Dhanush: Hollywood can teach us how to plan our films better
The actor talks about his extraordinary journey to Hollywood, reuniting with ace directors like Vetri Maaran and Aanand L Rai and his emergent image as a global star
It's a surreal experience walking down an IKEA store, the feeling of drifting through an endless wasteland stripped down to the sole lifeforce of urban existence: retail furniture. The strange and beguiling premise of French writer Romain Puertolas’s bestselling novel — about an Indian con man trapped inside an IKEA wardrobe in Paris — results in a stranger cross-cultural mashup in Ken Scott’s new film, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir. The Hollywood production stars Dhanush as the male lead—an inspired casting choice, given the centrality of the actor among the emergent crop of, for lack of a worthier phrase, ‘Pan-Indian’ stars.
First came the outrageously popular Why This Kolaveri Di, an irrepressible earworm from the soundtrack of 3 (2012) which became the first Indian video to cross 100 million views on YouTube. This was followed by his cracking Hindi film debut in Aanand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa. The film’s success went a long way in redefining the perception of South actors across India, as Dhanush’s obsessive Varanasi boy act was embraced universally by fans. 2015 saw the release of Shamitabh, co-starring Amitabh Bachchan, which also marked Dhanush’s production foray into Bollywood, something his banner Wunderbar Films followed up with the Mumbai-set bilingual, Kaala. All of this points to the actor’s ability to expunge linguistic barriers and appeal to the global heart — a quality imperative to a film like The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, which adopts a comical approach to comment on the universal plight of immigrants.
Ahead of the film’s release on June 21, we spoke to Dhanush about venturing onto a world stage, his thoughts on cinema’s role in rendering empathy, the rise of the Pan-Indian genre and his much-awaited comeback to Bollywood.
Excerpts from a conversation…
After establishing yourself in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi cinema, was Hollywood the next logical step for you?
It just happened, just like Raanjhanaa happened. This film found me. I feel happy and fortunate to have been a part of a project that spreads happiness and deals with a lot of goodness. The script had a lot of heart and the film is all about spreading positivity.
Did you learn any magic tricks for the part?
They made me learn a few tricks. They are actually pretty simple. It's all right there, you just don't see it. When I learned these tricks, I went, ‘Wait, that's it?’ It was a fascinating experience learning about magic.
How different is the Hollywood approach to filmmaking from Bollywood or Kollywood?
The basics of it are the same, but the way they plan things ahead is something we can take note of. We need to understand how much money we can save by planning it from before. That was something I learned from this project. I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of actors from other countries. It was a great experience, overall.
We caught a glimpse of Oscar-nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) in the trailer. How was the experience working with him?
He’s a great person, full of life. He’s a good performer and I had an amazing time sharing screen-space with him. We have done some wonderful scenes together.
Amit Trivedi has composed the film’s soundtrack. We know you have been a fan of his work…
Just like the script, the music of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is endearing. I really like the work Amit has done for the film, especially the song for the rolling titles, which is beautiful. I think he is a brilliant composer.
The subtext of this film is about immigration. It's a pressing issue worldwide. Do you think this film will encourage people to be more empathetic?
Definitely. The way this topic has been dealt with is beautiful and optimistic. It's what I liked the most about this story. It will really help people to connect and relate with issues.
What are your thoughts on recent films like Baahubaali, 2.0 and KGF, helping break linguistic barriers?
It's a healthy change. There's more exposure now. The world has shrunk because of digital platforms. Talents are being noticed everywhere. It will help our industry a lot. We could use some help right now. We need more theatre-growing audiences, which is becoming a challenge with online platforms in place. So the need for markets to widen and new territories to explode has become a necessity.
There’s speculation that you have shut down your production company. Any truth to that?
No, not at all.
Tell us about your upcoming films — Asuran with Vetri Maaran and the untitled project with Kodi director RS Durai Senthilkumar.
I am enjoying the challenge of Asuran. It's one project I am personally really looking forward to. We are in the finishing stages of the film. We are halfway through on my project with RS Durai. We will be resuming next month.
And your second directorial venture after Pa Paandi?
That's happening next year. It's way too early to talk about it.
You recently announced your reunion with Aanand L Rai. How soon can your Bollywood fans see you back?
Very, very soon.