Interviewer & Text: Jyothsna | Camera: Hemananth.B
He stole the heart of Trisha as Joginder Singh in Abhiyum Naanum and went on to become the trusted and efficient ATS officer Arif Khan working for Mohanlal in Unnai Pol Oruvan. The Tamil boy settled in Mumbai is out on a mission to conquer the tinsel town in south. Meet Ganesh Venkatraman, winner of Gladrags Mr. India 2003 and India’s representative in Mr. World 2004 contest and the latest heartthrob in a friendly tête-à-tête with our Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
 
 


BW:
Your journey into the glamour world

Ganesh Venkatraman: I was born and raised in Mumbai and if there are any shortfalls in my Tamil, please forgive me. I am very eager to learn Tamil and I always try to speak in Tamil.

I came into this field after winning Gladrags Mr. India contest in 2003. I had an opportunity to represent India in Mr. World contest in 2004. That was the beginning of my journey into the glamour field. While I was in Mumbai, I did many television serials, commercials and theatre too. I always nurtured an ambition to work in Tamil films. I started my Kollywood trip through Abhiyum Naanum directed by Radha Mohan. Later I got the golden opportunity to star in the recently released Unnai Pol Oruvan with Kamal sir and Mohanlal sir. This is my journey into the industry so far and I hope to obtain a permanent place in the hearts of Tamil audience.

Can you say something about Angrez?


Angrez is a cross over Hindi-English film which was shot in Hyderabad. It is about two men coming from US to work in a call centre in Hyderabad and the comedy of errors which follows across comedy of cultures. The film was completely in Hyderabadi language. It was very interesting as it was my first venture into film acting. When I saw the response of the audience, I knew that this is the place for me. I realized cinema is my calling and took my next step towards that direction.

" Cinema is my calling "


How did Abhiyum Naanum happen?

" There were around

500 people waiting

to be Trisha’s hero "


I wanted to enter Tamil film industry and was waiting for the right opportunity. I had earlier seen Radha Mohan’s Mozhi which had left a deep impact in my mind. I felt it would be a career defining move if I were to work under such a director. Luckily for me, around that time, the crew of Abhium Naanum comprising of director Radha Mohan, Prakash Raj sir and cinematographer Preetha had come to Mumbai and they were scouting for a new

face opposite Trisha. When I went to meet them at the hotel there were around 500 people waiting to be Trisha’s hero. When I met him after an hour’s wait he described about this character which was inspired by Dr Manmohan Singh and is almost a younger version of him, an economist, a journalist, working in Delhi in Prime Minister’s office who is doing service to people. Basically a young man with good qualities! I completely identified with the role and informed the director it would be a challenging one for me. He updated me that it is the first time that a sardarji will be shown as the love interest of the heroine. I was game for it but could sense an apprehension and hesitation in Radha Mohan’s eyes.

How did you bag the role then?

I did not sleep that night conjuring ways to convince the director. The next morning I took the help of a make-up artist, dressed myself as a sardar with pagadi, kurta pyjama, beard, kada and also learnt a few basic common phrases in Punjabi and met the director. Luckily for me the entire team along with the director was at the hotel lobby. I straight away went to Radha Mohan and said, ‘oye, sathsri akal paaji, kee haal hai? Mai malkith singh hoon. Dillie se aaya hoon”. He was shocked and did not know who it was and believed me to be a real sardarji. Afterwards I revealed my true identity. Radha Mohan is a person who does not smile when he is seriously engrossed in his work. But my actions brought a smile to his face. However he said that he was greatly impressed with my home work but would let me know later. And that ‘let you know’ was not too far off and I got the confirmation in a couple of days. I joined the crew in Ooty after three months.

What was the homework that you did for Abhiyum Naanum?

I grew beard and maintained it for six months. I did not have any direct experience with sardarjis till this film happened. Hence I went to Gurudwaras and observed them and their body language. I learnt their culture and the way they celebrate their festivals. Not only that, I used to watch Dr Manmohan Singh’s TV clippings to find out how an economist would behave and observed that an economist is very subtle, terse and is very dignified. I imbibed these qualities which helped me to deliver my role in the film.


About Trisha

Trisha and I are good friends. But the first time I met her was at the sets of Abhiyum Naanum. She is a great human being. She never made me feel that she is a superstar and I am just a debutant actor. What helped us break common ground was both of us started our

" I am close to

Trisha’s family as well "

careers in the modeling field. She was Miss Chennai and I was Mr. India before our films and hence could identify the transition from modeling to cinema. We used to discuss a lot of cinema on and off the sets. She would talk about her journey into the film world. Our combination scenes were very cute and realistic and we used to practice before the shot. We used to plan our shots and song sequences. During the entire shooting time at Munnar and Ooty, we were like one single family interacting with each other. I am close to Trisha’s family as well. They have been very supportive and are very happy about the way my career is shaping up especially after Unnai Pol Oruvan. I certainly cherish such friendships.

" Prakash Raj is my mentor "


How was your interaction with Prakash Raj?

He is a very talented actor and there is so much to learn from this national award winner. It was an emotional moment when I called him to congratulate on his feat. Prakash Raj is my mentor in many ways. It was through

his banner that I was introduced and he is always there when I need some advice. I don’t have a filmi background and I have called Radha Mohan and Prakash Raj on many occasions and sought their advice. Hats off to Prakash Raj for the variety and diverse roles that he has played and it is amazing to work with him!

Has Kannada Abhiyum Naanum begun?

No, Not yet. It will happen sometime at the end of this year.

How did Unnai Pol Oruvan happen?

I had seen ‘A Wednesday’ and it had left a deep impact in me. Jimmy Shergill had played my role in Hindi and he has done a good job. When I was shooting for Akashamantha, the Telugu remake of Abhiyum Naanum, I heard that they were looking for an artist for Jimmy’s role in the Tamil and Telugu remake. I knew there were Kamal, Mohanlal and Venkatesh. I also understood that many big names were considered for my role. I immediately called up Rajkamal office and to my pleasant surprise learnt that I was being considered thanks to my performance as a sardar in Abhiyum Naanum. I met Chakri sir for whom this is his first film and I could see the same passion and energy of young actors aspiring to prove. I also realized that to be working with two stalwarts of the Indian film industry Kamal and Mohanlal itself was a great opportunity and I immediately expressed my desire to work in the film.


When were you selected?

Later, on my own, I did a photoshoot with my hair cut short and with the right kind of body language of a police officer in civilian clothes and sent them to Chakri sir who was in the US then. After receiving the pictures,

" Ganesh, you are my man "

he called me and said, “Ganesh, you are my man”. He also said that although I was one of the prime contenders for the role, the pictures made his choice easier. He asked me to undergo some kind of training for my role. I went to Pune for a week of training. There I underwent hand to hand combat, obstacle training and rifle shooting. I learnt the body language of police officers and spoke to young cadets. Arif Khan, the role I play in Unnai Pol Oruvan is an Anti Terrorist Squad Officer and I wanted some details about this department. Mr. Sukhwinder Singh, the Additional Commissioner of Police-Anti Terrorism Wing in Mumbai came to my help and I got some useful information through him. I learnt about their specialized training which includes methods of interrogation, encounters and also their tactical and strategic training. I am extremely thankful to him. I believe that all my hard work and effort has translated to a certain extent on to the screen. It has been a good journey so far and I have enjoyed the process.

" Kamal sir knows

no boundaries or limits "


About Kamal

Kamal sir! What can I say about him? He has been my idol since my childhood. I have seen each of his films at least four to five times. And each film has left a deep impact in me, be it Indian with a patriotic message or a comedy flick like Michel Madana Kama Rajan. There is

no actor like Kamal Haasan in the world. Kamal knows no boundaries or limits. He has excelled in acting, direction, script writing, dancing, music and many other things that we can keep our finger on. For this reason alone, he remains the inspiration for all the youngsters who has a passion for cinema. When there was a debate on whether red one camera was good or not, he was the one who thought it was right and went ahead and bought it. He has always been the pioneer and I salute him for that. Not only that, Kamal as a producer and director has introduced many fresh talents in the industry. For me doing Unnai Pol Oruvan with Kamal sir has been a major step in my career and is a big notch upwards also. I have only to thank him for this.

How did Kamal help you during the shoot?

He was there during the shooting of my introductory scene and paused whenever it was necessary. The scene required me to suddenly give a punch to the accused under interrogation. Kamal sir showed me different types of punches and its impact. That itself was a repository of information for me. Through out the shoot, he gave valuable suggestions. He explained to us about the body language of police officers. He ensured that we use the actual guns. Of course the bullets were not original. He went up to the extent of ordering a real bullet proof jacket and then stitched similar ones for us. He is a perfectionist and has an eye for details.


Mohanlal

He is one of my favorites. He is such a realistic and natural actor. I have seen many of his films. I liked him especially in Tanmathra where he plays an Alzheimer patient. I think he was brilliant in it. I had many combination scenes in UPO with him. It was very

" Mohanlal is a cool

and chilled out actor "

interesting working with him. Mohanlal is a cool and chilled out actor when the camera is off. It is amazing to watch him switch on and switch off just like that in front of the camera. Even when I was not shooting, I used to watch his performance in monitor. I learnt many things just by observing him. I hope to do many more films with him in future.

" Shruthi is going to

bring in a new flavor

to Tamil cinema "


Did you speak in UPO?

No I did not dub for myself in UPO. But I am confident that in my next film, I will dub for myself.

Shruthi Hassan’s music

Her background score in Unnai Pol Oruvan was brilliant. Shruthi is going to bring in a new flavor to Tamil cinema. She has a great future and there is no stopping her. She is a rock star.


Your looks are alien to Tamil Nadu. How do you counter that?


I am an actor and my job is to play the character that is offered to me and to surrender myself to the director. I pay attention only to these factors and not other issues. Many people have told me this before entering the field. But it never deterred me. I did Abhiyum Naanum, Unnai Pol Oruvan and I have many good offers now. As far as I am concerned I want to work with directors who would mould me into a better actor. I am confident that I can play varied roles. I have faith in that.

" I am confident that

I can play varied roles "

" Tamil cinema

will always hold

a special place

in my heart "


Will you be doing other language films also?

Tamil films are definitely on my priority list as it has given me so much. In my first two films itself I have worked with the stalwarts of the industry. The learning curve as an actor has been great for me. It was always my dream to earn a name for me in Tamil cinema and as an actor I definitely want to diversify as well. In future if I get offers from Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam or Hindi, I would definitely explore. However Tamil cinema will always hold a special place in my heart.


What are your future projects?

Unnai Pol Oruvan is released now and I am in no tearing hurry to sign films. I am listening to scripts. I would very soon choose a good script which would justify my being there in it. I feel, as an actor, the journey is important.

Your theatre experience?

I did theatre in Mumbai. I worked with Reeta Ganguly, former Principal of National School of Dramatics. I have done many plays and attended many workshops on acting. These things have helped me. You get the experience of working with many artists on stage that your repertoire as an actor enhances. Theatre experience is helping me in films now.

How is your family supporting you in your endeavors?


My parents are the most important people in my life. They are the pillars of my strength and are my emotional support. It feels great to see them smile. It is tough on a non-filmi family to see their child taking the plunge into the glamour world because everybody has pre-conceived notions about this line. They have supported me without even asking a single question and I salute them and love them deeply for that. I am happy to give back to them especially to my mom who is a great fan of Kamal sir. She is happy to see her son working with Kamal and I am happy to see her happy.

" My parents are

the most important people

in my life "


Your favorite heroes?

There are many. Kamal tops the list. I love superstar Rajni, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan and many Hollywood actors. These are people who are highly passionate about cinema and that’s what I like in them. I try to inculcate that passion within me as passion brings the best from an actor.

Favorite heroines?

The list is endless but I always like Sridevi. She has an excellent repertoire as an actor. She could be bubbly, serious, comical, melancholic and any shade of emotion you name. She was wonderful. From the current crop, I like Asin and Trisha. They are very good.

Your role model?

There are many. I admire Kamal for his passion for cinema and his efforts for excellence. Outside cinema, I like Dr Abdul Kalam for his contribution to society. There are many people who inspire me. It is difficult to mention just one or two.

How was the experience of watching UPO along with audience?

It was fantastic. We went to many theatres in Chennai to know about audience feedback which has been awesome. They all loved the character Arif Khan. The kids and adults have liked the action sequences and the thrilling experience. People have identified the message against terrorism. I am happy that the film is doing so well. I would love to thank all the viewers for their support in making this film a grand success.

You have an increasing women fan base. How do you feel?

It is absolutely flattering to know that. It is a good feeling and I don’t know how to put in words. We, as actors, work hard to do our job and at the end of the day when we get love and appreciation, it is a humbling experience. I definitely feel humbled. I look forward to their continuous support in future as well.

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