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EXCLUSIVE - Uday Mahesh: Trying to choose characters that don't spoil the name of Chellam

The Family Man 2 actor gives a peek into his world before and after Chellam sir happened..

Srivathsan Nadadhur
Jul 08, 2021
 
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Uday Mahesh, much like his popular character Chellam sir in The Family Man 2, prefers to be a man of a few words. He's everywhere and the darling of netizens today, thanks to the overwhelming popularity of his latest on-screen appearance, after which his phone hasn't stopped ringing. He isn't exactly used to this attention. Attending one story discussion and meeting after the other, he's now been flooded with acting offers though he's in no hurry to gallop them at once. 

Would it surprise you if we said that acting wasn't his priority at all? With over 30 films as an actor, two as a director, a handful of commercials that he's written and assisted filmmakers, he's a man of many talents but it took a Chellam sir to give him the visibility that he richly deserves. OTTplay catches up with the man of the moment for a brief chat.

Excerpts from the conversation.  

The fact that you've been there, done that in every department in the film industry for 20 years and tasting fame only for the last two months is slightly strange. Isn't it? Is the excessive media focus scary in a way?

It's not scary at all. I am happy and excited about it. I generally don't let anything go above my head. I am enjoying it well. I see it more as a responsibility to choose better characters henceforth. I am being very conscious and wary of my decisions. I am getting good offers and being selective about what I take up. I am trying to choose characters that don't spoil the name of Chellam. Nothing has changed much, I know I'm Uday Mahesh first and not Chellam.

Tell us about your early years in the industry, life before Chellam sir and The Family Man 2 happened...

I started as an AD in Tamil cinema and shifted base to Mumbai later. I began working with Shoojit Sircar for commercials, corporate films. In 2005, I returned to the Tamil industry to direct a film. I went on to direct a couple of movies, Naalai and Chakravyuham. From 2010, I changed gears to become an actor with a Tamil film titled Moodar Koodam. Acting and writing are two parallel tracks and I'm happy to be straddling two worlds.

What was your stint with Shoojit Sircar like? You eventually acted in your first Hindi film under his direction too.

He is a good friend and a wonderful filmmaker. I, in fact, wrote his first film and I only have pleasant memories of collaborating with him, both as a writer and a director.

Do you call yourself an accidental actor?

Yes, you could call me so. I didn't intend to act at all and identified myself as a writer and a director first. When the director of Moodar Koodam offered me a role and insisted I act, I felt 'why not?' and the rest was history. After the film's release, I started getting a lot of acting offers and I went with the tide.

All your life, you've done characters that barely last on-screen for 10-minutes or a little more at best. How do you get into the psyche of the character or understand his world in such a limited time?

When I accept a character, I never calculate the length and the screen time. If the character intrigues me, I forget the rest and try to get into the world of the character. Everything boils down to how the character is written, there couldn't have been a better example for that than my role in The Family Man 2. Doesn't matter if they last a minute or two, if the character has a good basis, he/she will steal the show.

The most welcoming change in the entertainment industry from the early 80s or 90s has been the way filmmakers respect the diverse cultural background of the characters and the avoidance of stereotypes. I see it as one of the reasons why Chellam sir clicked too.

I totally agree with it too. This has been a welcome change in the industry. The exchange of cultures was much needed and it has added a new flavour to storytelling. I remember the days when South-Indian characters were ridiculed and made fun of. Now, filmmakers are making the effort to understand another language, their culture and portray them with complete sincerity.

The Family Man 2 gave national recognition to someone like you, a Devadarshini and a Ravindra Vijay who would've otherwise been confined to doing regional films, doing their job silently on the sets and enjoying a limited fan base. I'm so glad to see the nationwide acceptance for such terrific character actors.

Absolutely! There's no better platform than web shows and OTTs for us character actors, newcomers to showcase their worth. It has opened a new window and opportunity to prove ourselves. It's good for us in more ways than one.

Do you think your writing or direction stint has helped you as an actor?

In a way, yes because whenever I enter a set, my mind only asks me to do what the director says. I do that as an actor because that's what I expect from actors when I am a director.

Is it a temptation for you to write and direct more often after the sudden burst of fame because you know there'll be a certain audience willing to watch your work?

I am already on the verge of signing a project. The talks are on, I have completed my script. I may start doing a Tamil movie in a couple of months.

What makes the creators of The Family Man, Raj and DK, tick along?

They are successful today because they leave no stone unturned to present a film/show staying true to the milieu of the story and ensure great authenticity in the treatment of the subject. They are extremely creative people, improvise well, hunt for good scripts and are very methodical with the way they go about casting and their approach to every other department of filmmaking. They present their stories in a refreshingly new exterior that you can't resist watching.

While audiences have loved how involuntarily Chellam sir changes his SIM cards and phones while he talks with Srikant Tiwari, it's his spiritual side that gives a new dimension to the role.

That's how they visualised the character, a retired agent someone who has given up his earlier job and doesn't want to be involved with it anymore. He only tries to help Srikant Tiwari because they may have shared a rapport in the past.

Being a writer yourself, what do you think would've been Chellam's backstory?

You should ask the original writers about his past, what they might or might not decode about him in the future. As a writer, I can think of many backstories, I think it's best left to Raj and DK to come up with the best version of the story. I feel that'll be more interesting.

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What are the little changes you bring to your approach while acting for television, films and now, web shows?

Television was another chapter in my life that I was reluctant to enter into. I wasn't keen to do television soaps at all. Office, on Star Vijay, eventually gave me a lot of popularity. With television, there are time constraints and you're expected to perform a certain way. Whereas in films, you get more freedom with your performances and the focus is more on quality.

Every second show/film that releases today is in news for the wrong reasons, especially for hurting the sentiments of a section of society. The Family Man 2 wasn't spared of that agony either. Have we regressed as a society or is this discussion/reaction normal?

Any content that releases on digital platforms is bound to evoke different reactions and it's actually good if it's not one-sided. The world today is such that even if you sneeze, the public on social media will react to it. I still think it's a welcome discussion because ultimately the audiences have the right to comment on the content as much as we have the right to make it. It should be taken in a good spirit. Even with The Family Man 2, the only aim was to entertain audiences more than anything else and you'd agree with me on that count. 

What next for Uday Mahesh? You've already ticked three boxes - acting, directing and writing.

I don't know what's in store for me in the future, God may know it better or I guess I'll take help from Chellam. Jokes apart, writing and direction are my current priorities apart from my acting assignments.

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