May 2002. Summer was at its peak, but that did not stop youngsters from flocking to the theatres to watch a film that was all about them, full of teenage swag. Kasthuriraja had directed the film that was written by his elder son Selvaraghavan and starred his younger one, who was just 19 (Dhanush). It was a do or die attempt for the family that was facing financial difficulty.
Not only did Thulluvadho Ilamai do well, it gave Tamil cinema two of its more celebrated stars in the form of Dhanush the actor and Selvaraghavan, who would go on to make a name as a director to look out for.
A decade later, after a spate of films in which Dhanush showcased his mettle as an actor, came 3, directed by his wife Aishwarya Rajinikanth. In the school portions, it seemed like time had stopped still. Gone was the don of Pudhupettai, the earnest youngster of Polladhavan, the rooster fighter of Aadukalam (which won him his first National Award for Best Actor), the troubled photographer of Mayakkam Enna or the lovelorn man fighting to survive in Bharat Bala’s Maryaan. What you saw was that same boy of Thulluvadho Ilamai. You almost forgot he was 29 then!
This chameleon-like ability to turn into what the character demands has characterised Dhanush’s acting. Luckily for the actor, he has always come under the tutelage of good directors, who moulded him to suit both commercial and classy cinema. His brother Selvaraghavan is probably the one who has taken him to the darkest spaces, and allowed him to explore rage, deep-rooted angst and the horrors of a troubled mind. Aishwarya did that too, to an extent, in 3.
The actor has also stepped into production with his Wunderbar Films. While comparisons with his father-in-law Rajinikanth were commonplace in the beginning of his career, Dhanush has proved that while they share some onscreen traits, he is very much his own person.
If grown-ups loved Dhanush in quasi-commercial movies, his biggest fan base of youth and children adore his irreverent act on screen. He was the quintessential velai illa paattadhaari (the unemployed graduate or school drop-out as the case may be) whose life was about being cool, who managed to land the girls others pined for, and who sorted it all out in the end. Oh yes, add those scenes of drunken revelry and women-blaming.
Despite that, it’s difficult to remain angry with the actor. He is among the few in the current generation who is intense to a fault, and who can scorch the screen with silence. He’s experimented quite a bit in the past few years, be it working in Bollywood (Aanand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa and Balki’s Shamitaabh), directing (Pa Paandi, which was delectable in parts and which finally showed that senior citizens can find love too!) or crossing borders for The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, directed by Ken Scott.
What he’s not been on screen so far is a sensitive lover, and one hopes that the master of that genre, Gautham Vasudev Menon shows us that side of Dhanush in the much-delayed Ennai Nokki Paayum Thotta. If the songs released so far are an indication, the film might see Dhanush charm the class audience too. While captivates newer audiences, he will still hold on to his existing fan base with the pigeon-loving don of Balaji Mohan’s Maari 2 and a much-feted carrom player in Vetrimaaran’s anticipated trilogy Vada Chennai.
Here’s the teaser of Vada Chennai.