Having acted in more than 70 films, produced around 15 and directed another 15, actor-director R Parthiban is known for his experimental approach to cinema. In 1984, he began his career working as K Bhagyaraj’s assistant director.
His most well-known credits include the critically acclaimed films Pudhiya Paadhai (1989) and Housefull (1999) — both won the National Film Award for Best Tamil Feature Film. In the more recent Oththa Serupu Size 7 (2019), he also received a Special Jury Award from the National Film Awards.
Recently, Parthiban also caught everyone’s attention when he attempted to narrate his film, Iravin Nizhal (2022), in a single breath! Considering the film’s narrative jumps from one scene to the next seemingly without a break for thought, the feat seems symbolic.
His most recent role as Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar, the commander in charge of the Thanjavur Fort, in Ponniyin Selvan — I, while a small role, is a pivotal one. The actor discusses with us his experiences working with director Mani Ratnam and music director AR Rahman for Ponniyin Selvan, as well as his passions for reading and engaging in social activities.
Tell us your experience working with AR Rahman and Mani Ratnam?
AR Rahman had called and appreciated me about my movie Iravin Nizhal when there was a controversy about the movie. He doesn’t have time to worry about any of this, but I have two months in between the movies to worry about the controversy. In his busy schedule, AR Rahman had spent his maximum time on Iravin Nizhal which made me happy. He is always busy with these big projects like Vendhu Thanindhadhu Kaadu and now Ponniyin Selvan. Ponniyin Selvan is a treasured show of knowledge. We should celebrate a movie like this and all the credit goes to the director Mani Ratnam. But, a movie like this should be celebrated by the whole of Kollywood. We should think of this movie as a Tamil film industry's success. In a developing country like this, nobody is attempting a movie like this.
Did you face any difficulty while shooting during the pandemic?
My film Iravin Nizhal and Ponniyin Selvan were both shot during the pandemic. In between my movie’s shoot, I spent 4-5 days for Ponniyin Selvan. The special care during the pandemic was not only for humans but even for animals. There was all the right protection with an ambulance on set.
Tell us about your character Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar?
This character is very well disciplined and he is a trustworthy commander in chief. Even if someone wants to enter the Thanjavur fort, without his permission — it just cannot happen. That’s about how much I can reveal. Watch the film to know more.
Since you have already acted in Aayirathil Oruvan (2010) which was about the Cholas and PS — I is also about the same empire, what do you think is the difference between the two?
These movies are extremely different and come from varied perspectives. Selvaraghavan can direct any type of movie, but Mani Ratnam had the biggest responsibility in trying to match Kalki’s book.
Have you read Ponniyin Selvan?
I had a friend named Karthik; who used to read books Kalki and Sandilyan parallelly, just like director Mysskin who read multiple books at a time. Whenever my friend Karthik reads a book, I used to sit beside him and read Sandilyan’s books. That’s how I read Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan. At that time, I never knew that I would one day get to play the role of Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar.
Do you follow any particular workout regime?
I don’t follow any diet or workout regime because I’m usually busy with projects.
Finally, do you have any favourite destinations that you always want to visit but you’ve put on hold because of the pandemic?
One of my friends suggested visiting Vietnam; he described the country as filled with people who are not money-minded, calm and peaceful. I want to go see that for myself.
Ponniyin Selvan is releasing in theatres on September 30.