R Madhavan: We are far behind Hollywood in acting
“We have a long way to go before actors in India can establish themselves in Hollywood,” says R Madhavan, who will be seen making his debut in the west with a full-fledged Hollywood film Night Of The Living Dead.
A remake of the 1968 zombie film, the new version is set in the future and has been shot in an advanced 3D format.
Madhavan plays a marine officer, who gets caught up in a zombie attack in New York. The film is due to release next year.
The 43-year-old actor, who had put on a lot of weight due to a knee injury, is undergoing a serious fitness regime and built up some muscle.
In a long conversation with Sonil Dedhia, Madhavan talks about his experience of working in his first Hollywood venture and why he thinks Hollywood is looking to cast more established actors from India.
The last time we met you were undergoing treatment for your knee. How are you feeling now?
I had an issue with my knee which is called Chondromalacia. I was very irresponsible and never took care of my health.
I am a very lazy person and do something only when it is required. I would go on the sets without doing any warm up exercises and would do all the stunts and dances.
In the process I damaged my knees. I am getting treatment and am much better now.
You seem to have lost a lot of weight. How did you manage to do it?
Just one flop film (referring to Jodi Breakers) is enough to make anyone lose weight (laughs).
It was also because of Farhan Akhtar. He has completely brutalised my mind. He made a physique for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag which is so enviable. I have his photograph in my phone and I flaunt it to my friends in Hollywood. They appreciate it too.
If Farhan can make a physique like this at 40, I can get somewhere close to him at 43. The reason I am bulking up my muscles is because I am doing a bi-lingual film where I am playing a retired boxer.
The film is made by a new director, Sudha, who had earlier assisted Mani Ratnam.
Image: R Madhavan
Photographs: R Madhavan/Twitter
'Today, Indian actors are getting prominent roles in Hollywood films'
Tell us about your Hollywood venture Night of the Living Dead. How did you bag the film?
I was training for my forthcoming film in the USA and simultaneously getting myself treated for my knees when one of my friends who works in the West called and asked me to come down to Los Angeles just to chill and party.
My friend was close to director Simon West and he had told Simon about my work. Simon wanted to meet me and we got along really well.
He offered me the film but I was very curious and asked him why he wanted me to do the film. It so happens that India has become popular in Hollywood.
It’s not because of films like Slumdog Millionaire and Indians playing stupid characters like a nerd or a doctor, but Indian actors are genuinely getting prominent roles in Hollywood films. He did a screen test with me and really liked me in it.
What is your character in the film?
The story is a re-telling of the George A Romero classic The Night of the Living Dead. The film is about a group of survivors fighting to stay alive among the living dead or the zombies in rural Pennsylvania.
I play a US Marine, who loves his wife. The city of New York gets attacked by zombies and he along with a group of people try to survive and fight these zombies.
Image: R Madhavan and Rupali Ganguly in television series Rishtey
'No actor in Hollywood does his own stunts'
Was it intimidating to give your first shot for your debut film in Hollywood, and shed your superstar tag?
Yes, you are absolutely right. It was, in fact, worse than when I started my journey in acting. When I started off I wasn’t even trying to be an actor. It just happened by chance.
This time the cast and crew was told that I have already done 54 films, some of which had been super hits. So there was a lot of hype and expectation created around me.
I was really nervous for my first shot. Simon told me that we will start with an easy scene but I was adamant on doing a difficult scene.
My first scene was an emotional sequence and everybody was happy with the final take. I was very relieved. All of them were unsure about how I would perform. They didn’t realise that crying and yelling is the easiest thing for an Indian actor (laughs).
What was most interesting about doing a Hollywood film?
The most fascinating part for me was that no actor in Hollywood does his own stunts.
I was shooting for an action sequence where I had to run and jump from a small table and land on the floor. As soon as I ran and reached near the table, the director said ‘cut’.
He then told me to start shooting from the other side of the table. I was a little surprised. My agent explained that you cannot do any stunts as the insurance companies don’t allow you to do it. Unless you are a qualified action stuntman one cannot do any stunts.
It’s heart-breaking but all the action that we see in Batman and Superman are not done by these actors.
Would you be satisfied in taking credit for something you haven’t done? In your case you didn’t do the stunts.
The same is done by every actor in Hollywood so I can’t do much about it.
As far as acting is concerned, I think we are far behind from Hollywood. There was a time when I thought we can display emotions and drama really well but if you see their television shows and programmes you would understand that their acting is of a very high level.
There are very few people in our country today who give extraordinary performances. Even our audience has now started accepting that kind of performance like for example, in Tanu Weds Manu, I didn’t do some exceptional acting it was very real.
Image: R Madhavan
Photographs: R Madhavan/Twitter
'The 3D in our film is the most advanced technology used in any Hollywood film'
Night Of The Living Dead boasts of new technologies in filmmaker, what exactly is different here from the other 3D films?
The film was shot in 3D and its been done by the same team who worked on Avatar. But let me tell you this that it is by far the most advanced technology used in any Hollywood film.
It is definitely never been done before, so we are all waiting to see what we end up looking like on screen, but the superior technology has made this a thrilling experience.
It’s difficult to say the experience of shooting for the film in words. All the while we would wear helmets with a camera in front of our face. It was very unusual and tricky. We had to follow the guidelines given so as to give the right shot.
What was the most challenging part to do in the film?
The most challenging part was to shoot with this technology as it was completely new to me.
With this technology, there will be a possibility in the coming years where a director could make a film with Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone where both the actors would look the same age and they wouldn’t have to move out of their house to shoot for the film.
Image: R Madhavan in Jodi Breakers
'Indian actors get much more eyeballs than Hollywood actors do'
Indian actors have been criticised for doing just cameo roles in Western films. Did you think about this before taking up the film?
Yes. Even before signing the film I told Simon that if you are offering me a small role, I am not willing to do it. But he showed me the script and assured me that I was one of the four main leads.
According to Irrfan Khan, there’s no monetary gain for an Indian actor in Hollywood and it’s the experience that matters. Was that the case with you?
I did consider the monetary aspect and my agencies were smart enough to make a contract that I get a little bit of salary, but I get a good share if the film does well.
I think for a film of this budget, that’s the smartest thing to do because you don’t want to increase the budget to a great extent so that the film doesn’t make any money at all. Also I don’t think a film with new actors is going to do some outstanding business. It’s like if Tom Cruise comes to India and wants to make a film here nobody will make an Rs 80 crore film with him. People will tell him first make a Rs 12 crore film a hit and then we will talk.
Why do you think that Hollywood directors are looking to cast more established actors from India?
The reason is that they have suddenly realised that Indian actors get much more eyeballs than Hollywood actors do. So, if they have an Indian actor in their television series for example, it gets watched in Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Africa, South Africa.
If they have Kunal Nayyar or me in a film, they think the downloads on Ipad will quadruple. By merely having Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby the number of people watching the film online or offline increased 25 times.
So that’s where the money is. So now they are including Indians as well as Chinese actors, which is very smart.
Image: Bipasha Basu and R Madhavan in Jodi Breakers
'I don't think Indian stars have the bandwidth to go struggle in Hollywood'
Do you think there is a lot of hype surrounding Indian actors doing films in the West?
I guess it's newsworthy. Unless you become the solo lead in a mainstream commercial Hollywood film you are not a Hollywood hero. Till that happens, it is still throwing a stone in the dark.
We have a long way to go before actors in India can establish themselves in the West. Their market and technology is completely different from ours.
I don't think Indian stars have the bandwidth to go struggle and give screen tests there, leaving everything behind here.
I wouldn't even say that Ben Kingsley is a Hollywood hero.
Are you eyeing a career in Hollywood?
Like I said, it’s just a temptation to do a film in a language that I am comfortable with and an opportunity to work in a story that I find suits me.
In fact, I am dying to do a Tamil film right now. I am feeling some withdrawal symptoms.
Image: R Madhavan in Rehna Hai Tere Dil Main
'Directors today have to be more intelligent than the audience'
You haven’t done an out-and-out romantic film for a long time.
I did Tanu Weds Manu. I also did Jodi Breakers after that. It was a wrong decision because Bipasha is extremely sexy and I was really fat at that time.
I know I have a long innings in this industry but at the same time I also know that I am not that great an actor. I can’t do what Ranbir Kapoor can do. They are people from the film industry while I’m still an outsider.
But I am smart enough to understand what kind of films I can do. I have understood I cannot do films like Jodi Breakers. That song and dance type of romantic film is best for the youngsters.
I am 43 now and I want to do story based films. When I did Tanu Weds Manu nobody had faith in the script. Nobody thought the film would work.
I want to live on such instincts. The only problem in such cases is that it’s difficult to find such scripts.
How do you see Bollywood 10 years from now? Would films like Dabangg still exist?
That will never go. You must understand the personality of the Indian audiences is that they need a larger than life hero. So the days of a Rajinikant or Salman Khan will never go.
But the audience is becoming smarter. They are able to gauge a film from the trailer itself. There’s no need to spoon-feed the audience any more.
The director today has to be more intelligent than the audience.
Sanjay Gupta is planning to revive Alibaug. Your reaction? Does it frustrate you?
Really? I might not be interested in doing it any more. Lot of water under the bridge now.
It was conceived five years ago. I didn’t know it was being revived.
Image: R Madhavan in Tanu Weds Manu