Ashok Selvan on attending 400 auditions, learning from veterans and wanting to work for an international audience
Smart, sharp and all of 26, Ashok Selvan can charm you with just a smile. But there is more to the actor who shot to fame in 2013 after his role in Soodhu Kavvum. While Selvan’s performances in Villa, Thegidi and Savale Samaali were also well received, the actor is now in the spotlight for 144, which has been directed by Manikandan. The youngster talks to us about his journey, his new release and lessons learnt.
“It is a comedy set in Madurai, with a new girl, Shruti, opposite me. The story is about four people going after gold. I took up this project because I was getting too many city-oriented roles and wanted to ensure I wasn’t getting typecast,” says Selvan, who will be speaking in a Madurai accent for the movie.
Starting from the bottom
With no background in the industry, this actor, who hails from a middle-class family in Erode, says, “While growing up, I wanted to be a lot of things. I wanted to be a policeman, then an army officer, a businessman and finally, a cricketer.” The idea to turn actor though, first struck him in college. “My friend Anisasi, director I V Sasi’s son, kept talking about how an actor could impact another person’s life. He was talking about himself, but in the process, he said,‘Even you can become one.’ That was when I playfully chose to begin acting.” But getting started as a film actor was not easy. Unfazed by the fact that he didn’t get a break, despite having attended around 400 auditions, Selvan began doing short films and theru koothu (street plays).
“Once, I got an opportunity to act in a film with a big star cast. I was overjoyed. So on the day of the film’s release, I spent few thousands on treating my friends before taking them to watch the film. We watched it only to realise that I wasn’t anywhere in it. They had cropped off my scenes!” shares the actor. But that was before Soodhu Kavvum, and though his true on screen debut was a small role in Billa 2, he will always be identified by the black comedy starring Vijay Sethupathi.
In the pipeline, he has Kootathil Oruvan, a coming-of-age, slice-of-life film that is about the average person and Pirai Thediya Naatkal, about which he says, “I’d like to call it a romantic ballad. It is a beautiful love story involving one physically challenged man and two women.” Selvan has also done the soon-to-release Sila Samayangalil, directed by Priyadarshan, with Prakash Raj and Sreya Reddy in the lead. “I’ve learnt a 1,000 different things from the veterans and most of it has been by observing. For instance, while working on this film, I observed how professional Prakash Raj was and how secure he came across. I saw how Priyadarshan had clarity on what he wanted. He might have been shooting the film, but I realised he must have watched that film at least 20 times in his mind, prior to making it. From Nasser, I’ve learnt how to stay calm,” says Selvan.
Love for cinema
Admitting that he started out watching cinema just for entertainment, the actor says, “There was this occasion when I watched Paruthiveeran, Braveheart and Crash one after another. It wasn’t planned but after watching these films, cinema had gained new respect from me.” And what about his wish list of directors? “I’m very greedy when it comes to this. First is Mani Ratnam, then there is Vetrimaran, Nalan Kumarasamy, Anurag Kashyap, Ramesh, Mysskin, Bala, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and David Fincher. There are many more but these are just a few names.”
Talking about the person who has inspired him the most, Selvan tells us about his father who had independently established the first ever Tamil magazine on imports and exports. Picking Kamal Haasan and Ajith among others as his favourites, Selvan adds, “Daniel Day Lewis is my biggest inspiration. The day I do one film like the ones he has done, I will retire.” Favourite comedies? He promptly says, “Kadhala Kadhala, Soodhu Kavvum (not because it is my own but because it is a good film), Sathi Leelavathi and Ace Ventura.”
Citing movies like Ameer’s Paruthiveeran, Anurag Kashyap’s Udaan or Vetrimaran’s Visaranai as films that have made an international impact, Selvan believes that they (foreigners) would have got to know about our culture, languages and us through these films. “I know it must sound quite ambitious but then, I want to do films that will be watched internationally. I may not be able to do that now but eventually, I want to get there,” the actor signs off.
— Manigandan KR