As a child, Udhayanidhi Stalin would look forward to the vacations in his mother’s village of Thiruvengadu. Far away from Chennai and the limelight, he revelled in the anonymity, played with ‘summer holiday’ friends, indulged in gully cricket, travelled to nearby Poompuhar, and spent quality time with his grandparents.
Years later, after turning producer and then actor, Udhayanidhi wanted to be part of a film set in a village, because he felt there was little spotlight on rural subjects. He got that opportunity with Podhuvaaga En Manasu Thangam (PEMT), co-starring Nivetha Pethuraj and R Parthiban, which releases on Friday.
“Cinematographer KT Balasubramaniam, who has worked with me in three films, thought this subject would suit me. When the narration neared the interval stage, I’d decided to take it up,” he says.
The film will be like a ‘thiruvizha’ (village festival), with humour, songs, and a message — the importance of safeguarding traditions, says Udhayanidhi.
While shooting in Theni for 60 days, he travelled back to his childhood. “All these years as an actor, I’ve just headed towards rural Tamil Nadu, primarily Pollachi, to shoot songs. This film was like a throwback to a more innocent era.”
Udhayanidhi says that since he’s a producer too, he chooses films with the finance in mind. “I look at the script, its viability, work out its budget and see what the returns will be like. Because this is the first time I’m working with an outside producer (Thenandal Films), I wanted to be sure I don’t let down anyone. I sent them two scripts — this, and a thriller set in a city. And, now, I’ve taken on the avatar of Ganesh in this film,” he shares.
PEMT, says Udhayanidhi, was a lesson in native traditions such as a goddess having a porandha veedu (maternal home) and a pugundha veedu (marital home) and the huge importance accorded to the festivities. “Our director Thalapathy Prabhu is from a village near Dharmapuri, and when he showed me a video of a thiruvizha in his village, I was hooked.”
Praising co-stars comes easily to the actor, who confesses that Santhanam’s presence was a huge boost to his first couple of films. “In Gethu, I had Sathyaraj sir, and in this, I also have Mayilsamy and Soori for company. I sought out Parthiban sir because a hero will shine only with a powerful negative character. We all know how he can ace a scene. This is Nivetha’s second film, but her first commercial outing, and she’s done a great job.”
Udhayanidhi, whose career can be classified as pre- and post-Manithan, says it gave him the confidence to hold his own in front of performers such as Prakash Raj and Radha Ravi. “I was bored of doing romantic comedies, and wondered how bored the audience would be. That is when I started experimenting with films like Gethu, and Saravanan Irukka Bayamaen. I’m now confident that I can handle any character.”
Next up for release, hopefully in a month, is Gaurav’s Ippadai Vellum, where he plays a software engineer who banks on his intelligence. Then, there’s the biggest of them all. Priyadarshan is to remake the superhit Malayalam movie Maheshinte Prathikaram with Udhayanidhi.
“It was a huge surprise when he asked me. I’ve shot for about 10 days. It’s going to be a lot of learning,” he says.
Udhayanidhi does not mince words when speaking of hits and flops. “It’s vital to acknowledge the truth. The numbers don’t lie. And, if you don’t factor in what you’re worth, the budget will go haywire,” he reasons, explaining that even if he’s just an actor on the sets, his producer avatar is alive and kicking too. “I am very particular about the shooting never getting delayed and correct deployment of people.”
Between him and wife Kiruthiga, the family has an actor, director and producer. What does she think of Udhayanidhi the actor? “She’s my fiercest critic. She’s very proud of Manithan. She saw PEMT and said it was good. I’m now relaxed,” he smiles.