|Rajeev Ravindranathan with Sridevi at Gauri Shinde's house|
If ever a film deserved an award for an ensemble cast, it was this.
Like many of his co-stars, it took a moment to wrap their brains around the fact they'd be sharing screen-space with actress, the legend... Sridevi.
After all, EV is Sridevi's 218th film! And newcomer Rajeev had appeared in 3 idiots (look for the scene of him as the ragging senior!) and then... on set with the doyenne of Indian cinema.
On behalf of millions of fans of both the film and Sridevi, we had many questions and he's kindly indulged us here. So over to RR:
Q. What was your first day like working with Sridevi on the film English Vinglish?
The first day of shooting was at the theatre where all of us watch the Elizabeth Taylor classic. The LSE gang were called to set about an hour earlier than Sri Ma'am [Sridevi] so by then I still hadn't met her. The anticipation was killing me and I'd just moved to my toe nails after having bitten off all my fingernails when Gauri [Shinde, writer/director] got us into position and I realised I'd be sitting next to her. I'm sure I'd have passed out had it not been for a glass of really strong coffee. Or three.
Sri Ma'am arrived and in an instant disarmed me in a completely anticlimactic moment. A polite hello and she was in position ready to film.
I spoke in an unintelligible language for a few seconds before regaining my composure. The first shot was called and understandably I was looking like a star struck fan boy on the monitor, not someone playing her classmate. A wake-up call from Gauri later, more unexpected warmth from Sri Ma'am later, the shot was canned.
The scene is made up of a few shots which gave me enough time in between them to try and break the ice. I didn't have to try. She was warm and friendly. A few hours later, just like that, I had completed the first day of filming with a childhood hero. The next few weeks were going to be, quite simply, magic.
We did read the script together a few times but Gauri had so much faith in her script and characters that she was cool with improvisations. A lot of things you see in the film are improvisations sparked off by sheer positive energy and camaraderie that we all shared. And the applause for this goes to Gauri who let us wield a paint brush on this sharply etched canvas she'd created and to Sri Ma'am too who put us all at ease. She'd spend so much time with us in between shots and we'd make up stuff without letting Gauri know and even though she saw it for the first time on the monitor, she'd let us keep at it. That's the sign of a really self-assured director who trusts in her cast. As an actor you really can't ask for more.
I got along with Sri Ma'am like a house on fire because, well, apart from being a generally jovial and charming sort of chap, I'm also South Indian with a fair grasp of all the languages she's good at. Once I figured she's a stickler for jokes, I never let her rest. Every moment in between the camera rolling was full of nonsensical jokes that she'd crack up on.
The joke featured on the Making Of video is actually something a friend (who plays Father Francis) narrates as part of his stand-up routine about a popular but late Tamil superstar playing father and son in a scene where the son reveals he is gay.
Sri Ma'am would crack up instantly at my nonsense which gave her make-up person very little time to rest since he'd have to touch her up and undo the damage her tears of laughter did to his hard labour.
|Rajeev with Sridevi on set|
Everyone's stock question is what is she like? And my stock answer is she's lovely. She truly is a warm, down-to-earth simple human being with a heart of gold. She's a generous actor always concerned about everyone else in the scene and always making sure everyone's got something to do. She's also got this funny and mischievous streak that's a great source of laughter and madness for the people around her. You'll see enough and more glimpses of this in the Making Of video.
We still talk on the phone every few weeks or so; her younger daughter is a big fan of Rama. I helped her negotiate the first few weeks of getting on and staying on twitter, sort of learning her the ropes.
She [Sridevi] deeply acknowledges the love of her fans, at times she seems overwhelmed by it – if you ask me that's true humility. After all these years of creating celluloid magic and touching so many lives, she's still taken aback almost about all the adulation she receives. All through the filming and later closer to release, she'd keep saying how she hopes like hell that her fans like the film.
|Sridevi with Rajeev Ravindranathan on the sets of English Vinglish|
I can't be pompous and say she's my friend for life or anything. But she is definitely someone I know I will be in touch with for long. I have immense respect for her abilities as an actor and her warmth and humility are infectious.
Q. And of course, what's in future for you - more films? TV? Standup?!
Well, let me put it this way. I'm not really looking for new work.
The immediate future for me is about exploring a new path English Vinglish opened up. That of acting in a film and helping promote it. My firm handled the facebook page and twitter handle for EV for two months prior to the release. And that taught me a lot of things about the process. I've already promised Balki that I'll have a much more detailed plan in place for his film from when he's got a title for it till when it releases.
Acting will continue to remain a passionate hobby for me. I don't think I can live in Mumbai. I don't mind working there for days on end. My motivation remains to entertain people and English Vinglish satisfied me immensely in that sense. I didn't expect to connect with so many people but it's happened now and I hope I get more such opportunities to make people laugh or cry as the case may be.
I'm getting back to theatre with a play next Feb. In fact a play I've been in the last few years will be on at NCPA, Mumbai on Dec 14.
So to answer the question, I'm putting my future in the hands of storytellers everywhere. I'm an ever willing puppet, a piece of clay that's ready to be moulded into whatever shape needed. If you and I can make minds meet, I'll give you my heart and soul and help you tell your story to the world.
Pics below: Sridevi with the supporting cast of English Vinglish at the Mumbai premiere of the film.