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25 days of Nenjuku Needhi: I don’t play safe anymore, says Udhayanidhi Stalin

Udhayanidhi Stalin on completing 10 years in Tamil cinema. Besides, he talks about the changes he has observed within himself and the industry over the years.

  • Team OTTplay

Last Updated: 08.05 AM, Jun 14, 2022

25 days of Nenjuku Needhi: I don’t play safe anymore, says Udhayanidhi Stalin
Udhayanidhi Stalin in Nenjuku Needhi

Udhayanidhi Stalin's Nenjuku Needhi, the official remake of Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Article 15, directed by Arunraja Kamaraj, completed 25 days in theatres—despite facing stiff competition from the biggies like Kamal Haasan's Vikram. For the reluctant actor Udhayanidhi Stalin, this was no mean achievement. “I am not a planner. I take life as it comes. For instance, ten years ago, I didn't know I'd step into politics. I was content doing films and distributing them. But now, I'm an MLA,” smiles Udhayanidhi Stalin.

After making his debut with Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, Udhayanidhi Stalin went on to do two more lighthearted films; Idhu Kathirvelan Kaadhal and Nanbenda, before featuring in Gethu, Manithan, Nimir and Psycho. “I was bored doing similar roles, and that sense of experimentation has pushed me into doing a serious film like Nenjuku Needhi.”

It has been ten years since he made his debut in Tamil cinema with the Rajesh directorial. Udhayanidhi Stalin admits he has evolved as an actor. “That's because I've evolved as a human being, too. I am not the same person I was a decade ago. My priorities changed and slowly; I was looking for characters that challenged me. I had a set image then, and breaking it was difficult. Nenjuku Needhi was one such film, which excited me as an actor, and as an audience!"

Nenjuku Needhi also was the first time Udhayanidhi Stalin donned the khaki. “I was initially apprehensive about it, as I didn't want to take up something that the audience will not connect with. I had multiple look tests, and photo shoots. I needed that reassurance. It wasn't an easy call to take, after all.”

Reflecting upon his career choices, Udhayanidhi Stalin says, five-six years ago, no matter how much he wanted to do certain roles, he couldn’t. “Because you are shackled by your fears or you are told that only certain kinds of films will work... It is changing now. The audience is not biased towards a certain kind of cinema. They are better judges any day. All they ask for is interesting content, and I witnessed it with Psycho.”

Nenjuku Needhi happened to him, says Udhayanidhi Stalin. “But choosing a director was a huge process. When I approached a few of them, they weren't ready to direct Nenjuku Needhi, as it dealt with a sensitive subject. I approached Arunraja Kamaraj as I loved his previous film, Kanaa. I felt he would do justice to it.”

Udhayanidhi Stalin felt the film was in safe hands with Arunraja Kamaraj. “He and I met a lot of journalists and cops so that we understood the premise of our film better. The amount of research work Arunraja put in was humongous. We wanted to get certain details right, and he's particular about getting things done the way he wants; which is for good!"

Nenjuku Needhi is not a mass movie in that sense, he emphasises. “It's a powerful film and has a solid story that needs to be told. I'm glad the film was sustained in theatres for 25 days. Such serious films don't open well, they pick up with word of mouth.”

But what upsets him is the sheer comparison of Article 15 and Nenjuku Needhi. “Though this is a remake, our film has more soul than the original. Ayushmann Khurrana is a fabulous actor. But, both of us have different styles, and our body language is different. In Nenjuku Needhi, I didn't really 'act'. I was just there... at the moment, responding to scenes and situations,” Udhayanidhi Stalin says.

Whether we accept it or not, as actors, we are always under pressure to deliver, observes Udhayanidhi Stalin. “When a film like Nenjuku Needhi comes along, you just know that it must be a part of your life. I didn't think beyond that.” But Udhayanidhi makes sure his films aren't preachy. “Nenjuku Needhi isn’t about character. It’s purely plot-driven. I'd like to keep doing more films this way.”

Udhayanidhi Stalin is excited about Maamannan, directed by Mari Selvaraj. The film will co-star Vadivelu, Keerthy Suresh and Fahadh Faasil. “This will be a pucca Mari Selvaraj film; hard-hitting on the lines of Pariyerum Perumal. We have got the best technicians on board for Maamannan, including AR Rahman.”

More than anything else, Udhayanidhi Stalin is thrilled about sharing screen space with Fahadh Faasil. “He's an award-winning actor, who can pull off any role with ease. I am a huge fan of his work. He never takes even a small thing for granted. And, he has been very supportive thus far.”

Further, Udhayanidhi Stalin says he has huge respect for Mari Selvaraj's vision, as a filmmaker. “He spoon-feeds all of us. All we had to do was listen to his words, and perform. Maamannan will be an important film in my career. Every day is a learning experience on the sets. For someone who grew up watching comedies and action-thrillers, a film like Maamannan is a little tough.”

Ask about speculations of him planning to bid adieu to his acting career, so that he could focus on politics, Udhayanidhi Stalin says, “It's quite tempting to not accept good scripts. For now, I can't guarantee Maamannan will be my last film yet. I've signed a couple of other films, too. Of course, my political career is important, but I'm rethinking my choices.”

What did his Chief Minister-father MK Stalin tell about his performance in Nenjuku Needhi? “Appa, a big fan of Rajinikanth, loves watching content-oriented films. He always notices those little details that others usually don't; considering how he was an actor himself once.”

When asked about how all the big films are being distributed by Red Giant (starting from Annaatthe, Beast, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal and Don), he intervenes, “I don't distribute all of them, as you mentioned.” After a pause, he says, he's not trying to monopolise the business. “I don't go around and ask people if I should distribute their films. They come to me. For example, Madhavan is my good friend. He insisted that I distribute Rocketry: The Nambi Effect. He screened the film for me, and I liked it. I don't go out of my way, and distribute films,” he notes.

Udhayanidhi Stalin is aware of his limitations as an actor. “I am not a great performer, but I don't play safe anymore. I push my boundaries, and I am learning. After all these years, I realise there is no formula to a film's success. I have come to terms with not everything can be liked by everyone. And, some people will criticise you, knowing that you have done your best. I don't bother about them,” he signs off.