With a little over ten films to his credit (one of them with Superstar Rajinikanth), you’d think the kids would know all about Dinesh’s rise to stardom. But unusually so, in this social media-fuelled age, Dinesh is a star who has deliberately shrouded his past in mystery.
When you ask him about it, he laughs. “It’s just that nobody has asked me the right questions yet! I have all the answers, but like the Genie, you have to ask me the right questions to get them.”
Dinesh Ravi is hard to fathom.
One minute, he’s flamboyant, all excessive hand gestures and flyaway hair. “I want to do five films in a year. And all of them, good ones,” he exclaims.
And the next, after a quick look from his manager, he becomes subdued. “Sometimes, I say the wrong things. That’s why I have somebody nearby all the while.”
A while later, it occurs to me that Dinesh just doesn’t want to be fathomed. I ask him why. “I don’t want society to figure me out. I think the mystery is lost then. When you know everything about everyone, the allure is lost, right? Much of my thoughts and actions are derived from this principle.”
Dinesh’s early life followed the trajectory of the Attakathi hero. He grew up in Chennai, a self-confessed ‘bro-about-town’, hanging out with his ‘area’ friends, confused about what life held for him. Till he ‘connected’ with Pa Ranjith. “Ranjith’s gang is a group of like-minded intellectuals who are bound by their similar experiences. We all have similar backstories and are looking for ways to find catharsis through art. It’s a stimulating relationship. We live off each other’s vibes in a way.”
Much of Dinesh’s opinions about the world and cinema are informed by his experiences with Pa Ranjith. He shares details of his ongoing ventures with Ranjith and even seeks advice every now and then. “To me, he is like a big brother. He is a mentor figure in my life. No one can nurture my career or shape it quite like him. So I always look to him for advice in sticky situations.”
This relationship doesn’t extend itself to casting decisions, though, Dinesh informs me. “I had to audition for my Kabali role just like the others.”
The Attakathi fame did little to bolster his career at first, admits Dinesh. “It wasn’t until Thirudan Police that people started taking me seriously. The problem with specific genres is that you get associated with that. Once I went commercial though, offers started coming in.” But it was not a decision Dinesh took lightly. “Where I come from, meaningful cinema has greater prestige and privilege than mass films. While I watch the mass ones, personally, I’d like to be associated with the independent cinema movement always. But, to survive in this industry, an artiste has to do a mix of both. Even Nasser and Prakash Raj act in large ensemble potboilers to generate money for their independent ventures. Who am I to say no to that formula?”
Visaaranai was a big boost to Dinesh’s career, but the film took a toll on the actor’s health much like his previous Cuckoo. The artiste in him though, was satisfied. “I look for personal satisfaction in all my roles. I search for some element that would satisfy me as a member of the audience, and also something that would allow me to approach the role in a unique yet challenging manner. Else, it’s not worth it.”
While making Cuckoo, a heartwarming tale of romance between two visually-challenged people, Dinesh had to cross his eyes for long periods of time. “I had migraine and severe eye pain. Even when I was keeping my eyes normal, they would look crossed. I filmed Thirudan Police like that. In some scenes, you can see it.”
But despite his carefully-orchestrated career, Dinesh has come to be associated with certain kinds of roles. He’s become the actor who ‘tries too hard’ even for something run-of-the-mill. “I’ve heard that criticism, yes. What role is normal? How do you define the acceptable amount of effort one can make for a normal role? I do what I think is required. I cannot define my input by someone else’s criteria. That’s not professional, and moreover, it’s going to be a waste of my time.”
Besides, he’s in good company, he declares. “Kamal sir, Vikram sir were all actors who put unbelievable levels of commitment into their roles. Even they were questioned in the beginning. I feel honoured to be sharing their journey in some way.”
Fame is not what Dinesh is after, though. “I’m doing my own thing in my own space. If people come to like it, I’m happy. If not, well, I’ll keep doing my thing.”
Up next is Ulkuthu with his Thirudan Police director, Caarthick Raju. “It’s an exciting new space for me as a performer. Caarthick and I gelled really well during the first film, and I’m happy to say that things only got better with the second. I’m joining Nandita Swetha yet again for this, and it’s a curious mix of my indie debut as well as my commercial debut.”
Is he in line for another role in Pa Ranjith’s film with Rajinikanth? “Maybe,” he says, “But I’d have to ace the audition first!”
Dinesh Ravi’s Ulkuthu releases May 12.
The Dinesh Ravi interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.