Anant Mahadevan aims to be a complete actor:Anant Mahadevan

Even in nursery school Anant Mahadevan liked to stand on the blocks and pretend to be on stage. Right through school and college in central Mumbai's Matunga suburb he was active in theatre. He started out in the profession with the group 'Ank' with whom he had a long association. Quite a veteran now, he has 3,000 shows to his name. He has worked with stalwarts like Salim Ghouse, Vijay Tendulkar and Mohan Prakash. And done shows covering the spectrum from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller.

His first television serial was in celebrated director Sai Paranjpe's Adose Padose in 1984-85. Four years later he went behind the camera to direct a telefilm Sambandh and gives credit to Gul Anand for his support and help.

The dynamics of acting he feels is akin to that of a healthy human. The director is the mind, the actor the body and the writer the hands. All three have to gel well to produce something worthwhile.

He laments the poverty of good productions on television at present. He feels there's a total recession on the small screen in terms of quality of output. Although budgets have improved following the success of Kaun Banega Crorepati with its slick production values, the norm is far removed from that.

Belonging to a typical Tamilian Brahmin family, he thanks his father for shifting to Mumbai from Kerala. Though everyone wanted him to become an engineer or a doctor, as he says: ''Water finds its own level.''

That's Anant Mahadevan for you, a 40-year-old bachelor so married to his work that he's been advised not to keep even pets.

Nupur Rekhy talks to him about his being an actor, director and a jinxed producer.

Which are the serials you are directing and producing?

My latest is Basera on the Zee channel. Other serials on air are Alvida Darling on Zee and Cincinatti Bablaboo and Hera Pheri on Star. On Channel 9 is Ghunghat ke pat Khole. In 1999 was Ghar Jamai on Zee and Chamatkar on Sony.

Its not funny but I have produced two serials and lost 10 lakhs (Rs1 million) on each. One was Manchali for BI TV and the other Parivar for NEPC but both channels closed down. Now I am directing a film Yeh dil mange more.

What went wrong in your producing?

I really don't know. For both the serials I made the channels themselves failed to get off the ground. I guess its just bad luck.

You say it is a tragedy you never got categorised. Why do you feel this?

Other actors are busy as they are slotted. I have done relatively less work as no one thought of comedy and me together for example. It is also a blessing in disguise though. I am known as an unpredictable actor.

Why unpredictable?

I don't try doing acting, as I am a thinking actor and have the ability to put myself in the character and build a graph. I don't want to be a typical Hindi film actor. To some extent I am an instinctive actor which can be dangerous. Directing or acting I never have got stereotyped whether it's in comedy or as a villain. I want to do everything. I want to bowl, field and bat. I want to be the complete article.

You once acted as a rapist and child abuser. Wasn't it chilling to act out such emotions?

When I did that episode for Bhavar (on Sony) I was appalled to even read a script like this. The character molests his daughter and gets away with it. As a person I would never subscribe to it but as an actor how many times do you get a chance like this. It was a once in a lifetime role but it was a battle doing it. The character was so cool and chilling that I tried to get into his psyche. I grew a French beard for the effect and suddenly I was him.

Why do you say it was a battle?

See I knew I would never get a role like this again but morally I was disgusted. I just couldn't put myself in the state of mind of being a father and molesting my own daughter. But as an actor I just couldn't let it go. It was a great challenge.

Even now you are active in theatre. Why?

Yes, absolutely. Theatre keeps the actor alive. Theatre is like an exercise. It's net practice and without it an actor would be rotting and become stagnant.

So what made you come to television?

In those times it was a new medium and it was exciting to do the roles you never got to do in films. Television created its own stars and it was a great feeling to get the immediate feedback. People who say that they don't want to do television because of its "small" size basically have some complexes and this provides a convenient excuse.

Why do you think it's only excuses?

Because these guys who condemn television actually don't get good offers and have no capacity to try out and challenge their acting abilities.

Do you think you missed doing something in the process?

Yeah! I wish I did better PR and had an agent. I don't know how to convince BT or Times about the kind of actor I am. And if I was better looking and did all the above things I could have taken over anyone and the entire industry. I have tremendous confidence.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I admire Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalkrishna, Bimal Roy and Shyam Benegal from the Indian crop. Others are Andrez Wajda, Martin Scorcece and Akira Kurosawa. And in actors its Balraj Sahani, Sanjeev Kumar, Gopi in Kerala, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins. By watching these people I have got inspired and I thank these great stars and if I ever get an award I will dedicate it to them.

What will you say for the new generation of television?

The influx of newcomers is good. They should just take care not to get burnt out fast just to make a quick buck. They should space out their work and be selective. Being different is the key word and people who think acting to be the easiest form of earning money or the last resort are very behind in their thinking.

How do you respond to criticism of your work?

I like my scenes to be talked about and if it's constructive then I don't mind. The most dangerous thing is when others only try to get you down so the only way I hit back is to work better and frustrate them even more.

Does faith in God ever help you to overcome such difficult times?

Yes, certainly. I believe in God and Gayatri Mantra is always on my lips, It's like a soothing balm. I say the Mantra ten times in the morning and in the evening when I come back home I light the diya. There is a force governing all of us but all the same I don't believe in the distorting of religion. Ultimately its only escapism and we should not forget reality and pursue our dreams and live life to its best with all our positive energy.

How come you never got married?

Maybe it's unfortunate but I am too much into my work and fear whether I'll be able to give enough time to my wife. I guess I am too married to my work. I have never been in a serious relationship. Sure I want someone to be there when I return home but its asking too much from anyone when I can't give any kind of commitment.

How much do you get involved in your work?

A lot. My camera man, sound recordist, art director and three assistants all function as a well-oiled team. From pin to piano I tell them when things get overlooked. I make it a point to take lines in advance to rehearse with my co-artists.

Lastly what would you say for yourself?

I am a very casual person. I like casual T-shirts and the idea is to be comfortable and I am happy the way I am. Even though I have been criticised for not setting an image I let my work speak for me.

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