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Exclusive! Ashok Selvan: I was under pressure on Marakkar’s sets because of the presence of all the veterans

The Ninnila Ninnila and Oh My Kadavule actor talks about playing the antagonist in the upcoming Mohanlal-starrer Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, what the success of Oh My Kadavule meant to him and more

  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 03.57 AM, Nov 30, 2021

Exclusive! Ashok Selvan: I was under pressure on Marakkar’s sets because of the presence of all the veterans
Ashok Selvan

The past year has seen Tamil actor Ashok Selvan’s stocks soaring. The actor, who made his debut in 2013, had a breakout hit last year with Oh My Kadavule, which he admits has established his name. But that’s not all – he has also spread his wings in Telugu with Ani IV Sasi’s Ninnila Ninnila and will next be seen playing the antagonist in Priyadarshan and Mohanlal’s magnum opus Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actor tells us about the challenges of working in Marakkar, the doors that the success of Oh My Kadavule has opened for him and more.

How did you land the role as the villain in Marakkar?

Marakkar happened only because I had worked with Priyan sir before (in Sila Samayangalil) and he liked my work. For this role, a lot of big names were floating in because other characters are all played by big stars and they wanted someone of that stature to portray the villain. But Priyan sir wanted me to do the role. When I got to know that I was being offered the role through Ani (IV Sasi), I was initially hesitant because I hadn’t done a negative character before. But when Priyan sir called and said you have to do it, I said, ‘okay sir’. I can’t say anything to him, because he’s the best director I have worked with. I still consider myself to be in the ‘test run’ phase; the product hasn’t launched yet. So, I wanted to learn as much as possible from people. It’s a great project to be part of.

It’s a massive film by all means – in terms of cast, production and budget. But there’s also a young team behind it – with Siddharth Priyadarshan handling the VFX and Ani IV Sasi co-writing the screenplay with Priyadarshan. The veterans are the face of the project, but how much did you tap into those young minds behind the film?

Ani is like a brother to me. We studied together in our college and I became an actor because of him. When he was on the sets, it was a huge support for me. I was under pressure on the sets because of the presence of all the veterans. I really rehearsed my lines before I went to the sets because I didn’t want to mess it up in front of them. It’s a good pressure in a way because it got me to prepare well.

With Priyan sir, I could just go there and follow his lead; he has helmed 95 movies and is a legend in his own way. I was struggling a bit because the dialogues were in archaic Malayalam. If it was the contemporary language, I could have grasped it faster. So, I had to really sit and rehearse. The whole set would know if I had dialogues that day because I went to the sets early in the morning and would stop whoever passed me and tell them my lines. I was having my fun and they were all laughing. It was a nice group to be with. Thiru sir was the cinematographer, and I have been a huge fan of his too.

You must have had the majority of your scenes with Mohanlal. Any takeaways working with him?

I did. Mohanlal sir is one of the greatest actors in our country. So, I went in with a lot of expectations in terms of what I could learn from him. I really liked him off screen as well – how he was on the sets, with people; I was impressed as a youngster. Acting, of course, I learnt a lot from how effortless he keeps it but what surprised me was how he treated the others on the sets.

You worked with Ani in his debut directorial Ninnila Ninnila, which released on OTT earlier this year. Both of you have been friends, so how was it to see the film take it shape from its conception stage?

I have been with him since the day he came up with the idea. So, we have discussed it several times and when we were shooting, we didn’t have to discuss it anymore about the character. It was organic and I knew what I had to do.

However, I really wanted the film to be released in theatres. But it was released on OTT. So, I was quite disappointed when I heard the news that Marakkar could be released on OTT as well. At least, Ninnila Ninnila, you could watch it at home, but Marakkar is made for theatres. With its VFX and shots, everything about it is phenomenal. The film is shot in such a way that the country will be proud of it and I am glad it’s releasing in theatres.

Last year, you acted and produced Oh My Kadavule, which won both critical and commercial acclaim. What did the success of the film mean to you?

I had a big break in Thegidi, which was released in 2014, and after that my movies that were released didn’t quite hit the mark. That’s when I decided to do a romcom but none of the producers in Tamil were ready for that; they wanted either a thriller or a horror-comedy. So, I stepped in as the producer and put in all the resources for Oh My Kadavule. It was a huge bet from my side at this age and point in my career, but it worked. What happened was that it established my name, created a market for me and gave the audience the confidence that they could go and watch my movie.

The greatest surprise was that I received so many messages from people in Kerala. We didn’t even have a proper release there. That was great because Marakkar was going to be released and I wanted that.

I am really happy because (director) Ashwath (Marimuthu) is doing it in Telugu and Hindi. All the team members have benefited from it. I believe that’s how a movie should work; everyone associated with it should benefit from it and not just the actor. I now have a serious production company set up because of the film and I want to do a lot of good projects. So, Oh My Kadavule has become my trump card.

Now that you have found success, are you hounded by the question of ‘what’s next?’ Do you change your criteria of choosing movies or do you go ahead and do films that you have always wanted to?

The reason I want my films to succeed is so that I can expand my market and do bigger projects that I really like. Sometimes, when you fix a project, the producers say that your market value doesn’t support that. Now, I am lining up all the films that I wanted to do. So, the success has given me access to do the films.

I am not looking at turning my image into, for instance, an action hero or something because of the success; I just want to do all the projects I want because the producers are interested in working with me now. I hope Ninnila Ninnila and Marakkar would establish my presence in other industries as well. I am grateful that I could do a Telugu, Malayalam and a Tamil movie.

You are working in Hostel right now. How’s the shoot going?

It’s the Tamil remake of Adi Kapyare Koottamani. I am doing the film because I have been wanting to work with the production company Trident Films. They pitched the film to me when the first lockdown had ended and we could wrap it up in a single location. It’s a fun movie, unlike any other film that I have done. The other movie that is about to release is Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal, which I am really excited about because it’s right up my alley. It has a strong script.