Breaking new grounds
British actor Daniel Caltagirone speaks about his association with Pa Ranjith, sharing screen space with Vikram, and more
Pa Ranjith’s Thangalaan shooting is happening at a brisk pace, and the details of the cast, which includes names like Vikram, Parvathy, Pasupathy, and Malavika Mohanan, have already created quite the hype for the project. The latest to join this stellar cast list is English actor Daniel Caltagirone. Known for his roles in Hollywood films like Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and The Pianist, the actor will be making his Indian debut with the upcoming period drama.
Recalling how he became part of Thangalaan, Daniel says that it started with a call from his agent in October 2022. "I thought it was for a Hollywood film being shot in India, but they informed me that it will be a direct Indian film," says Daniel, who also assumed that it would be a 'Bollywood' film, which is a commonly used but misinterpreted umbrella term given to Indian cinema in the West. "But my agent clarified that it will be a Tamil film. I had the script sent over and was struck by its epic scale. I came to know about Pa Ranjith’s work of being a social commentator too. It wasn’t any other Bollywood film or musical,” says Daniel. In fact, the actor did his research about Ranjith and even saw Sarpatta Parambarai. "I was impressed with how Ranjith's films dealt with rooted and local subjects with Western aesthetics."
When asked what made him say yes to Thangalaan, Daniel asserts that it was Ranjith's vision to cast a British actor as a co-lead and not just another character. “If you take the case of RRR, you can see the kind of roles British actors are cast in. It is the typical evil Englishman with over-the-top acting. That's the common portrayal. But Thangalaan was different,” he adds. Shining light on his character that has clearly impressed him so much, Daniel says, “Ranjith was excited when he found out that I was in the military because my character too has a military past. But the character is also someone who does not fit into British society. I shared my perception about how Englishmen are portrayed and Ranjith was accommodative enough to take my input. Even with English, I have tried to use the heightened pronunciation common in the 1800s.”
Just like how he pointed out the clichéd roles for English actors, working in Thangalaan helped him break a few stereotypes about India. With Thangalaan, Daniel understood India’s heterogeneity, and how every Indian doesn't speak Hindi. “In the West, we don't really have an idea about other industries in Indian cinema. When Hollywood labels RRR as a Bollywood film, I feel it’s like an insult to those associated with that particular industry,” he adds.
Reiterating his self-awareness, Daniel takes a rather interesting route to talk about his takeaway from Thangalaan. “There have been empires all time and they have got a legacy. But on the flip side, there has been bloodshed as well. I think every empire will also have a downfall. We had an empire of filmmaking in the West and I think my takeaway is that Indian cinema is on the rise and a new empire is in the making.”