Dhanush On Making His International Debut And Adapting To The Western Approach To Comedy

The Vaathi actor on the importance of good content, the challenges of acting in English, and why the Indian film industry is at a time of transition
Dhanush On Making His International Debut And Adapting To The Western Approach To Comedy

Actor-filmmaker Dhanush is careful with his words, ensuring he takes a moment to ponder every question before offering an answer. In his latest film, The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir, the actor makes his international debut. From Canadian director Ken Scott (Delivery Man, Unfinished Business), the film is based on Romain Puertola's book The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe about an Indian street magician's inadvertent journey across Europe. Scott's film offers a star cast of acclaimed actors from around the world including Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and Bérénice Bejo (The Artist).

At a press event for the film, the soft-spoken actor talked about the importance of good content, the challenges of acting in English, and why the Indian film industry is at a time of transition.

Edited Excerpts:

Do you feel Indian audiences are receptive to seeing their favourite stars playing a different kind of role and speaking a different language in an international film like this?

I feel good content will be accepted by all audiences around the world. Whether it's an Indian actor in an international film or international actor in an Indian film, it doesn't matter. It's the content that counts. If they like the film, they'll watch it. It's that simple.

There's something that still feels strange when Indian actors perform in English. Did it feel strange?

Not really. It's not my thinking language so that was a bit awkward in the beginning. It took a day or two to get used to. But after that, it was fine, I was there.

This film has acclaimed actors from around the world. Do you feel like that's the future of movies – a film that's made by people coming together from different industries?

It's good it's going there. It's going to widen your market, it's going to lessen your burden. Especially with digital platforms now dominating entertainment, the world is shrinking, and you're being noticed everywhere. So talents from across the globe coming together to make a film does look like the future. And it's healthy.

Is it liberating to work on a project where they are less familiar with your stardom and it's more about the acting?

Actually, I don't think so much. I keep my mind as empty as possible. I walk onto a set having only my scene in my mind. I try to do justice to the part that I'm playing with my limited knowledge. Part of being an actor is to filter out all those thoughts and focus on the role, so that's what I try and do and, at least in my head I've been successful in doing that.

Your director Ken Scott is known for his work in comedy films. This film, The Fakir is also in the comedy space. Did you find the Western approach to comedy different as compared to ours?

It's too subtle. Very subtle. To an extent where you wonder, 'why are they laughing'? We are a little more expressive but theirs is too subtle. That is the big difference. There were some things that, even when they were explained, I didn't understand. But when I was at the Premiere in Paris, people were really laughing at those same tiny things and that's when I realised they worked. It's that subtle that you don't even notice it.

There's this notion right now that spectacle is the future of the theatrical experience and our focus on family dramas and love stories just isn't enough for the big screen. Would you agree?

I'm not going to say no. Yes, there is that thought being very strongly spread among filmmakers in the nation. Everybody is definitely trying to make a film in every language, the multilingual. But again, family dramas are also working really well. I basically feel it's the content. Content is the king. Badhaai Ho, for example, worked beautifully.

I wish I had brains to figure out what works and what doesn't because nobody knows. But good content always works. Family drama also works and big spectacle also works. But for the theatre-going audience, your right in the future is going to need an Avengers, a big franchise, 3d films, 4d films. It is slowly getting there. But then one family drama comes in does brilliantly and confuses everyone. So, we just have to wait. I think we're at a transition period, we just have to wait and see what happens.

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