'With him by your side, you can even leap from the Bhuj Khalifa knowing that even if you crash land, the journey will be unforgettable.'
On Friday, July 28, Venkatesh Prabhu Kasthuri Raja, popularly known as Dhanush, turns 40.
The four-time National Award-winning actor, producer, director, lyricist and singer is one of the few actors to have breached the North-South divide with his performances in pan-India films, two of which, Raanjhanaa and Atrangi Re, were with Producer-Director Aanand L Rai.
Speaking on what is a special birthday, the film-maker tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, "I met Dhanush as an actor, but 20 percent into the shoot of Raanjhanaa, I lost the actor and gained a brother."
Right from his first shot for Raanjhanaa, all of us knew this man was here to stay
Will Dhanush really turn 40?
(Laughs) I was with him just three months ago and he looked like he would be turning 18 and would finally be able to cast his vote!
Right from his first shot for Raanjhanaa, all of us present, be it my DoP, my writer Himanshu Sharma or even the 500-700 locals crowding the terraces of buildings in Varanasi for a dekko, knew this man was here to stay.
The only credit I can take is that I made the right choice.
Yes, I met Dhanush as an actor, but 20 percent into the shoot of Raanjhanaa, I lost the actor and gained a brother.
We can never be just an actor and a director ever again because that film, one of my life's finest journeys, gave me the most priceless gift in the world.
A younger brother who means the world to me!
I knew only he could understand and bring to the screen the 'ordinariness' of Kundan
I don't know at what point I started seeing Dhanush as Kundan in Raanjhanaa.
It happened after I had met a good many actors from the Hindi film industry.
Finally, it dawned on me that no one other than him could understand and bring to the screen the 'ordinariness' of Kundan.
Yeh aadmi aankhon ko nahin bhata hai, yeh dil ko bhate hai (This man may not be attractive to the eye, but he wins your heart).
The 'ordinary' Kundan is an extraordinary character and a difficult one to cast because it's not easy for a big actor to lose himself in a crowd.
Most actors are so full of themselves that they love the mirror more than people and when you are so in love with yourself, how can you expect anyone to fall in love with you?
For me, 'ordinary' has always been beautiful and I was seeking the real person beneath the layers of make-up.
I found him in Dhanush.
There are very few actors in Indian cinema who know how to 'die'.
When Dhanush is in front of the camera, he ceases to be a star.
He becomes one of us and you fall in love with him.
There are also very few actors in Indian cinema who know how to 'die'.
When it comes to tragedy, very few can do it brilliantly.
But when it's Dhanush, your heart breaks, you choke...
How was I able to reach him? Get his nod?
I call it 'divine intervention'; it was meant to happen.
And I knew from the very first shot that I was working with one of the finest actors in the country.
A talent bomb who could explode anytime!
With him, it's a partnership in storytelling
Dhanush knows exactly why he's doing a film and why you want to tell this story.
He is not just an actor playing a character, he is an equal contributor.
With him, it's a partnership in storytelling.
For me, Raanjhanaa was an important film because I was taking baby steps to becoming a film-maker.
As a director you make a film, as a film-maker you own the film.
It takes guts to take on the challenge, but subconsciously, Dhanush pushed me to go for it.
I don't claim to be a visionary.
I had sought Dhanush out because I wanted to make Raanjhanaa with him, but back in 2013, not many had imagined he would be accepted so widely even in the North.
I remember the Thursday night before the release, within my industry, doubts were expressed about whether taking him had been the right decision.
But there was not an iota of doubt in the audience.
Their verdict was loud and clear on Friday morning itself.
And proved that when it comes to cinema, there are no boundaries really.
If you do something with conviction, you will always find an audience.
Atrangi Re was a bigger challenge but by then, I had got addicted
In 1981, K Balachander made Ek Duuje Ke Liye with Kamal Haasan and Rati Agnihotri, and all of India watched it.
In 2003, I made Raanjhanaa with Dhanush, all of India watched it.
Of course, it took something extraordinary from S S Rajamouli for us to accept that we are one and if you tell a universal story, all of India will watch it.
So, it's time we worked on the story.
Atrangi Re was a bigger challenge than Raanjhanaa but by then, I had got addicted to going out and playing my shots.
Once you discover yourself, it's easier to go with your gut instinct knowing that there is an audience out there which, while they want you to entertain them, is also looking for surprises in the stories you tell.
These stories don't have to be in the regular space, they can go off the tangent, but they should be real.
At times, you succeed with a Raanjhanaa or a Tanu Weds Manu.
At times, you are a Zero.
But as long as you are going ahead with every film, it's a positive sign.
As long as you are doing what you are meant to do, you are fine.
Dhanush's youthful vitality comes from the fact that he loves what he's doing
With the passing years I have seen some changes in Dhanush too.
He is a keen learner.
He wants to be challenged every time.
That's a great asset because as he moves from film to film, he's growing in confidence.
He's also becoming a great storyteller and that's why, off and on, like it happens with certain talented actors, you will see him picking up the reins of direction because there are a few stories even he wants to tell.
His energy and youthful vitality is amazingly attractive. When he walks with his sons, they look like three brothers.
I think his youthful vitality comes from the fact that he's a workaholic who loves what he is doing.
We often laugh that he can still pass off as a school boy, but given that he's a mature, intense man, I think mentally, he has crossed that age long ago.
I only approach him if I have something challenging and layered
I have huge respect for Dhanush as an actor.
I know he will never say 'no' to me and that increases my responsibility.
Since he has so much trust in me, I have to make sure I never misuse his talent.
I only approach him if I have something challenging and layered which I know will not bore him.
I've been working very hard towards that and I think I have found it.
My next film as a director will be with Dhanush.
It will be our third film together and I am already delighted at the prospect of being with my kid brother for 80-100 days.
Dhanush gives you wings to fly.
With him by your side, you can even leap from the Bhuj Khalifa knowing that even if you crash land, the journey will be unforgettable.