Delhi Ganesh: Kamal Haasan films brought me the most recognition
Delhi Ganesh talks about his recent release Navarasa, his acting process, and his inspirations
Vasanth’s Payasam is touted to be the best in the Navarasa anthology, and part of the credit must, no doubt, go to Delhi Ganesh, who pulled off an incredible performance as an envious old man, dejected with life. In this conversation with us, the veteran discusses his acting process, his films with Kamal Haasan, his observation of contemporary cinema, and more.
At 77, has a sense of fatigue set in when you consider acting and cinema?
(Laughs) I can never feel tired of acting! Adhu oru anandham. What is actually overwhelming—particularly about Payasam—is the number of calls I have been getting from people. Appreciation has been pouring in from across the world through Facebook, Whatsapp, and what not. I haven’t received such a huge response for my other performances. In the face of such love, I must not feel tired. Sandhosham thaan.
In Payasam, you were perfect as the unnamed protagonist who is consumed by jealousy. Where do you draw inspiration to bring about the nuances you did playing this character?
I come from a village and the people there are pretty expressive and raw. Some are angry all the time, and there are, of course, altruists too. I grew up watching them all. So, I think that’s where I get all my emotions from. My father and grandfather were also unique personalities. They have a huge influence on how I talk and dress up.
But not everyone who sees is observing. There's a hilarious YouTube video of you narrating an everyday event in your household. You were able to bring out comedy even from such a mundane event...
True. However, one shouldn’t be always on the lookout to make fun out of everything. Comedy doesn’t work that way. There should be something innately funny about something to get a laugh out of it, and a lot of it also depends on the listeners. It’s all about spontaneity.
Would you then say that your first take for a shot is the best because it is ‘more spontaneous’?
Definitely! There is nothing called improvisation. Many directors tell me, “First shot okay sir. We will just try one more.” The first take always ends up making it to the final cut.
You have played only a few grey or bad guy roles despite being good in such characters in films like Apoorva Sagodharagal…
Apoorva Sagodhargal got me great response, and no one asked me why I was taking up such negative characters. However, when I played a pucca villain in Radhika Sarathkumar’s TV serial, Chellame, it didn’t go down well with people. Wherever I went, fans expressed dissatisfaction with me being the bad guy. Even in Tirupati temple, a priest told me, “If money is what you are after, we will give it to you. Please don’t do such roles.” Cho (Ramaswamy) wrote an article wondering why I was taking up such roles. That’s when I decided to avoid such offers.
Why did you make an exception with Payasam then?
With Payasam, director Vasanth Sai didn’t even tell me the story. I knew it was based on the story of prolific writer Thi Janakiraman. Only as I was shooting did I realise the nature of the role. However, I don’t think he is a bad guy. I learnt from readers that even Janakiraman had written it in such a way so as to draw empathy for the character. That’s how I also feel about him. In one scene, he tells his wife about his daughter losing her husband soon after marriage. Even without glycerin, I teared up. I cried again seeing the scene later. Vasanth told me, “Enna sir. I was trying to make this guy look bad, but you just transformed the whole tone of the scene with your performance.”
Many renowned actors, including you, come from a theatre background…
I see where you are going with the question. I don’t think that theatre experience alone makes one a great film actor. Amitabh Bachchan didn’t have a theatre background, neither did Rajesh Khanna. Our own Gemini Ganesan didn’t do theatre either. Even my fellow theatre artists didn't make it to cinema. Good actors can emerge from anywhere.
As someone who has been part of the industry for decades, what’s your take on contemporary cinema?
Politics seems to have become a predominant theme these days. There are many films on caste politics as well. I am not sure whether such cinema solves the problem or makes things worse. For me, cinema is just entertainment. Kappalottiya Thamizhan was made in 1961, but ask any youngsters now if they know about VO Chidambaram Pillai (Va Voo Cee). Such cinema never sticks. On the other hand, people will still talk about Vijay’s dance and Kamal Haasan’s performances for years.
Any favourites among the roles you have done so far?
I am fond of all the films I have done with Kamal Haasan; I think they fetched me the most recognition. Avvai Shanmughi, Thenali, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, and Apoorva Sagodharargal are some films that come to mind. Kamal gives a lot of space to actors, and he trusts you. That makes all the difference.
Lastly, there is a lot of discussion about the acting process these days. What’s yours?
I don’t have anything really. I view acting to be something spontaneous. It should be organic. For example, in Nayagan, there is a scene where Velu Naicker comes to meet me at the hospital. I tell him, “Naan sollala, Naickerae. Evlo adichaanga, appovum sollala.” Then he goes, “Udamba paathukonga.” That’s the end of the scene, but during rehearsals, I added, “Naa poraen. Naa irundhu enna panna poraen. Nee nalla irukkanum, Naickerae.” Kamal was moved. He told Mani Ratnam to retain it. That is spontaneity.