Home / Interviews / R. Madhavan talks to Cinespeaks about his web series ‘Breathe’, Tamil industry legends Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan and future of Digital Platforms

R. Madhavan talks to Cinespeaks about his web series ‘Breathe’, Tamil industry legends Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan and future of Digital Platforms

Hailing from a Tamil family settled in Bihar, R. Madhavan set his foot in the entertainment industry which was back in 1996 with Zee TV’s ‘Banegi Apni Baat’. He then joined hands with Mani Ratnam for his debut Tamil film ‘Alaipayuthey’ and gave back to back hits after that. He left Hindi speaking girls mesmerized with his Hindi debut ‘Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein’ as Madhav and gave notable performers in the Hindi film industry with films like Rang De Basanti, 3 Idiots, Tanu Weds Manu series and many more after that. Over 20 years later, he’s all set to make another debut on digital platform with Amazon Prime Video India’s web series ‘Breathe’.

Let’s take a look at what all he revealed in a chat session with Cinespeaks:

On his character, R. Madhavan said, “My character’s name is Danny Mascarenhas. His son’s life is in danger and as a dad I make choices that aren’t morally or legally correct. What if you’re in a situation wherein you have choice to save someone who is really close to you but you’re restricted by laws and societal rules, will you go ahead or stay quiet and let the one you love die? That’s the choice my character has to make in the series”.

“The character was challenging to play. In a film you have to keep a track of your character only for 120 mins of showtime, there if you reach at the peak of an emotion you know you can sustain it for another half an hour. But for web series you have to maintain it for 360 mins, it’s almost close to four films. Although we shot for a period of 50 days just like a feature film, the emotion had to last longer for the platform that the web series is. I had to keep a track of what my emotion was on the third day where the scene has been shot of the fourth film’s 22nd minute on the 49th day that I was shooting for the 2nd episode of the series. The non-linear shooting plus the time period that this story is being told was the fact that I couldn’t peak at any given point the angle would keep rising or the intensity would keep going till the final episode. These were challenges which I never expected to be face when I accepted the role”, on the challenges of playing this character.

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R. Madhavan who has been shooting for web series ‘Breathe’ and his Tamil film ‘Vikram Vedha’ simultaneously said, “For the film, I was coming from a straight forward place and the character is righteous. For the web series, the character was so frightening and would do anything to save his son. I would never want to come back to the character as soon the shoots of each of the platforms was over. I would indulge myself in interacting with people on set to forget about the character and come back, so the withdrawal was very fast. There were just slight changes like for Danny they just added Gandhi spectacles in order to show how I could transform for playing a positive character and a negative one”.

On his transition from television to films, he said, “When I was doing TV it was almost like a honeymoon period where I wasn’t aware of all the aspects of shooting. I learnt everything on the set and through experience of acting in various projects. Even though I made mistakes while learning, I wasn’t punished for it. Lot of people’s careers got over because they made mistakes while learning but I guess I have been privileged. I’m grateful for the life experiences I’ve had. Most people give up on a lot of things after they enter the industry which sometimes takes away from growing in their personal experiences. I was thankfully not one of them. I didn’t fall in the trap of just belonging to the industry. After I would finish a project I would go out, do mountain climbing or go skiing, learning a new art, playing golf or scuba diving which involves people who are not just from the film industry. I may be able to talk to you on any topic because I’ve made it a point to learn about new things”.

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“I was told I’ll not be able to be a film actor because I had done too much television. At that point I never wanted to be an actor in the first place. But I knew television was a temporary profession since I would get appreciated for roles when those shows were on but once they were off I would be forgotten. One fine day I got a call from Mani Ratnam and voila. For the first few films I was having an outer body experience because I couldn’t believe I was working in this space. The first film turned out to be a Blockbuster despite not knowing Tamil properly. After three other films became hits, I was approached by Kamal Haasan Sir for the fourth film, that’s when I took acting seriously. I put efforts in understanding the medium”, he added on growing in his craft.

R. Madhavan on his current strategy for his career, “I’m saying no to four offers a day. Taking a break from the South industry was self inflicted. I’ve done 67 films out of which the first 60 I have done in the first 10 years of my career. In the last 7 years, I’ve barely done 4 films. That was a conscious decision because I wanted to grow to be aspirational for the audiences. In the last 7 years I was taking a sabbatical I’ve realized nobody can take their work lightly today because there’s social media which can mock you for it. Society is showing us it’s various shades, be it the brutality in the Nirbhaya case or the invention of driverless cars, I wanted to analyze if we are making relevant films. This time in our industry I feel like we are producing more topical films. ‘Breathe’ is one of them, there are no straight forward bad or good guys, there are no blocks to their shades. Deep inside we all feel we are nice people but there are times we feel we’re doing wrong. There is a grey shade to everyone”.

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R. Madhavan on the importance of digital platforms, “Online content will not be the only source, or the most impactful source but the biggest source of entertainment in future. The reason being, there will be no replacements for film stars. The grandeur of being the larger than life talent shall always be there. Less than 2 1/2 crore people saw ‘3 idiots’ on the screen, the film screen capacity is almost 13,000 crores right now in India. As for television, not just content but the tv series and sports viewership is about 20,000 crores and they are still 7-8% at best. 30% of people are on their mobile devices with India and China being the highest consumers. Phones have risen to be more than just communication devices and have encompassed entertainment. So if I’m saying among those people who watch films, if I’m able to put ‘Breathe’ into 6% of them, then I’ve quadrupled the amount of people watching. Digital platforms have the freedom to watch content at any point of time”.

“There are certain skills an actor and a producer need to possess today to realize what sort of medium the content they have is going to fit in. Some stories can be expanded to over 52 episodes and some to a 2 1/2 hours film format but then there are others who have an ark to render 4 hours of story telling. If storytelling is compelling enough to give out the information in each episode then it’ll be unfair to make it into a synopsis of a film”, on the choice of platform a team has to make.

On which of his films could make it a digital platform, Madhavan said, “I feel ‘Rang De Basanti’ could have been made into a digital series because there is so much that could have been elaborated into an episodic series. My character in the film was for about 9 minutes. I had to come across as a patriarch, a good son, a good lover who would inspire his partner to convince his friends to give up their lives for the country and had to come across as a good friend worth fighting for”.

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