MS Bhaskar: I learn acting from even watching people in wine shops
Ahead of the release of Malaysia to Amnesia, his latest collaboration with director Radha Mohan, actor MS Bhaskar talks about his journey with the filmmaker, his acting principles, and more
The minutes before an interview can begin are rather awkward generally. How do you segue from general pleasantries into interview questions? If it’s a video interview, what do you say while both of you are being hooked on to the mics and sound is being checked? These days, the easiest icebreaker is to ask if they are feeling okay. Actor MS Bhaskar’s immediate response was to ask if I was vaccinated. Having just returned from my first dose, I told him as much, and he replied, “My son too had his first dose just now. The date for your next dose is August 17. Note it down.”
This assertiveness and general care for another’s wellbeing, reminded me of his role in director Radha Mohan’s Mozhi, which won him his first State Award for Best Supporting Actor. In this week’s release, Malaysia to Amnesia, Bhaskar is collaborating with Radha Mohan for the seventh time. “While working with him for the first time in Azhagiya Theeye, I was astounded by his knowledge and humility. He also enjoyed my acting abilities a lot. Our friendship started there, and over the years, we have developed a wonderful working relationship too. He is a calm person who has mastered the art of extracting work from his actors without resorting to anger or force,” says the multifaceted actor, who credits Radha Mohan’s style of narration for bringing out the best in him. “The way he narrates does not just connect with my heart, but makes sure that the nuances seep into every cell of my body.”
Bhaskar asserts that Mannargudi Narayanan, his character in Malaysia to Amnesia, is a role that has many layers and surprise factors. “That is why I can’t divulge more details about the role. It was a jolly unit with a lot of fun, respect, and camaraderie all around. Vani Bhojan called me appa, the kid on the set called me thatha, and I had similarly warm experiences with Vaibhav and Karunakaran as well. People across age groups can enjoy every facet of this film,” says Bhaskar, adding that the film offered him a role he has always yearned for. “I have always wanted to play such a role in my career. In fact, I am getting a lot of such opportunities now, but the lockdown has put everything on hold.”
In some ways, the lockdown also served to facilitate Bhaskar’s return to the small screen, albeit in a different format. The actor, who became a household name with his role as Pattabhi in the hit comedy serial, Chinna Paapa Periya Paapa, recently made his debut in the digital space with Amazon Prime Video’s Putham Pudhu Kaalai. And now, he is already gearing up for his second OTT release, to be streamed on Zee5. While, on one hand, there is criticism that OTT content is not exactly family-friendly, on the other hand, we have someone like Bhaskar participating in it—an actor, who is strict about staying away from double entendres and abusive language. “Kannadasan wrote ‘Oruvarin thudipinile vilaivadhu kavidhaiya da, iruvarin thudippinile vilaivadhu mazhalaiya da’. This is also sex... but look how beautifully he says it. Right from the time of Chinna Paapa Periya Paapa, I was forthright about not telling double-meaning jokes. Over the years, filmmakers have known not to approach me with such roles. For me, regardless of the medium, the job of an actor is ultimately about understanding a character and delivering your best.”
Another facet of Bhaskar’s stellar career has been his grasp of the language and the various dialects he delivers dialogues in. He shows discernible enthusiasm when I ask about his voice modulation in the recent GV Prakash film, Vanakkam Da Mappilei. “I am a keen observer of human behaviour. Right from voice and body language to mannerisms, I try to make mental notes. It is important for an actor to seek inspiration from everywhere,” he says. “One of the best places to grasp such lessons is a wine shop. I have seen people cry without tears, laugh without reason... As an actor, it is important to mingle with people, and understand how they behave.” Now that he is a popular face, does he still partake in such exercises? “Absolutely. Sivaji (Ganesan) appa did it until he breathed his last. Kalaignar (Former CM Karunanidhi) appa sought knowledge always. Even now, if I have doubts in Tamil, I talk to Solomon Papaiya, professor Gnanasambandham, Nellai Suha, etc… When in doubt, it is important to reach out to those who know better. An actor, or rather, a person should not prioritise ego when having to reach out and learn new things.”
A stand-out aspect of his interviews is his love for the Tamil language and a never-ending thirst for knowledge. “It isn’t enough to read the right things; we must also use it at the right time. As an actor, I try to use my knowledge to enhance my role and the director’s vision. It is the least I can do to an artform that has given me everything,” says Bhaskar, who remains cautious about not getting carried away by fame and adulation. “Some might like Mozhi, some might like Engal Anna, and some others might like 8 Thottakkal. I am just thankful to all those filmmakers for devising such varied roles and giving me the opportunity to play them. Ellaa pugazhum iyakkunarukke…” he says and turns this interview suddenly into a different trajectory. “We can’t really leave the Earth a moment earlier or later than we are destined to. But what we can do is to be safe as long as we are here. Also, don’t forget the date of your second dose...” he signs off, leaving me flashing a wide, grateful smile.