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Dhanush At 40 Has A Lot To Live Up To



When Dhanush is  good, he is so so  very good he makes you forgive all the sins  of his excesses which I suspect he indulges in to please his fan-base in contradiction to what he claims to be his aspiration as  an  actor. Once , perhaps in an unguarded  moment Dhanush has said to me, “My motivations as an actor are very different  from my (former)  father-in-law’s. He is a superstar of the masses. I don’t  aim to be that.”

Dhanush’s films sometimes make history. Karnan, for instance. As played by Dhanush he is the voice of a voiceless village. The hand that won’t  hold itself back. The  face  of  the  social protester who  is no posterboy. He is actor .A  doer. He  will kill. He  won’t be stopped. Dhanush  is  so volatile in Karnan  , I  have never felt more compromised,  more  a part of  socio-economical system that allows  a handful to have all the wealth and  power.

Another film I liked  him in  immensely was Enai Noki Paayum Thota. Dhanush, playing a 20-year  old  was  a  bit of a stretch.The  mating games are  played with  an enchanting elegance. This is romance  in the purest cinematic sense, ethereal and  unattainable, cadenced and  magnetic, shot with an eye  and ear for  workaday sublimity.Director Gautham  Menon lets  the couple  find and  celebrate idealized  love in  routine places.Even as we  savour the couple’s  moments together  the narrative takes a sharp swerve into  violence.The restless narrative shifts to Mumbai  for action scenes which are as  elegantly  shot as  the romance.  Menon never allows  any awkwardness  to  seep into his  cinema  even as he negotiates  impossible genre  jumps like  a seasoned trapeze artiste.

Dhanush is never afraid to look  silly .If he feels it is right,if it feels right,he will do it. Like he did that brutally inane song  KOLAVERI DI .The lyrics  were  a hotchpotch mix of English and Tamil, the singing style didn’t conform to any particular style and it was sung by a non-singer.It still  became a super hit.Dhanush’s lack  of comfort with the English language helped him in choosing the words to connect with people who are not fluent in the language.

The song, composed by Anirudh Ravichander  was   a part of the film 3, directed by Dhanush’s wife Aishwarya. They have separated since then. Rajinikanth is , alas, no more Dhanush’s father-in-law.

In Hindi cinema, Dhanush never really found his bearings  in  spite of  fantastic start  in Aanand L. Rai’s Raanjhaana where  Dhanush  played  Sonam Kapoor’s stalker/ardent suitor. But Dhanush’s  relations with Aanand remain unaffected.

Says Aanand, “Dhanush is not LIKE  my brother. He  IS  my brother. That won’t change. I have  the kind of bonding with Dhanush that I cannot have with actors in Mumbai.Whether we  work together  or  not  Dhanush  is part of  my life and I am his. After Raanjhaana we worked  together  again in Atrangi Re  after  eight years. Our relationship doesn’t depend on whether  we work or  not work together.Whenever he  is in Mumbai he will stay with me.When I am in Chennai I stay with  him.I feel  embarrassed to even speak about this. What is there to  talk about in this? Dhanush is a part of my life.”

Anand is very proud of the global recognition that’s coming Dhanush’s way after The Gray Man. It is certainly a  marked  improvement on Dhanush’s earlier attempt to go international in  The Extraordinary  Journey Of A  Fakir .It confirmed  our worst  suspicions about what Indian actors are willing to do to be seen in “Hollywood films”(that’s how all international ventures shot outside Asia are known in India). The  deplorable film unabashedly celebrated cultural stereotypes . Worse still,Dhanush grabbed  the opportunity to display his most pronounced interpretations of  the ingenue’s  touristic delight. He squealed, he moaned, he sucked in his cheeks in stupefied wonder staring at firangi  monuments, artifacts and , yes, the women too.As his character Ajatshatru Patel travelled  across the world sitting  in a suitcase and  in a wardrobe  Dhanush asserted  all the cultural stereotypes associated with brownskinned ex-colonists: that they are  extremely naïve and eminently flexible…in this  case literally so, since Dhanush could fit into any size and space, boxed or  otherwise, and reach to any part of the world and make friends.He was  Raj Kapoor whose joota is  japani, patloon englishtaani , sar pe laal topi rusi, phir bhi dil(and pugdi) Hindustani.

Thank God  for The Gray Man. The  role is  far  briefer  than what Dhanush  played in  The Extraordinary Journey Of  A  Fakir. But there is dignity in what Dhanush does in The  Gray Man. He should  never let go of it.Being dignified becomes Dhanush.

There is nothing more self-indulgent than a superstar at the pinnacle of his stardom trying to show the world that he isnt self-indulgent.

It reminds me of that superstar named Rajinikanth who “allows” other actors to take centrestage, knowing that even if he stands grinning in the corner of a frame, the audience will be looking at no one but him.

Dhanush has the Tamil audiences eating out of his hands. He can do anything, almost anything, he likes, and the fans would be with him. The slobbering raves for his new film are proof enough. In “Vada Chennai” he plays Anbu, a carrom player (like Siddharth in Chandan Arora’s “Striker”) who repeatedly ends up in jail where he befriends dons, gangsters and their cronies.

The brutality is kept at bay. The director Vetrimaan has had enough of it in his last film.

To give the very routine gangster drama an epic feel, the director (who earlier helmed that raw but flawed film “Vissaranai” about police atrocities) spreads the narrative and the characters into a stretched-out sprawl which takes us nowhere. At the end of the cumbersome three-hour film, I realised I was standing at the same place where the film had begun.

This isn’t to say that the cycle of life is completed. It’s just depleted and dismantled scene by scene until we are left staring at a film that equates dark exteriors and slimy roads with the shadowy glances thrown at a soul that’s gone completely corrupt.

The mounting is impressive, though. So is Dhanush’s changing hairstyle over the decades. He is lanky enough to carry off the role of a teenager in the first flush of love. The object of Dhanush’s adoration is Padma (Aishwarya Rajesh) who plays that emboldened, impassioned, street-smart sweetheart whom Dhnush loves to kiss in his films.

When a local goon (there are so many of them it’s impossible to keep track) heckles the couple, Dhanush’s Anbu gets murderous.

The scenes of gang war and internecine rivalry are shot on suitably dark, dingy and desolate locations so that glorifying violence is never an option. But celebrating it, is.

Director Vetrimaaran seems awed by the antisocial world that his characters inhabits. Every character is a potential law-breaker. This fact we are given to ingest from the start. Dhanush’s character is constantly in a crowd of potential rioters and murderers.

He is the Common Man with an axe to grind. He gets to grind it in grating leisure. We are often invited to participate in the wages of lawlessness. But the recurrent prison scenes are never compelling enough.

Many times the gangsters are hard to tell apart from one another. And not only because the film is shot largely in the night light. It’s not just the characters who have something to hide. It’s the film’s chosen karma. It conceals more than it reveals, more for the sake of effect than authenticity.

If Dhanush wants to play characters contrary to the ones played by his illustrious father-in-law, he must ensure that the projects are credible and authentic, not merely to impress audiences. His obsession with establishing an iconic reputation at odds with Rajinikanth’s is quite obvious. In “Vada Chennai”, a Rajinikanth potboiler is played out for jail inmates as Dhanush hobnobs with his prison pals.

The message is clear. Dhanush doesn’t want to be Rajinikant, The Entertainer. He wants to be the reverse of that entity. Which in this case is not “non-entertainer”.

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