Raganathan Madhavan is the odd Bihari who made his way into the Indian entertainment industry, taking a route that few have managed to navigate. He eased into the circuit with a string of titular roles in the Tamil film industry. Although Madhavan had fans in shape of film directors like Mani Ratnam, recognition on the national scale came with his 2001 film Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein. Maddy, the quintessential Romeo, exemplified a leap that few established actors of the Indian south have managed to take. From the meek village cook of Ramji Londonwale to the ambitious senior year engineering student of 3 Idiots; from the conservative flight lieutenant Ajay Rathod of Rang De Basanti to the idealistic journalist of Guru; Madhavan has shown what he is made of.
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However, his latest cinematic outing is nothing of what he has been comfortably doing for the past two decades. Sudha Kongara Prasad’s upcoming bilingual sports drama, Saala Khadoos, shows Madhavan in an avatar he hasn’t yet experimented with. In an exclusive conversation with The Express Tribune, he says, “I’m playing the role of a retired boxer who is a coach actually.” The film revolves around this man who once believed in his dreams but surrendered his ambitions to institutional politics within the game. “He is outspoken and eccentric. It’s a story of how he meets a 17-year-old girl in whom he sees his past self,” Madhavan adds. What follows is a struggle for empowerment.
But haven’t we already seen all of that in Mary Kom? “Mary Kom was about a world champion, Mangte Chungneijang. Saala Khadoos follows two people and how they achieve glory together. Obviously there has to be a coach and a climax but I don’t think they will be similar,” he answers.
Madhavan’s response seems true to the extent that for essaying the coach’s role, he himself has gone through intense physical transformation. “I have had very tough life experiences before I took up acting. I was involved with the National Cadet Corps in Maharashtra. I know a lot about [self] defense and have been a personal trainer myself so I think this role was for the real me,” he states. The film required him to look like someone no one would dare mess with and it took him a good year-and-a-half to muscle up. “I learnt all aspects of boxing as well as coaching.”
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A commonality that runs through most of his previous screen appearances is that his characters are weak and gullible, bullied around and easily manipulated. “All the characters that I have played in the past actually summarise my journey. My character in Saala Khadoos too depicts a large part of me, exactly the way my role in Tanu Weds Manu did.”
It does not come as a surprise to him to hear about his following in Pakistan. “I keep getting awesome messages [from Pakistani fans] on social media, appreciating all the work that I have done. I am quite thrilled … They say such good things,” he says. And Maddy is one character even his Pakistani fans haven’t forgotten. “I did this movie almost 15 years ago. It’s remarkable how we reach out to such a wide audience. I want to thank the Pakistani audiences … They have been very kind to me.”
Like most of his Bollywood colleagues, Madhavan too is in awe of Pakistani TV dramas. “I think they’re phenomenal. They’ve caught on really well and the people are relating to them. There’s so much that’s common in both the countries,” he maintains. The Jodi Breakers actor himself is an avid observer of the flight Pakistani cinema has taken in recent times. “I’m a huge fan of some of the actors there and the movies from there.”
With a heavy traffic of artistes from both countries in their neighbouring industries, one wonders what has held back concerted efforts for major cross-border ventures. “I think it’s on its way … just an idea away. I think as soon we start thinking about it, it’s going to happen,” Madhavan feels. He says Pakistanis have always treated him with the utmost respect whenever he has crossed paths with them anywhere. Before we put the follow-up question forward, he quickly adds, “I am very keen on coming there and meeting the people. I’ve been hearing a lot about their love for my work. I’d love to come and see that in person.”
Until that wish is granted, Madhavan has a message for his fans across the border. “Do go and watch Saala Khadoos. This world requires a lot of love so I’ll make sure to send across as much as possible.” Saala Khadoos is set to hit the screens on January 29.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2016.
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