'My roles should fetch me recognition'
Daniel Balaji who plays an important role in Maayavan, talks about what it is like to be Tamil cinema's quintessential gangster
For an actor who plays a motivational speaker in Maayavan, Daniel Balaji is surprisingly reticent. It takes a while before he opens up. He won’t quite say if he’s the villain, but he says he “plays the killer”. Does it mean he’s the villain? He answers cryptically: “Maayavan is the bad guy, and I'm one of the bad guys."
Balaji says he is aware that people talk about the physical transformations he undergoes for each of his roles. "In Polladhavan, for example, I had to look lean, so the fight with Dhanush would look evenly matched. I sported curly hair to look like a thug,” he says. I ask if he spent a lot of time preparing to play this character. He replies, "Poi sollanuma ille unmai-a sollanuma?” Without waiting for an answer, he continues, “I can hype what I did, but really, it’s simply a transformation in front of the camera." As part of preparation, Balaji asks his director a lot of questions. "I try to know as much as I can about the behaviour of the character I play. The final part of the preparation is readying the look of the character. For this film, I was asked to sport a sophisticated look," he adds.
Curiously enough, Balaji graduated from the Film and Television Training Institute studying direction. "When I was directing films there, I'd constantly encourage actors to play different characters. Now, I’m doing the same. Sometimes, people wonder why I keep changing my dubbing artistes without realising that it is actually my voice, but in different modulations."
He talks of variety, but isn’t he tired of playing gangsters? "Every gangster has his own characterisation. The look is different, the relationships he has had in his life differ… they all make each gangster a different person." He brings up his role in the upcoming Vetrimaaran film, Vada Chennai, as an example. "There are three periods covered in this film. My role will be seen in the ages of 25, 35 and 45. So even my build and voice will vary for each segment." Shooting has been progressing steadily for the film. "We have been shooting for a year and a half. The next schedule begins from Tuesday."
What Balaji is looking for, when he picks these stories, is to be recognised. “Whenever people see me in a film, I want them to be able to recall who I am. It was Vetrimaaran who encouraged me to do a lot of films. That’s how I came to do Vai Raja Vai, Bairavaa and Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada." A Bollywood film almost happened too. "During the making of Muthirai, produced by Vikram Bhatt, he (Bhatt) wanted me to play the villain role in Murder 2, but I couldn't commit."
Muthirai was the last film to star Balaji in the lead, but he assures that another film, with him playing the hero, is around the corner. "I've signed three films so far. In two of them, I’m playing a solo lead. All of them are characters with grey shades."
Balaji will next be seen in a few films including Ippadai Vellum and Ulta. He’s getting a lot of offers, but a part of him wants to direct films. "I should've started it two years back. Acting assignments eat away all my time. But I’ll definitely make a film eventually."