I Couldn’t Watch Manmadhan Because I Was In School Uniform: Ashok Selvan, Film Companion

Awaiting the release of Manmatha Leelai, Actor Ashok Selvan talks about choosing an adult comedy, the awkwardness of acting in intimate scenes, and working with Venkat Prabhu.

Edited Excerpts Below:

Let me start with a very deep philosophical question. Tell me about your first gilma movie experience.

I think little gilma was Manmadhan, to be honest. I think we were in the ninth standard. So I remember going to Devi and they didn’t allow us. Like fools, we went in uniform. So we had to go again the next day in other clothes and then we went in. Maybe, not fully gilma but something like it. And I still remember there was this film called See You at Night. I don’t know if you remember. It was also a little gilma. 

As an actor, when you get a script like Manmatha Leelai, even if you say yes because it’s a Venkat Prabhu film, is it a little complicated to decide on going ahead and doing a film like this?

To be very honest, I didn’t think like it while deciding or doing. Only when the trailer came out and people started reacting, I’m like, “Oh, so this is a little gilma.” I didn’t realise, to be very honest. I thought the script demanded the kiss.

It’s a humorous light-hearted take on an extra-marital affair in the life of a guy who’s growing up, who wants to experiment with, kind of, explore his adulthood. I didn’t realise it’s gonna be like this. I didn’t realise even while kissing because I knew the script demands it. It’s not “Okay, let’s have a kiss scene so that the trailer hits one million.” It’s not like that. 

And clearly, it’s directed by an experienced director, Venkat Prabhu sir. So I really didn’t think of it. Only when the trailer came out, people started reacting, “How can you have a kiss scene” and everything like that. In my mind, I thought we have gone past it and only when they reacted, I realised I’m still in that ninth standard level. Which is fifteen years back, we’ve not moved ahead. 

And for people saying you’re spoiling the kids, I really don’t know what to tell them. Please go talk to your kids, they’re way ahead. When I talk to fifteen-year-olds and fourteen-year-olds now, they’re so intelligent and they’re more sorted. They know this is this and when something happens they say it out loud, they voice it out loud. My nephew is six-years-old, and he tells me things I think I would’ve only known when I was eighteen or nineteen. I think if you think the Manmadha Leelai kiss is going to spoil your kids, then you need to really have a reality check. 

You’ve mentioned how Venkat Prabhu is a big reason you decided to do this film. As an actor, does that mean if a new director or a first-timer pitches you a script like this, it becomes more complicated because you don’t know the guy?

Yes, only because they’re going to pitch me a script like this which is a little sensitive. I knew that Venkat Prabhu won’t treat it in a very crass way because he has a reputation to keep and I love all his films, and I’m a fanboy. Chennai 600028 is an emotion to me. 

You know, when we finished the twelfth standard, when we were just leaving and talking to friends saying, when are we gonna meet again. And we went into that film, which talks about friendship and we all cried and came out. So it’s an emotion to me. 

If a newcomer is gonna come with a script like this to me, definitely, I’m not saying I won’t do it. But I’ll scrutinise it more and I’ll be a little worried while shooting it. I won’t have this confidence. I was fully confident because of Venkat Prabhu sir. That’s why I’m saying, even while shooting I wasn’t thinking “Oh people will react, oh I’m doing a kissing scene”, nothing. The main reason is that I trusted Venkat Prabhu sir.

Generally, when people talk about kissing in films, it’s about the final product on screen. But on the sets, it’s so awkward, you hardly know the person you’re kissing and you barely know the hundred people on the crew who are watching. So, as an actor what’s going through in your mind. Is it only the acting technique? 

Ashok Selvan: Yes, It’s all about technicality. Even my friends say, “macha, vazhra da…rendu peru!” I wish I could tell them, please come or at least be at home, ask somebody to say action and then kiss. Let’s see how it feels. Because, like you said, at least this is a small crew, comparatively. There were at least 50 people around me when the kiss happened and all the heroines I only knew from the set. 

So, like you said, we met there, ‘hi hello how are you, let’s have a kissing scene’. Then there’s somebody holding the thermocol downstairs, there’s somebody holding the light and there’s a cameraman. There’s a focus puller looking at you. You have to take the mark or else you’ll cut the light. And sometimes when you’re kissing the hair comes to the face and you have to take it, naturally, make it look like you’re putting it over the ear. 

Not every kiss, but sometimes the director also is commenting saying “Move right, move left…” sometimes it happens. See, that’s what they say about acting also, you have to memorise all your lines so much so that you have to convince the people that you forgot them and you’re just saying them on the spot. This is something like that. 

There are so many technicalities but while watching the audience shouldn’t feel the technicalities, you have to make it so natural. And obviously, there’ll be takes. People keep asking me in the promotions and the press release, how many takes did I take. Obviously, some takes we took, I don’t count. But yeah, I wouldn’t say, it’s very difficult, I’m not gonna mask it like that. All I can say is that I enjoyed it just like any other scene I enjoyed.

Even with emotional scenes, I really enjoyed doing it. So it’s just like any other scene. Maybe it’s a little more awkward. Sometimes when the other person is not so comfortable, it becomes a little awkward. But otherwise, it’s like any other scene. 

This is your first adult film right?

Yeah

So, they always ask heroines this question – Does this mean that you’re open to glamorous roles in the future?

Define glamorous

I don’t know. Whatever they mean when they ask heroines this question.

Why not. Glamorous, anything. If it excites me, I’m up for anything. I remember one acting teacher telling me, you have to be really naked if you want to be an actor. You have to shed it all. And I’m in that process. I’m not saying I’m there yet but I’m in that process. If there’s something exciting and if it’s gonna scare me, it’ll happen. That would really make me think, if you fear it, you have to do it.

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