How Dhanush broke barriers to emerge as one of Kollywood’s best talents in recent years
When Venkatesh Prabhu made his debut at the age of 19 with a small film called Thulluvadho Ilamai, no one gave it much thought. But 15 years later, Venkatesh Prabhu, better known as Dhanush, has turned into a National Award-winning actor. Today, he is a pan-Indian actor, singer, lyricist, producer and director. The Kollywood star’s first directorial venture, Pa Pandi, is set to release on 14 April 2017 and he has a Hollywood debut on the cards, too. And oh yes, he’s married to superstar Rajinikanth’s older daughter, Aishwarya.
Dhanush’s career was launched by his family. While his first film was directed by his father, his second film Kadhal Kondein (2003) was directed by his brother Selvaraghavan. And it was this film that catapulted him into the limelight. Dhanush's first few films, which some people viewed as being B-grade, catering mainly to youngsters and centering on love and ‘love failure’, as it is popularly known in Tamil cinema.
However, with Pudhupettai and Polladhavan, the Tamil actor firmly established himself as an action star, though it was only in 2011 that he moved into the A-list star category of Kollywood. Director Vetrimaaran’s Aadukalam showcased Dhanush’s talent perfectly and his role as rooster-fighter K P Karuppu bagged him the National Award for Best Actor. With this film and an award to boot, the actor had cemented his place in the Tamil film industry.
By this time, Dhanush was also quietly honing his skills as a singer and lyricist. In 2012, he released 'Why This Kolaveri Di' with his cousin Anirudh (composed for the movie 3) and it became a global phenomenon. Written and sung by Dhanush or D as he became known, the Tanglish (Tamil and English) song was noticed by the audience in North India and of course, Bollywood. Thus, it was no surprise when director Anand L Rai went on to sign him for his first Hindi film Raanjhanaa in 2013. But here again, he ensured that the role he took on suited him – Kundan Shankar was a middle class Tamilian boy in Varanasi who falls in love with a Muslim neighbour.
D is one Kollywood star who is very aware of his strengths and weaknesses. He knows the kind of roles he could essay and is accepted in. Thus, he has consciously fashioned his career path along those lines. He is often seen as an uneducated lower middle class or struggling middle class youngster who is up against the system in some way – be it love, employment or other social norms. As an actor, he constantly tries to experiment with his roles within this space and moves from the urban to rural setting with ease but always keeping in mind the audience. Young men can easily identify themselves with him and his popularity obviously soared among the masses.
But Dhanush was always sure he eventually wanted to produce and direct films. He started his production house Wunderbar Films in 2010, but it was only in 2012 that his first production 3 rolled out. The movie, directed by his wife Aishwarya, didn’t fare well at the box office but his subsequent productions (Ethir Neechal, Velaiyilla Pattathari (VIP), Kaaki Sattai and Kaaka Muttai) did and established him as a producer who had a nose for scripts. VIP was one of the biggest Kollywood hits of 2014, while Kaaka Muttai bagged two National Awards in 2015. Dhanush the producer had arrived.
Over the last few years, the whispers that D wants to turn director grew stronger in the Tamil film industry. In fact, the movie 3, which was Aishwarya’s directorial debut, was rumoured to have been ghost-directed by him. This buzz grew stronger with Velaiyilla Pattathari (VIP), which had Velraj (a well-known cinematographer) as the director. However, this didn’t faze the actor.
Many in the Tamil film industry felt Dhanush had used these films to sharpen his directorial skills before he announced a project. He was always meticulous when it came to filmmaking and seemed to want to ensure that he knew all aspects of direction before he took the plunge. The Kollywood star understood having established a name for himself; he didn’t want to set himself up for failure.
It was only in September 2016 that Dhanush announced his directorial debut, Pa Pandi, with none other than veteran actor Rajkiran. Produced by his own production house, the actor had roped in Rajkiran as the protagonist – incidentally, Rajkiran made his debut as hero in 1991 in none other than Dhanush’s father’s film, En Rasavin Manasile. One wonders whether this was just coincidence or the actor was being slightly superstitious. But the trailer for the film has got positive reviews and expectations are high. For someone who was successful in almost every aspect of his career, becoming a director with the Midas touch is the ultimate bastion Dhanush has to conquer.
Despite his success, the actor-producer-director-singer-writer has had his share of controversies in his 15 year-career. There has been gossip about issues in his marriage due to his friendships with other actresses and of course, his professional split with Anirudh and spat with Simbu. He was also the target of the recent ‘Suchi Leaks’ that took the Internet by storm. Through all this, Dhanush has maintained a stoic silence preferring to focus on his work. Though he is married to Rajinikanth's daughter, he has tried to ensure that he doesn't use his father-in-law's name or fame to further his career. He has strived hard to create his own identity in the Indian film industry and has emerged triumphant.
When Rang De Basanti and Mirzya director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra declared that the world should be working with Dhanush, he was expressing what many other directors were thinking. Dhanush has transformed himself from a gawky young boy from Thai Sathiya Matriculation High School into a sophisticated actor-director who now hangs out with Bollywood’s Ranveer Singh and is acting with Hollywood’s Uma Thurman. He may be trapped in an Ikea cupboard on screen but Dhanush has broken all barriers to emerge as one of Kollywood’s best talents in recent years.