Short is sweet in the digital age

Actor Madhavan is still a big believer in the power of film.
Actor Madhavan is still a big believer in the power of film.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Indian actor Madhavan is making shorter movies and also wants to create digital content and do television

Indian actor Ranganathan Madhavan, who is known only as Madhavan, is certainly ready to meet the challenges the digital age is presenting the movie industry.

He knows he is up against screen- induced shortened attention spans and on-demand streaming services such as Netflix.

Irudhi Sutru (Final Round), his most recent film, is a sports drama about a down-and-out boxing coach and an aspiring boxer. Uncharacteristically for an Indian film, the screening time is under two hours.

As a co-producer of the film, it was a conscious decision on his part to keep it to that length.

"It's a task to keep this generation off their phones long enough to watch my movie," he says in jest.

The 45-year-old was speaking to The Straits Times recently while in town as a guest speaker for a seminar on women's empowerment, organised by Indian beauty and wellness company Rupini's OM.

Madhavan - who has found success in both Bollywood (Hindi cinema) and Kollywood (Tamil cinema) with box-office hits such as Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Three Idiots (2009) and Alaipayuthey (Waves Are Flowing, 2000) - says he is also interested in creating digital content and taking a shot at television.

"TV used to be a graveyard for film actors, but if you look at actors such as Kevin Spacey, they have become much bigger stars than they ever were in cinema," he says, referring to the star of acclaimed Netflix series House Of Cards.

Moreover, with content such as House Of Cards being released simultaneously around the world along with the United States, he believes that Indian actors and the Indian film industry has to "fight with what's happening in Hollywood presently and not with films that were released three years ago".

He adds: "Unless I'm going to accept that I'm a fool - and I'm not one - then I'm definitely looking forward to doing something on television and with digital content."

Between movie projects, he travels in his home country and beyond to give motivational speeches.

While he admits that he does not have special qualifications to speak on the topic of women's empowerment, he has personal experiences growing up around exemplary women.

He cites his mother, Saroja, who for 30 years was a manager at the Bank of India in Bihar, which he described as "worse than the Wild West".

He says: "I saw the grit, the absolute determination and the zeal that she needed to have to work against all odds."

At the seminar in Singapore, he spoke about how all of the 60 films in his career had each featured a heroine who had an important role.

"Women have taken a larger role in some of my most successful films and I have no qualms admitting that," he says. In fact, Kangana Ranaut, his co-star in the romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu, won the National Award for Best Actress on Monday. The film earned 243 crores (S$49.2 million) at the box office, making it one of the highest- grossing Bollywood films last year.

Despite his excitement about possible television projects and his move towards making projects for what he describes as his "10-year- old son's generation", he is still a big believer in the power of film.

Madhavan, who is married to former air stewardess Sarita Birje, says: "The entire community being taken to one cinema, with all of them enjoying a movie together and seeing how others are reacting to it - it's an experience that only cinema can give you. Television, on the other hand, is a private expe- rience.

"Film stars will always be larger than life and that is the only thing that will help cinema survive."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Short is sweet in the digital age'. Print Edition | Subscribe