South Indian superstar Kamal Haasan wanted Nedumudi Venu to switch to Tamil. He had a sound rationale: “You have acted in all kinds of roles in Malayalam. There is no role left for you to surprise a Malayali. You have to come to Tamil. You have a lot to do there. And it’s big money.”
Venu’s talents were legendary. ‘Natigar Tilagam’ Sivaji Ganesan addressed him as ‘Kodumudi (Summit)’. The thespian talks about the 40 years of his reign, the digital revolution and an unfulfilled dream.
You have acted with generations of actors. How was your experience with youngsters?
The new generation knows me well. They respect me in their own ways. I can see it in the way they behave with me.
If you cannot understand the new generation, you have to go out of the industry. As a fresher, I could continue with cinema only because the senior actors and directors encouraged me. It is my duty to try to understand the younger generation.
Technology has changed a lot. If we packed up a movie shoot within 25-30 days earlier, the schedule is lengthened to 60-70 days now. The switch from celluloid to digital has increased the burden of actors.
Everybody was wary of wasting the producer’s money earlier. Now we do not have to worry about wasting film.
Technological advances are a good thing, isn’t it?
There are advantages and disadvantages. Earlier, you had to dub an entire loop in one sitting. Now, you can even record a humming separately.
Story is no longer as important as the way it is told. You would enjoy it but it hardly stays with you. Movies such as Bhargavi Nilayam and Veerapandya Kattabomman’were noted not because of any technological excellence.
I had asked Sivaji Ganesan how he managed to deliver the lengthy dialogues in Tamil movies. He said it just happened. He acknowledged the contribution of his theater days.
You would be intimidated by a song recording earlier. Everything could be spoiled by a single mistake. Those days, composers, musicians and singers worked from the heart.
How do you remember your guru, Kavalam Narayana Panicker?
He would not teach you anything. He did not even see himself as a guru. However, there was a lot to learn from him. You had to be smart enough to understand that.
I do not even have a fraction of his knowledge. I doubt if I could be called his disciple. I could not even understand his concepts of theater in the initial days. I realized that we were doing something great only after esteemed writers and artists lauded us.
What prompts your unique style of acting?
In the olden days, the Kuttanadu residents had to either walk or paddle to go anywhere. You had to meet up all kinds of people on your way. I have come across a lot of characters. I have recorded in my mind the way they walked, the way they talked and the way they carried themselves. I just have to recall that and mix it with the required character.
There are characters who refuse to leave me even after the movie shooting and dubbing are completed. That is a dangerous situation. They would interfere with the next role.
I had a hard time exorcising characters such as Achuvettan from Achuvettante Veedu and George from Thaniye.
Have you dropped your direction plans?
‘Pooram’ was a movie I struggled with. I wrote the script on location. I also goofed up in casting. I do not want to repeat my mistakes. I want to direct one movie at least. I am in talks for sure.
I have not planned anything in my life yet. Still I believe that we do our part in a script written by some force. You have to act your part well.
I love to be a grandfather, not just to my grandchildren but to all children.