers, anyone can orchestrate a good work. Don’t we have a fair share of examples this year itself? When it comes to my filmography, Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, which I regard as a feather in my cap, is a good example. Don’t we have stars who delivered flops back to back? Not all-star vehicles become colossal hits. Doing a commercial entertainer for the sake of doing it is just futile. And I believe a good film always finds an audience, regardless of its scale or star power. 

So you’re more of an actor searching for content rather than aiming for commercial viability? 
Absolutely. Perhaps some of my choices may not have tasted a triumph at the talkies. But looking back, they were all meaty roles and content-rich films. I am confident that none would say those were ‘rot in the rubbish.’ I agree that art is subjective, and if I like something, it doesn’t need to be everybody’s cup of tea. 

Rahman
Rahman

What goes behind in choosing a project?
It’s not necessary for me to sign on for every film that comes my way. Some directors may be skilled storytellers but falter in execution, while others may excel in execution but lack storytelling abilities. Maybe it’ll take months for the project to go on floors. Things are all about taking risks. Without risks, there is no gain. After that, it is all in the hands of the audience.

You were a star in the 80’s and 90’s. Then, you faced a dip in your career, and then we saw you undergo a resurgence. Looking back, would you have done things differently?  
Never! Not even a bit. See, it has been 40 years since I have been in this industry. If you compare me with many of my contemporaries, I am still not doing a father or uncle role or anything like that. I am still maintaining a position that was there for me. I may not be doing an out-an-out actioner or dancing-around-the-tree romances. Now, the arena has changed, new spaces are emerging, and we’re finding niche audiences for various genres. At the end of the day, cinema is entertainment, and I want to serve that purpose by quenching my thirst to make good films. But yes, I admit that in between, there was a setback in my career—however, I have no regret of any sort. 

It has taken almost forty years for your Hindi debut (Ganapath)...
I have been receiving offers since 1984. However, I wasn’t mature enough to take up a Hindi film back then. In 1989, KC Bokadia offered to remake my Tamil debut film, Nilave Malare, in Hindi with Sridevi. The project was almost finalised when K Balachander approached me for Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal. So I had to let go of the former opportunity. After that also, I got offers, but nothing prominent. Interestingly, some small-time production companies wanted to capitalise on my relationship with AR Rahman and offered me Hindi films in the hope that he would compose the music for those projects. But I outright rejected them. Now, with pan-Indian films being the in-thing, I was offered Ganapath.

What is the X factor that made you sign Ganapath? 
I liked the script, and I think the role I have is really substantial. The director of the film, Vikas Bahl, is best known for his content-oriented films. He has never attempted such a genre, so I was curious about that aspect as well as the production banner Pooja Entertainment, which is one of the well-known production houses in the country. And, of course, having Amitabh Bachchan play my father’s role is just amazing. He is an actor that I admire a lot.  

You’ve witnessed changes in techniques, storylines, acting, sensibilities, formats, and what-not. Is there anything in your craft or character that remains unaffected by change?
I am still nervous in front of the camera. My ability to listen is something that I hold dear. Nodding just for the sake of it is not enough. You should truly listen to the person speaking, whether they are important or not. I have always been someone who listens to both seniors and juniors alike. I give the same advice to newcomers as well. Don’t just hear... but listen actively.

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