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Sunday, 28 July 2013

A Star Is Born, Mind It!

 If Dhanush's vanity van is anything to go by, the actor is a minimalist. A tiny black van, tiny dresser with a couple of hair and make-up brushes and a flat-screen tv sums up the space where he is
chilling out while shooting a commercial at a beach house off Chennai's East Coast Road. The only personal touch is a poster of Aadukalam, the film that fetched him a national award in 2011 and
portrays cock-fighting in Madurai. It shows the actor clutching a rooster, his stance indignant, his mouth curled in a grimace, his eyes dark and menacing.

It is a far cry from the floppy-haired actor who walks in two minutes later. Dressed in a white T-shirt and white track pants, he waves shyly, an easy grin on his face. One could say he is the epitome of
boyish charm till one looks at his eyes. Carefree and playful at first, they soon appear intense, ready to answer any question thrown at their owner.

Riding on the success of Raanjhanaa that has collected Rs 60 crore since its release on June 21, making it the fifth-highest grosser of 2013, Dhanush has achieved something that has eluded the most famous
of south Indian actors, including his iconic father-in-law Rajinikanth: He's cracked Bollywood. "Go to Mumbai and win: Make money, become a Bollywood star: I didn't have this mindset," he explains. Director Aanand L. Rai saw him in Aadukalam and the image was stuck in his mind. "We have to end the notion that southern actors can't work here. Today, audiences accept films driven by content and performances," says Rai. It was the content of Rai's script that appealed to Dhanush, coupled with his persuasive nature. "He was so insistent, he travelled to Kolkata to meet me for 20 minutes. When I heard the story, I knew I had to do it," says Dhanush.
Dhanush's first brush with Bollywood happened in 2011 when his song 'Why this Kolaveri Di?' went viral. "People associated me with this song and weren't aware I was an actor," he recalls. He never tried to correct them.
 Released in November that year, the song, an anthem for jilted lovers, now has more than 67 million hits and is still playing at nightclubs. Ironically, the one person who has had enough of the song is Dhanush. "I haven't listened to it in ages. I run away when people play it,"he says with a shudder. Did Kolaveri change him? "It changed my life but not the person I am," he says.

It was the song that put Dhanush on the national map, more than the award for best actor he received the same year for his role in Aadukalam, directed by Vetrimaran and set in Madurai. "I suffered a
lot while making Aadukalam. The stress of getting into character and dealing with his pain, the heat, my dust was really tough," he explains. "Now I'm working on Bharat Bala's next film Maryan, and the pain is much, much worse," he laughs.
 Before the pain, the travelling and the stardom, Dhanush wasn't even interested in acting. "Kasthuri Raja, my father, was a director. Nevertheless, every time an actor came home, I'd lock myself in," he
says. He was studying at St John's Matriculation School, Chennai, when, in 2001, his father and brother (director Selvaraghavan) persuaded him to act in Thuluvadho Ilamai, a coming-of-age drama.

He next acted in his brother's film Kaadhal Kondein in 2003, where he played a mentally disturbed youngster in love. The film was a hit, and he realised acting was his calling. "Now I know I can't do anything else," he says.

However, his next three films were flops. "When I joined, industry people said I didn't have the looks. But I believed there was nothing more beautiful than talent and confidence," he says. Sonam Kapoor, his
Raanjhanaa co-star, says he's one of the most talented actors she knows. "With such ability, one's bound to succeed in life," she says.
 Dhanush used his anti-Adonis look to land plum character-oriented roles. His filmography indicates he can't be typecast. He's played a psychopath, a gangster, a bi-polar lover, as well as a school dropout.
He intends to follow this path in Bollywood as well.

Unlike in Raanjhanaa, where his character stalks the girl he loves, in real life Dhanush managed to get his girl without drama. "We met at the premiere of Kadhal Konden 10 years ago," says Aishwaryaa Dhanush, his wife. Two years later, they were married and are today parents of two sons, Yatra and Linga. He regrets not spending enough time with his family. "This year I've been at home for only 30 days," he says.

At 29, Dhanush is the youngest recipient of the national award, has a global hit song to his name, and a bevy of films in the pipeline. So what next? "I'm working on the Tamil film Naiyaandi, and will do Rai's
next film afterwards. I'm also waiting for the right script to do my next Hindi film," he says.

He says he doesn't look up to anyone. Not even Rajinikanth? "Dhanush never let the pressure get to him. Rather, he has a respectful relationship with my father," Aishwaryaa explains.

Finally called to the set, Dhanush excuses himself. The door of the vanity van opens and he steps on to the set. His track pants have been replaced by jeans and a shirt. The crew buzzes around him and an
umbrella magically appears to shield him from the sun. He doesn't wave. There is no grin on his face. This is the Dhanush on the poster in his vanity van-Dhanush the star.

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