Dhanush talks about what Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds has to do with his production company, how he started out as a reluctant actor, and the kinds of short films he made to teach himself direction, in an interview with Baradwaj Rangan given around the release of his directorial debut, Pa Paandi. Excerpts…
You're an actor, writer, director, lyricist and producer. Did you know you had all these in you? What did you want to be in school?
I actually wanted to be a chef. I thought cooking was one of the finest arts, the delight on people's faces when they like something!
Once I made something for my father and he really liked it. He wanted me to make him something every day. That really excited me. That feeling I could see on his face motivated me to become a chef.
I was also interested in music big time. I used to hear only Raja sir's music. But I never wanted to get into the film industry or become an actor. I used to lock myself in my room when stars came home. So, all these just happened.
Did all of these things just happene?
At least, acting just happened. In fact, during the first two films, I just wanted to run away. I didn't enjoy it. I was forced to do it.
My brother (Selvaraghavan) is a genius and helped me do a decent job in my second film, Kaadhal Konden. I kept doing films, but after speaking to certain people I began to take acting seriously. Sometimes, you identify your calling; your calling might also identify you. I am just really lucky that the latter happened to me.
As for producing, my brother really struggled to become a director. He narrated Kaadhal Konden to over ten actors. We were frustrated because it was really hard to get it to take off. We decided that, if we made it big, we would produce films to give young talent an opportunity.
When I realized I was in a place to do it, I started Wunderbar films. We do commercial films as well for the funds we need to launch new talent.
How did the name Wunderbar come about?
I've been wanting to become a director since 2006 or so, but I wasn't ready for it. I'm not saying I'm ready now, but I thought I'd take the plunge. Back then, I wanted to do some homework.
Everything that's happened to me in my life, there's no theory, only practical. I have to ride the bicycle, fall down, get hurt, and learn to ride. That's how acting happened. I didn't want it to be the same with direction. What's the best way to do it? Make short films and edit it yourself so you understand the grammar. I made around ten short films. I needed a name for my production when I made my first film. It sounds silly and childish, but I wanted it at that point.
I went and saw Inglourious Basterds that morning, and they were saying 'wunderbar' in the film. It's a German word that means wonderful. Anirudh and I watched the film and we kept saying 'wunderbar' for everything throughout the day.
When I was editing that night, we named the production company 'Wunderbar,' just for fun. With 3, I wanted to launch my home production. People suggested different names for it, but I couldn't part with 'Wunderbar' as I had gotten attached to it.
What was your first short film about?
It's about a girl who has everything but cribs a lot. A boy diagnosed with cancer comes into her life. He is so happy. She's really inspired by him. Only later, does she find that he has cancer.
Would you say you're drawn to darker themes? It sounds optimistic, but there's also the aspect of death…
You have to choose to see the positivity. I'm saying there's a lot of positivity around. The choice is with you. That's what I was trying to say in my first film. But, of course, I did make a few darker ones later. I wanted to explore genres. I made horror, dark thriller, comedy, and romantic films. I tried every genre.
How was it to work with Balu Mahendra?
Balu Mahendra sir is probably one of the most important people who defined my career. He never forces anything on you. He's very clear. He just speaks to you about the scene. He makes sure you do only what's needed. I don't know how he does it. He's a magician. It was a delight working with him.
He's very calm and patient with his actors. I took acting seriously for the first time. I used to be worried that my face looked bad. He told me that I had the best skin tone for a cameraman to light. He also told me that I looked like an Italian model. I thought he was trying to make me feel better. But he really meant it.