How R. Madhavan did a good job of being bad

R. Madhavan plays the title-role in Shaitaan. Photo: Universal Communications

His is a career that began decades back on television with triumphs that included Banegi Apni Baat and Ghar Jamai, moved to films with Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein way back in 2001, and studded with triumphs like Rang De Basanti, 3 Idiots, the Tanu Weds Manu franchise and more in Hindi alone, besides regional hits like Alai Payuthey, Minnale and Vikram Vedha.

R. Madhavan has nothing left to prove actually. In 2022, he directed, co-produced, co-wrote and played the ‘title-role’ (Nambi) of ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect. Last year came his triumph on the web, The Railway Men, a masterpiece in which he portrayed Rati Pandey, the red-tape-smashing general manager of the West Central Railway Zone, in a saga revolving around the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

And now he goes evil with a vengeance in Shaitaan, in the title-role. I get just about eight minutes with the star on Zoom for a rapid chitchat. Excerpts from an interview follow.

I was really awed by both Rocketry and The Railway Men and I am expecting a hat-trick here! So, isn’t this your third horror film after 13B  and Night of the Living Dead, which was a foreign movie?

It’s my second actually. Both 13B and Shaitaan are thriller-horror films. But there are no supernatural ghosts here, it’s a thriller. Night of the Living Dead was an animated horror film in English, and I only lent my voice for one of the characters.

What tempted you to accept this role?

Like we all know, it’s a remake of the Gujarati film, Vash. I really liked the way the story was told and how a family would do everything to save its own. It was a good fight between good and evil, and in today’s world, people are prone to become irrational simply because their minds are taken over by social media or somebody who is highly influential. So when they start behaving irrationally, the families seldom know what to do. So this was a great challenge and a very relevant subject, so I took it up, and we shot for it with (Smiles) all good intent, because this is the first time I am playing someone evil! But the reaction to the trailer was such that I feel pretty encouraged!

How much did you enjoy being evil and what was your brief about the wicked shades you had to portray?

I didn’t expect to enjoy myself as much as I did! Vikas (Bahl, the film’s director) and I were exploring this role together actually, because he did not know what I was capable of and I did not know what he was expecting! So I was just enjoying doing this role, as I said, because he is downright evil! I knew that I had to come up with expressions that I had never given before on screen. So exploring all that was a challenge and also fun, because there are different ways of saying the same thing, and I had to make it eerie and ‘hate-able’. And I have generally done stuff that people want to love! This time I want people to love to hate me, so there is reverse psychology here! (Smiles broadly)

Everybody knows that our smile is very sweet, and you have used it maniacally here! How easy or difficult was it to do that?

It was challenging, but I tried keeping it charming and evil at the same time!

How was it interacting with Ajay Devgn?

I have interacted with Ajay-sir often, but this was our first professional association. Let me tell you that it was an absolute pleasure. He is one of the most confident, generous and large-hearted actors that I have ever worked with in the industry. We did not have a title for the film while we were shooting, and it was after we finished the shoot and he watched the material that he decided that it should be named after my character, who is referred to as Shaitaan.

He made the promos and the teasers after that and I am very impressed. I have learnt so much from Ajay-sir. I have learnt how to be a senior actor and be generous, give people credit when it is due, and how to promote the film correctly.

R. Madhavan speaks in a Zoom interview with Parikh Worldwide Media. Photo: Sterling Media.

So, on a lighter note, what was your family’s reaction when they watched you?

They said they will have to go back and watch Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein and Tanu Weds Manu three or four times to get over this role! (Smiles)

I do not know the beginning, middle and end of Shaitaan as yet, but can we expect a sequel, as is the trend nowadays?

Ah…it’s too early to say because it depends upon the audience’s reaction to it. Then I guess the writer and director will decide.

There are two kinds of sequels: one, where the second film is planned or even made alongside, and the other which, as you say, depends on the reaction to the first film.

Well, this is definitely not the first kind!

In films alone, you have been around for 24 years. Before that, you have done great work on TV like Ghar Jamai. Tell me one thing: if you get any role, including this one, from the humongous variety in the work you have done, would you do it differently for film, TV or the web?

It’s a very, very apt and a good question! I think most people underestimate how difficult and different it is to do the same content for different media. For films that are being shown in theatres, the performances needed are a completely different type even as opposed to a film that you are doing for OTT. And if you are doing a web series on OTT, a completely different skill-set is required.

Can you elaborate on this?

I think the answer is easy for an actor to understand, because the nuances have to far more subtle and real for the big screen. For example, on TV or the web, you have to keep the entire series graph in mind, as you have to keep in mind the script of at least three films in mind, as there are, say, eight episodes of 45 minutes. So you have to know where you are landing each time, as they may not be shot sequentially. As I said, actors will understand what I am saying.

Finally, the person under your spell in the film is Janki Bodiwala, a newcomer. How was it working with her?

Janki did the same role in Vash, and she is highly popular in Gujarati cinema. This is her first Hindi film, and I am really blown by her commitment, as she set out to do a better job in this version than what she has achieved in the Gujarati original.





Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here