'Kandahar is a very big film'
Ganesh Venkataraman is on a roll.
After his acting debut -- Radhamohan's Abhiyum Naanum, Ganesh got to share screen space with super stars Kamal Haasan and Mohanlal in Unnaipol Oruvan.
Now, he's sharing space with Amitabh Bachchan in the tri-lingual Kandahar (Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil) directed by Major Ravi. The film is inspired by the 1999 IC 814 plane hijacking.
While Mohanlal stars as Major Mahadevan, a character he made memorable in Keerthi Chakra and Kurukshetra, Ganesh Venkataraman plays Captain Suryanath Sharma, an NSG Commando.
The Malayalam version releases today while the Tamil and Hindi versions will release in January.
An excited Ganesh Venkataraman talks about the film and much more. Excerpts:
How do you feel about acting with Amitabh Bachchan and Mohanlal in a Malayalam film?
This is my Malayalam debut and I don't think I could have asked for a better debut than this. I am extremely thrilled.
This is the third story by Major Mahadevan played by Mohanlal Sir but the story is unfolded through the eyes of my character, Suryanath Sharma.
Image: Ganesh Venkataraman in Kandahar
'It is the Major who inspires Suryanath to join the army'
Who is Suryanath Sharma?
He lives with his father Loknath Sharma, that is Amitabhji, in Ooty. My father is a north Indian married to a Malayali played by Sumalathaji.
My father is a retired college principal, a very straight forward person and also a Gandhian. Suryanath, a trained pilot, is jobless as everyone asks for bribe in return for a job, which his father is dead set against. With no job, he whiles away his time picking fights here and there, like a small time goonda.
How do you meet Major Mahadevan?
My character meets Major Mahadevan during one of his fights. Somehow, Suryanath opens up to the Major and his life changes after the meeting. It is the Major who inspires Suryanath to join the army. After passing out, he trains to be a commando. As a commando, he becomes a part of the hijack operation under Major Mahadevan. In the operations, the young man fulfils his father's dream and makes him proud.
Image: Mohanlal and Ganesh Venkataraman in Kandahar
'Acting with Amitji was so easy'
So, Kandahar is basically your story and Major Mahadevan is instrumental in you becoming a man?
Exactly. The film is about how Major Mahadevan works in the mission and how the boy gets to work directly under him. The story is told through Suryanath Sharma and how he makes his father proud.
In which language do you two talk?
It is a mixture of Hindi and Malayalam. Most of Amitji's lines are in Hindi with a few words of Malayalam. My dialogues are mostly in Malayalam with a many words in Hindi and English.
Have you dubbed yourself?
Not in Malayalam. But I will do the dubbing of the Tamil and Hindi versions which will be released in January.
Were you nervous when you were to shoot your first scene with Amitabh Bachchan?
I try to be the character and not myself when in front of the camera but when I had to do the scenes with Amitji, all the bravado vanished. Before the shot, I confided to Lal sir about my nervousness. He told me to leave all the nervousness outside and go inside and give the shot. I did just that.
And, acting with Amitji was so easy. He asked me before the shot, 'What dialogues will you say? From where would you come? Where will you look?' Still, we improvised so much while doing the scenes that they came out very well. The father-son scenes are very good and have come out very natural.
Were most of the shots of Amitabh Bachchan with you?
Yes, most of Amitji's shots were with me. I would also say most of my shots were either with Lal Sir or Amitji and the rest were taken at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun where I underwent army training.
Image: Ganesh Venkataraman and Amitabh Bachchan in Kandahar
'I was the only actor in a large group of real cadets'
Major Ravi said it was Mohanlal who recommended your name. Is he like your godfather?
I would say Lal Sir is my mentor. He is one of the most effortless actors in India today. You can learn a lot by just watching him act. I like his style of acting and I feel I have been privileged to act with him in two films. He is so well read and knowledgeable that we would talk about many subjects whenever we had a break. I had so many questions for him about acting, preparing for a role, etc and he would answer all of them patiently.
The last time when we spoke, you were about to go to Dehradun to shoot. How was it shooting at the Indian Military Academy?
It was an amazing experience. Without Major Ravi Sir, shooting would not have been possible at IMA. We got special permission to shoot with the real cadets at the passing out ceremony. I was the only actor in a large group of real cadets. It was a real wonderful experience.
Even when I started training, I felt like a true army officer. As an actor, I wanted to leave no stone unturned; I wanted to be a real army officer in the film.
Of course, you did a lot of physical training to be a Captain in the army. What kind of mental preparation did you do to be an army officer?
I must thank Major Ravi Sir for that. He shared the experiences of various missions he undertook as an army officer and also as a commando. He was of the opinion that ultimately, everything depends on your mental strength. I learnt from him that if you are mentally strong, you can achieve anything and conquer anything.
I was so passionately involved in everything that I really felt like a soldier.
Image: Ganesh Venkataraman in Kandahar
'I started getting offers when I was shooting for Kandahar itself'
Is your character modelled after Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan?
I would not like to comment on that. I would only say that I have the highest regard and respect for Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. I don't think my character Captian Suryanath Sharma was modelled after any one commando.
How excited are you about the release of Kandahar?
I am thrilled because Kandahar is a very big film. I am excited about my Malayalam debut.
Have you started getting offers in Malayalam?
I started getting offers when I was shooting for Kandahar itself! Right now, I am listening to scripts.
Image: Mohanlal, Amitabh Bachchan and Ganesh Venkataraman