There is an unmistakable sincerity when Ashok Selvan speaks. He is aware that he never fits into the conventional definition of a hero. The actor does not want to be “Kootathil Oruthan” (just another face in the crowd.) He takes cinema seriously and loves experimenting with everything that comes his way. We catch Ashok Selvan in a thoughtful and chatty mood as his romcom, Oh My Kadavule, is hitting the screens today.
Excerpts from an interview:
Let’s start from Soodhu Kavvum (2012). The film was a massive hit. But your subsequent films, 144 and Savaale Samaali bombed at the box office.
Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s how you learn. I don’t regret doing any film in particular, but when you make a different kind of cinema, it takes time for audiences to warm up to it. I don’t come from a film background and I didn’t get anything on a platter. I had to fight at each and every step. So everything works only on the trial and error basis. To be honest, my parents don’t watch television, but my grandfather was an avid movie buff. He was a huge fan of James Bond. Though he didn’t know English, he caught all detective films in the theatre. Someday, he wanted to see me become an actor, and it’s unfortunate that he passed away the same day I started shooting for Thegidi.
How did Oh My Kadavule materialise?
I was almost out of work three years ago. A couple of films that were supposed to begin got shelved. Nothing was going right, and it was an extremely frustrating phase. My sister Abhinaya, who’s optimistic to a fault, suggested that we produce the content we wished to see, and that’s how everything started. Ashwath Marimuthu, a long-time friend, came up with this rom-com script that my sister loved. We decided that we would produce this one. Abhinaya and I pushed Ashwath to write several drafts and it was more of teamwork where everyone sat across and bounced off ideas. We had acting workshops, script reading sessions and focus group discussions. Friends listened to the scripts and shared their views, too. These were the things I had always believed in but never had a chance to do. Since I came on board as one of the producers, I had a free hand to execute my thoughts. We knew we were making something good. Without any pressure, we worked on Oh My Kadavule, and it gave me a creative high. I suck at handling people, and I can’t thank Abhinaya enough for being a rockstar that she is! Oh My Kadavule is very different… I haven’t done a film like this where I have completely surrendered myself.
You seem comfortable taking risks.
(Laughs) That’s how I am. I don’t shy away from trying a variety of roles. Now, I am capitalising on my strengths, and things are working to my advantage. I only pick projects that excite me as a performer—something that drives me, something that motivates me. Such films need not be commercially viable always, but I enjoy the process. Agreed, it is difficult to say what will work and what will not. Thegidi was commercially successful, I knew it would be. I was overwhelmed by the response and in fact, my phone didn’t stop ringing for days. I had strangers congratulating me, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I did another film, which didn’t do well. The same people who called me didn’t even bother to attend calls when I reached out to them. That’s the film industry for you, and I learned it the hard way. To cut a long story short—you are only as good as your last success. Any hero needs commercial success, and that’s most important of all.
Oh My Kadavule also has Vijay Sethupathi and Gautham Menon playing cameos.
Though I knew Vijay Sethupathi anna from Soodhu Kavvum days, I was apprehensive to approach him for my film. I knew it was a huge favour, but he immediately obliged to play an extended cameo. Ashwath had written the role only having Sethu anna in mind. Even before asking for the story, he said ‘yes’, and that meant a lot to me. An actor of his stature needn’t have done this. As for Gautham sir, he made things easy. He’s the most chilled out person I’ve worked with. I had so much to learn from them and they are truly inspiring.
You started your career in 2012, and we are in 2020 now. What has changed and what hasn’t?
When I ventured into films, I knew nothing. I come from a humble background and I didn’t know how to approach people—let alone speaking with them. They say nice things to your face, but they aren’t what they seem to be. Every failure taught me something. Truth be told, I contemplated leaving the cinema. But I realised, it’s like home. You can roam about for many days, but you have to return. I know only films, and I belong to this place. You know what is unfortunate… You are a capable actor, and you know you can offer so much to the industry, but there is no way to give. I used to attend multiple auditions, but eventually, only a producer’s son or a director’s cousin would be zeroed in on for a role. These things would drive me mad. Now, I’ve accepted this is how it works. I am no longer an angry person. I made peace with the past and moved on.
You are being refreshingly honest.
I am not a people pleaser. I never was. But I love what I am doing. Today, there are many platforms like TikTok to achieve fame. Anyone can act, but what matters is being here for a long time, and doing quality work that withstands the test of time. For example, a section of critics had issues with the second half of Kootathil Oruthan, but I believed in the film. I am attracted to such offbeat projects. Everyone does loud films, but they don’t interest me. I like to watch them, but I don’t like to shoulder them. I want my body of work to be impressive and versatile. At the same time, I don’t diss ‘good’ commercial films.
Give us an example.
Paruthiveeran! I was in class 12 when I caught the film for the first time, and I couldn’t get it out of my system for a week. It was one of the most powerful and originally told movies of that time. I want to surprise the audience with such films and get them talking. Also, I am a sucker for films like Super Deluxe.
What goes on in your mind before every release?
It actually differs from one film to the other. Sometimes, I don’t sleep. When I am confident about a film, I keep checking Twitter for overseas reports and updates. If it was a bad one, well, I try not to get affected too much. (Laughs) But, I am past that stage. I don’t seek validation anymore. It’s not about the ‘result’, but the ‘process’.
Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I am making my Telugu debut with Ani Sasi’s film, which has Nithya Menen and Ritu Varma, as well. I essay the role of a chef, who’s about 100 kilograms. I put on 20 kilos extra for the role—courtesy—plates of biryani, bottles of beer and chocolates. It’s an experimental film, and I am confident that it will work with the audience. Ani and I share a good rapport with each other. It’s a pleasure to collaborate with like-minded people, who are open to taking in suggestions and feedback. Further, I play the villain in Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham. Directed by Priyadarshan sir, it is made on a Rs 100 crore budget. He is an excellent actor and has a terrific sense of humour. Also, it’s a joy to observe him on the sets. Filmmakers like Priyan sir are a delight to work with as they are secure directors, and give so much space and freedom to actors to perform.
What are your future plans?
Direction is certainly on the cards. I have 5-6 incomplete scripts. Let’s see what the future has in store.
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