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Interview Team : Dilani Rabindran

He’s been a grumpy graduate, a tortured writer and a bravado detective – but young up and coming star Ashok Selvan is far more than that. From his very first role alongside heavy-hitters in Soodhu Kavvum Ashok has consistently enthralled audiences with his varied portrayals and dramatic talents only normally witnessed in more seasoned artists. An award-winning short-filmmaker Ashok is also a key player in the wave of new Tamil cinema dominating the box office these days, and here he chats with columnist Dilani Rabindran about his career so far, his extremely reliable gut, and what we can prepare ourselves to see him do next, with probably just as much panache as to date.



When do you first remember wanting to become an actor?

I wanted to be a lot of things when I was growing up. I wanted to be a policeman, a business man, a military officer, a cricketer! But I got bored of all these things and then joined the Arena Multimedia Academy to learn animation, and after enrolling in Visual Communications I figured out I didn’t like animation anymore! Then one day I was chatting with one of my friends who wanted to be an actor. He was telling me that the magic behind being an actor was that ‘every day you can be something new’. That sounded interesting to me. So there wasn’t this long-burning fire to be an actor, but in the process I started liking what I was doing and gradually I became very serious. With each rejection the dream became more serious. 

I wanted to be a policeman, a business man, a military officer, a cricketer!


How did you get into short films? 

I started doing short films for my seniors & classmates, and then for others after they got to know I was interested in acting and had seen my work. I didn’t have any formal training in acting, so it was like trial and error; with every shot we did we learned something. I figured that going to offices and giving them my photos wouldn’t work for me, so I decided to do a lot of short films because then in the process I could meet a lot of directors who would eventually become feature film directors; that was my strategy. 


Can you tell me about “Green”?

I did “Green” when I was 19, as a college project. That was my first short film, story and direction. It won Best Film at the 2012 International Tamil Thoth Conference in Singapore. It’s very close to my heart since it was my first directorial debut. 


You starred in another very interesting short called “Life & Death of a Rebel”…

For that film it was just me, the director and the camera-man in Ladakh for 18 days. It was a life-changing shoot. Before that I was just doing whatever the director was telling me to but on that short we worked together on character graphs…I became very serious [about acting] after that shoot.


Your first big feature Soodhu Kavvum was a huge hit. Did you expect that level of success for the film when you were first offered the part?

Not really. They actually didn’t tell me the story [in full]! It was completely a gut feeling. There were a lot of films I was trying for and not getting, and then there were a lot of films that were coming to me that I was rejecting, and I was getting a lot of flak for it; so I was afraid that if I chose the wrong first film all those people I rejected would laugh at me. But when I went to see the Soodhu Kavvum team I just knew. I knew what Nalan was capable of because I am a huge fan of his short films; Vijay Sethupathy was also getting his name for choosing good scripts at the time, and CV Kumar had made Pizza before. 

I knew what Nalan was capable of because I am a huge fan of his short films


Were you hesitant to debut in an ensemble instead of as a central hero?

There are two types of films going on right now. CV Kumar’s film’s are treated like ‘indies’, and then there are the mainstream ‘Kodambakkam films’. If it was a mainstream film I would’ve thought twice about acting [in a group]. But with Nalan and CV I knew importance would be given to the script. There wouldn’t be separate scenes for the hero’s image beyond what was necessary in the story. It was quite a risky gamble, because I had rejected multi-star offers before that, but I just knew it was meant to be my first film. 


What was it like working with Vijay Sethupathy at that time when his star was first exploding? 

At that time Pizza & NKPK were big hits, so he didn’t have to be so humble, but he was very sweet. He was very supportive and encouraging. In fact after just 10-15 days of working together he recommended me to other directors. He is like an elder brother. If I ever have doubts about what to do in my career, he is one of the 2-3 people in the industry I can ask advice from. 


Vijay Sethupathy is like an elder brother


So even though Pizza 2 wasn’t a sequel, did you feel pressure taking on a role in a franchise that was already so successful?

Huge pressure! Your first film as the main hero itself is pressurizing, and then to add that Pizza title was double the pressure! But I think that is what pushed me to the next level. It was a good kind of pressure!



Thegidi is also such a different film - neo-noir and mysterious. Are you specific in choosing these types of roles or are people approaching you with them?

All kinds of people approach me. There are people who want me to be the next mass hero…but I don’t base my decisions on that. Thegidi was recommended by CV Kumar. He asked me to listen to the narration, and I thought it was brilliant when I did.


I also chose Thegidi because in Pizza 2 the character was not relative to me. Would you see that kind of tortured, writer type in real life often? (I mean you might, but the common man probably wouldn’t!) So after that I thought let me do a character that is more relatable; not entirely boy-next-door but someone that people want to cheer for - someone that they want to win in the end. And Vetri was very lovable, so that was also another reason why I chose Thegidi, in addition to the script being wonderful. 

There are people who want me to be the next mass hero


Most of your roles have been suspenseful to date. Do you want to try all different types of genres, like comedy, full romance? 

That’s the plan for the next 2 years, try out every genre. The Sathyasivan film I’m shooting for right now is a full length comedy, [and then I have Varai Padam following that]. So I want to break that serious typecast. People started asking me “don’t you smile?”…so I chose this script!

People started asking me “don’t you smile?”


I heard that you rejected over 40 scripts before you chose this Sathyasiva movie, is that true?

Yes. People started approaching me with more thrillers, and some other things, after Thegidi. But this script was very light and I wanted to try comedy. And it’s with a good production company.


You’ve directed short films before, so is directing features something you plan on doing in the future? 

I definitely have plans of directing, but not anytime soon. That urge is always there.


Of all the celebs or industry veterans you’ve got to meet through your career which was most memorable meeting?

Kamal Sir. He saw Soodhu Kavvum and invited the team over. He was mainly looking at the other side of the circle we were in, so I was thinking “I came all this way and he’s not even looking at me!” and then he asked CV Kumar what he was working on and at the time Pizza 2 was filming. So when Kamal sir asked who’s acting in it, everyone just replied ‘that guy’ and pointed to me. Then he looked at me for a while and eventually asked “enthe ooru?” and I was lost for about 5 seconds while everyone stared at me! After a while I managed “Erode, sir” and he replied “Good. Good” and turned back around. That’s it. It’s like a video that plays on loop in my head! 

Kamal sir looked at me for a while and eventually asked “enthe ooru?”


If you weren’t working in the film industry what do you think you would be doing? 

I think I would have a different job every 3 months! I have other desires besides acting, for instance, I would like to be a writer. There are a lot of things I would like to do, that I will do. It doesn’t have to be because I am bored of acting, but because I would love to try many different types of roles in life and figure out exactly what I am here for. 


1 word to describe each co-star/director/producer


a)      Vijay Sethupathy             - heart

b)      Sanchita Shetty               - supportive

c)       Nalan Kumarasamy        - great writer (2 words please!)

d)      C.V. Kumar                      - mentor

e)      Deepan Chakravarthy      - visualization

f)       Janani Iyer                       - sweet

g)      P. Ramesh                       - clarity


Actor you’d most like to work with?                              

- Ajith!

Actress you’d most like to work with?                          

- Deepika Padukone!

Director(s) you’d most like to work with?                   

- Vetrimaaran, Selvaraghavan, Mani Ratnam, Karthik Subbaraj

Favorite Tamil movie of all time?                                     

- Sathya

Favorite Hollywood or foreign language film(s) of all time?

       – In the Mood for Love, Crash, No Country for Old Men



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