At Dhanush’s Wunderbar Studios, the air conditioner at the conference hall has been set too low. When the lanky actor, dressed in all-black casuals enters, he courteously asks us if we could switch off the AC. We delightfully agree. He braces himself as he says “I am thin, so I feel extra cold.” Chuckles go round the room.
His upcoming film Thangamagan is on everybody’s mind. “The film is a family entertainer. It has elements that will appeal to all members of the family, and of course, fans. It’s a full package. For all minds that are stressed at this time, this film will be a relief to watch,” said the actor. Dhanush personally took part in the flood relief activities in Chennai and Cuddalore, and organised support through his fans.
“I want to show variation. I don’t want to be stuck in an image. If the audience began expecting the same thing from me, I would become boring. With each new film, I need to surprise them. I followed up an action film like Polladhavan with a family-comedy, Yaaradi Nee Mohini. Similarly, Padikkadhavan was followed by Uthamaputhiran. It’s a conscious decision,” he added.
What about Thanga Magan? Dhanush admits that there’s nothing too new in the film. “It’s a very humble film, with incidents that every viewer can relate to.”
Early in his career, Dhanush was going to work on a film with KS Ravikumar, but the plans fell through. KS Ravikumar now plays Dhanush’s father in Thangamagan. Dhanush said, “Happy to work with him even if it is just acting. He is an ace director, but he completely transformed himself into an actor here. He understood every aspect the way the director had visualised it. He went in for as many takes as were needed. He will be a revelation in this film.”
Dhanush was all praise for his other co-stars as well, “Radhika madam is very experienced. She’s full of life and very playful. Being on sets with her feels like a picnic. Both the female leads, Samantha and Amy Jackson, are sincere and dedicated. And when it comes to performance, Thangamagan will show them in a new light.”
For the schoolboy parts, Dhanush had to sport a clean shaven look. How did he feel about it? “I have a very ‘Sumaarana munji’, and when I am clean shaven, I think I look worse. So I’m not very comfortable with that look. But that’s the only way I can take some years off my face.
I have always accepted that I definitely do not look handsome. So I try to make good use of whatever little God has given me”
Thanga Magan’s trailer is a mix of romantic and sentimental scenes. But towards the end, Dhanush forcefully praises the Tamil language, and asserts that no language could displace Tamil in Tamil Nadu. The trailer ends with him saying, “Tamil thokkadhu” (Tamil will never lose). Ironically, the credits roll out right after – in English. The journalists took him to task for it, and he laughingly admitted that it was a mistake. He said, “Trailers these days are made for the Internet, to reach a wider audience. Hence the use of English. But yes, it was a mistake. We should have rectified it.”
When asked why most of his movies borrow titles from Rajinikanth’s films, he said, “Padikadhavan was the last, and that was five years ago. The title of this film was supposed to be ‘Tamizhmagan’, but the production team wanted us to title it ‘Thangamagan’. Fulfilling the producers’ wishes is very important, so this is the title we used. ”
The Dhanush-Anirudh lyricist-singer-composer team is so popular, they even have their own nickname –‘DnA’. Most of their songs are almost guaranteed to be hits among the younger generation. And all Wunderbar films (barring Kaakka Muttai) have used Anirudh’s music. Dhanush explains, “I would love to work with other composers. Anirudh is like my brother. I literally raised the boy, and so I’m most comfortable working with him. We share a great rapport. There’s no ego between us. We exchange opinions freely, which results in better music. I think that is why DnA is a successful combination. It’s true that Ani (Anirudh) works on most of my movies, but I’m happy to work with any music director. Whoever the director prefers.”
As a producer, Dhanush, has had a fairly good record, with Wunderbar films producing a number of successful films. “When I produce films that I act in, I make sure I don’t carry my thoughts as a producer on sets. It would hinder my acting. I go in with a free mind. Having a great team at Wunderbar really helps.”
“Wunderbar was established in a bid to discover new talents, and act as a platform for them. From Anirudh to many others. Not just actors, but technicians like cinematographers, choreographers, stunt directors, editors – we make it a point to introduce at least one new talent with each film.”
“The idea of Wunderbar dates back to 2000, when my brother Selvaraghavan couldn’t get a break in the industry. He had narrated the script of Kadhal Konden to many established actors, who had all rejected it. That’s when he told me, ‘It’s very difficult to get a break even though our father is a director. Imagine how difficult it must be for newcomers. If we ever succeed in cinema, we must start a production house that encourages new talent’. And I’m confident that we have been doing that.”
Wunderbar Films are the proud producers of Kaakka Muttai, the film that won everyone’s heart this year. Now they’re all set to produce the remake of Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Batte Sannaata, with the same director. Dhanush expects the remake to match the high standards set by Kaakka Muttai. “We’re talking to Amala Paul and Revathi madam for the film. It is a world class film, one that Wunderbar Films can be very proud of.”
Dhanush won the National Award for ‘Best Actor’ with Vetri Maran’s Aadukalam (2011). He resumes work with his favourite director with Vada Chennai. “I know this film has been in talks for very long now, but it is not a film that we just decide to start shooting one day. It has a long storyline, needs a big budget, and a lot of pre-planning. This is going to be a two-part film, which we (director Vettrimaaran and himself) decided on 4-5 years ago. I didn’t have the market to do such a big film back then, and now I do. We’ll start shooting by March or April next year, and we expect the first instalment to release in the summer of 2017,” he said.
Ask any South Indian actor about their dream director, and the reply would be Mani Ratnam. In early November, there were reports that Mani Ratnam would be directing Dhanush. Dhanush clarified, “We did discuss a film. We talked a lot. But due to certain circumstances, it didn’t fall into place for me.
But yes, I want to, and I will work with Mani Sir in the future. That is certain.”
A lot has been spoken about Dhanush’s rivalries with other actors. There was a time when every media house reported that Dhanush and Simbu weren’t on good terms. But the two quashed the rumours with a public announcement that they were good friends. In a similar vein, much has been made of Dhanush’s rivalry with Siva Karthikeyan. Dhanush introduced Siva Karthikeyan to cinema with 3 and has been a constant supporter. However, when asked if he would work with the actor again, Dhanush said, “Frankly, Wunderbar cannot really pay Siva Karthikeyan at the moment. We are a small production company. We do not concentrate on big-budget films. But, I am immensely proud of him, given how he started and where he has reached.” Hopefully, that puts the rivalry rumours to rest.
In a 14-year career, Dhanush has donned a variety of roles. From the evergreen aimless youth to intense performances, like that of a fisherman trapped in a desert in Maryan. He even played God in Seedan! Is there anything left on Dhanush’s checklist? “I really want to do an out-and-out negative role someday, It doesn’t matter whether I play the villain or an anti-hero. But a negative shade to my role would give me a lot of scope to explore new avenues in acting.”
Despite these long years in the industry, Dhanush says that a lot of things he’s still confused by, and a lot he still needs to learn. He says, “If only I knew what works and what doesn’t, I would be churning out continuous hits.”
Speaking of anti-heroes, Dhanush has become a controversial figure for some, and some see him as a negative influence on youngsters. What does he feel about allegations that his movies may promote smoking? “In real life, I do not smoke, and nor do I endorse smoking. But I cannot do the same in films. As an actor, I cannot reason with a director on this issue. When a director insists that a character must smoke, I cannot argue at that point. My commitment towards my job as an actor does not allow me refuse to do such scenes,” he says.
“And moreover, my true fans will follow the real me, not the reel one,” he says, before signing off.