R Madhavan in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

South Indian actor R Madhavan, who flew into the UAE recently to film his new web series ‘7th Sense’, believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught him a few important life lessons.

The 50-year-old star, whose credits include the iconic romance ‘Alaipayuthe’, the blistering comedy ‘Three Idiots’ and ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ with Kangana Ranaut and web series ‘Breathe’, has learnt the importance of slowing down in his own life.

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“People will eventually get over this COVID-19 era … But we have realised that we are hurtling in our lives and encountered impatience on a daily basis. It’s made us aware of our degree of dissatisfaction and the impulsive need to keep changing, moving and hurtling towards everything,” said R Madhavan in an interview with Gulf News.

R Madhavan along with actors Rohit Roy, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Elli Avram and Sana Saeed were on call last week to talk about filming in the UAE during these trying times. The press conference at the Palazzo Versace was the first such Bollywood event since March and social distancing was being practised religiously.

Produced by Gaurang Doshi, the ambitious series ‘7th Sense’ will be shot extensively in this region.

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Madhavan with producer Gaurang Doshi (centre). Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Actors Vijay Raj and Akshay Oberoi (who replaced Prateik Babbar in this series) have been roped in to a series that has seen several casting changes including the exit of actors Ameesha Patel, Prateik Babbar and Ronit Roy. According to Doshi, changes are the new constant in their lives.

Excerpts from our interview with R Madhavan as we talk about our new reality and filming in the era of social distancing in Dubai …

What are your thoughts on returning to filming after the COVID-19 outbreak? ‘7th Sense’ is the first web series to be filmed extensively in the UAE during this time.

Honestly, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to start with because we were able to come from all the way from India to start filming in this region. The fact that it happens to be Dubai came as no surprise because if I would have to bet on any place around the world to set an example — like they have always done — and I know this is not just [PR speak] but I mean it because Dubai has always been the country to set a trend on everything.

It’s natural that Dubai would open its gates for filming and that too for a web series of such a large scale. I am always happy to come back to Dubai because this is my seventh or eighth project that I have shot in Dubai in my career. Most importantly, the fact that we will be in front of the camera and we will be getting into character, I will be able to smell the make-up and I want to hear the word “pack up” at the end of every day and hopefully we are able to finish the shoot in these very tiring times.

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Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The outbreak has been tough on everyone globally. As an actor, how much has the film industry been impacted by the pandemic and temporary halting of shootings for safety?

We are not letting out as much as we have been impacted because there are a lot of people who are ending their lives because of this and it makes me sad to say it. It’s a serious concern how people with daily wages are able to manage.

Somebody like me who has been blessed with the best in life, it was not easy to have liquidity for six to seven months to run our life. Your payments just stop one day and it was extremely abrupt. This was not like when somebody says you are not going to feel well and that you are going to be in the hospital for your broken legs and that you cannot shoot.

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The '7th Sense' team in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

In such a situation, you have time to prepare for such situations. Honestly, nobody keeps that much ready cash in hand and so even though your net worth might be a lot more or even if you have a lot of land, property or stock, you cannot sell it now.

And several people depend on you and the reality strikes that you have employed four people in your household and you have two kids going to school. Perhaps, you were planning to get your wife’s surgery done at some point. But I am more concerned about rationing my funds.

So, even if I think — ‘let’s take the money we have saved and we can worry about it later’, that ‘later’ is becoming a large worry in our lives now. One of the reasons why everybody is keen to get back to work is to make sure that you are able to sustain your lifestyle and also to support all those who are involved with your lifestyle.

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In the web series 'Breathe'.

But have you learnt to embrace the unpredictability in our lives? Has COVID-19 been the biggest leveller in your life?

For the first 10 days, everyone was happy when the lockdown was declared. But later it hit us that this could be our new way of life. This period has helped us realise how much we love solitude and how much it really means to clean your own stuff and do your own work. I went from being ‘Oh my God, I am so grateful to my domestic help’ to ‘Oh, it is not such a difficult job after all’.”

The Bollywood industry has been earning a lot of flak and is being positioned as a drug-fuelled, nepotistic industry. You all look like players from ‘Breaking Bad’. How do you react to all that noise in the industry now?

The best thing for me to do right now is not to react. It is not irresponsible of me, it is extremely responsible of me not to add to the chaos. I don’t want to be quoted or have an opinion on something that I really have no idea about. I am in the COVID era, sitting at home and I am pecking at information given to me and we don’t even know how much of any of that has got any truth and me adding to it will only add to the existing chaos. It’s becoming a big circus and adding to that noise is something I am not comfortable with.

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With Kangana Ranaut in 'Tanu Weds Manu'.

How do you keep the faith alive? You have survived in the entertainment industry by constantly reinventing yourself. How did you manage to be relevant?

When push comes to a shove, even people of ordinary calibre are able to endure because the tough times bring out the best in them. The only difference in me is that I have understood a war before I had to fight the battles in that war. I have understood the changes that will happen because of social media and I have predicted those changes in content happening in OTT before it happened and before people of my calibre were able to imagine it.

I was the first guy to break many barriers and as a result I have always been called as someone who is metamorphosing. But it is actually a survival instinct and that having to endure is a survival thing and you have to keep at it at all times. I think that even a rat when pushed to a corner is capable of fighting a cat or a tiger.

Is ‘7th Sense’ anything like ‘Money Heist’. Our press material had an image of all of you in masks.

In terms of the genre, ‘7th Sense’ is similar to that thriller. But ‘Money Heist’ has set a really high standard when it comes to being real unpredictable. I hope we can match up to that.

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In 'Three Idiots'.

You were mentioning your age earlier in an interview. How difficult is it to get age-appropriate roles in your career now, especially since you were known for your romantic hero image in blockbusters like ‘Alaipayuthe’ when young?

I am getting more offers today in lead roles than I ever got in my life and I am grateful for it.

Oh, really …

I am surprised that you are surprised.

In all fairness, you have made it on your own steam and you are this poster boy for anti-nepotism since you didn’t have any godfather or powerful industry insiders to boost your career.

No, I don’t think I am a poster boy for that. I don’t think there is any superstar over here who hasn’t made it on his own steam. Everyone who has been accepted in to the industry have extremely high IQ.

Let me take the example of a junior artist who has survived in this industry for at least five to 10 years. She had to walk a tight rope all her life and she had to ensure that she gets acting jobs frequently. She also had to make sure that she got paid for it and she had to make sure that she wasn’t exploited either.

Plus, she had to make sure that she gets called for other acting jobs, despite not wanting to be exploited. If you have managed to do that for more those many years, then can you imagine the IQ that woman has?

A woman or a man may behave dumb in front of the camera, but if they have survived in this industry for that long, then you are a lot more intelligent that what people give you credit for. Actors who have survived have a keen sense of adaptability.