Madhavan, aka Maddy, has sent many a heart throbbing over the years with his ‘chocolate’ looks and cleft chin. In a series of ads for Airtel, he had set many hearts melting with starry dreams as he bade a reluctant goodbye to Vidya Balan. The sweet nothings and vibrant chemistry that they share, absolute Mills & Boon sentiments, had made the advertisers sign the pair on for a national campaign. That is the effect he has on people of all ages.
Maddy wears the adulation, the frenzied fan following and the star status very lightly on his persona. He remains the same guy with the strong values ingrained at home way back in Jamshedpur. This exploration of Maddy’s personality is that of a family man, a business person and a man with strong interests in sports and hobbies.
What keeps Maddy grounded is the small town upbringing. Madhavan won his stripes pretty early. “I was a rebel and was not going to fall in line going to IIT and Top Management schools that was the norm in my Iyengar family. It was deeply ingrained in my mind that I wanted to try and do something on my own. My parents gave up trying to force me to fit the mould”. Ranganathan and Saroja, parents of Madhavan, were critical like all parents about these out-of-the-box forays of Maddy into unchartered territory. Maddy’s sights were set on the army, but acceding to his parents took a degree in electronics.
His public life was launched when he was chosen to represent India as its Cultural Ambassador and sent to Canada after graduation. He was awarded the Maharashtra Best NCC Cadet that enabled him to go to England with three others Cadets. He received training with the Royal Army, the Navy and the Air Force that he briefly thought of joining. He was unfortunately, (or fortunately) rejected because of a cut-off age. He also won the Indian Championship for Public Speaking and represented India at the Young Businessmen Conference in Tokyo, Japan in 1992.
“I came back from Canada unscathed without the arm candy or bad habits that my family feared I would develop. The survival of that year changed me”. Later when he joined movies his parents were open to the idea because of his level-headedness in these experiences.
Maddy describes his journey from the past to the present without stopping to think for a word or expression. The thought processes are articulate and logical and all the sentiments expressed are ‘on the record’ for Communication skills were the platform on which he built his career. “I was brought up with a lot of freedom and taught early to handle responsibility. I began to conduct courses on personality development for my peers in college in Kolhapur. I taught them the rudiments of expressing themselves in English, all about grooming, communicating and Public Speaking skills. I showed them how to have the courage to stand up and express themselves. I trained 200 students in Mithibhai College, Mumbai and soon I was earning Rs.75000 a month in ’92—’93 and sending money home even as I was studying. (My parents thought that I was in the Mafia!) From peers it was a step up to their parents who were Office bearers in Rotary and other local social service organizations in Kolhapur. As I was very effective my reputation spread by word of mouth and soon I was in demand with Banks and Corporates as well and it became a full fledged career.” By the time Maddy entered the visual media he had already been round the world twice over. .
He is a linguist and his English is impeccable with Tamil, Hindi, Marathi and other South Indian languages. “When it is emotion based communication or if it is a pleasant exchange of this and that, I speak in Tamil. When the situation is heated and agitation builds up, I switch to Hindi. The final lambasting is pure English. My mother was always the front, a kind of shock absorber. I communicated to my Dad through my mother like many other boys of my generation. I was out of my home at 23 and I remember what my Dad told me—‘If you are not able to get a job, I will do the charity of feeding you’.” The relationship is one to one and his son Vedaant has changed the equation. “Today the roles are reversed and my parents listen to me. I have brought them up to grandparenthood!” he quips.
Madhavan began to act only after his marriage, and at twenty-nine set to rest the canard that a married man cannot become a success in films. “It was a love marriage and I met Sarita in Mumbai. “Our marriage is the same as any other—deep rooted in middle class values—and no different from many marriages of the same kind. There are moments of ecstasy and agony. The intrinsic desire is to be with one another. It is this inability to see beyond the other that helps us to stay bonded. I speak Marathi and in fact I wooed her speaking in Marathi in Kolhapur”.
Vedaant calls Maddy ‘Bapa’ a mixture of Marathi’s Baba and Appa. “Kids today are very involved. Even when my son was just 2+ years old he knew the difference between whales and sharks, sea-lions and otters. I don’t want him to be focussed only academically. I was the worst student. Today academics is only the ability to vomit out what one has learnt by rote. I became educated on my own apart from the formal qualifications that I have. Today I enjoy history and geography that I used to loathe as a student as I have gathered information and understood and applied it to real life situations. It is important to learn lifeskills. Vedaant is going to be a celebrity’s son. Yet I will try to give him a common man’s upbringing. When I was growing up, I used to play with kids of workers and when we fell down we put mud on the bruise. This Vedaant has to understand on his own. I got my lesson about how to bring up a kid from the drunk husband of my housemaid who said ‘If my son is going to be a good boy he is going to make a life for himself’”.
Maddy says, “I am very Vadagalai Iyengar. I pray in Tamil and think about my family set up in Tamil. The Western influences are in the feeling that one should openly express feelings of love. When I see my parents every morning, it is a full fledged, hearty greeting—Hi Appa! How are you this morning? Communication skills are weapons. We are talking about one life.”
The couple do not lead a hectic social life. “For the last five to six years I have been anti-social. We just have a few close friends with whom we interact. I am not in the party mode as I am concentrating on my career. Frankly, I am not missing it too”. Jet lag is another factor that he is constantly handling as Maddy travels a lot.
Discipline is survival for Maddy. “The only thing that stops you from leading an indisciplined life is to know when to say enough”. So he is nowadays taking on smaller projects and that leaves him time to pursue two passions. Early on a Sunday morning he is out with his toys, Aeromodels. “This is a vent for my Engineering background and I thoroughly enjoy the skills and expertise needed to engage in this hobby”. Golf is another activity that keeps him fit and equals acting in passion. “I get a chance to be close to nature, to be on my own with my thoughts”.
He is a vegetarian and endorses PETA and has appeared voluntarily in several advertisements for them. He has released an E-Card for the brand and in 2006 was voted the “cutest male vegetarian” by an online poll. He is an animal lover and has two dogs and a parrot. He also supports Banyan and AIDS awareness. In 2007, Madhavan entered Film Production and shot beautiful movies like ‘Evano Oruvan’ and ‘Guru En Allu’. His portrayal of Farhan Qureshi in te hugely successful ‘Three Idiots’ and his amazing on screen match of presence with Amitabh Bacchan in ‘Teen Patti’ has won him a new generation of fans. Madhavan works out everyday and even drastically lost weight for ‘Three Idiots’.
His interview with Mr.Narayan Murthy of Infosys created ripples and caught the interest of the media”. Maddy has also tried his hands at game shows on TV. Right now he keeps shuttling between Chennai and Mumbai.
Madhavan believes in investing in Real Estate and he is not into the share market at all. “We are not ambitious investors. I gather information, read the newspapers but not books a great deal”. In a shocking confession Maddy says, “I am a spendthrift. I don’t miss going to the Malls or shopping. When I travel I do go to the shops. Frankly wherever we go, we are treated like Kings which I enjoy thoroughly. And if I want to shop incognito I can always take a plane anywhere. Yes! I do miss having Pani Puri in the roadside stalls. That is why I enjoy my bike as behind the helmet I am just one of the guys on the road. It gives me my space”.
Maddy wears a kadukkan, a diamond solitaire, in his left ear. “I started wearing it when my son was born and you know something. I didn’t have to pierce my ear—it went right into the hole that was made in my childhood. Every year the whole family takes off on a holiday—my parents and Sarita’s parents join us and we have a good time together”.
Madhavan has recently wrapped up ‘Tanu Weds Manu’. He has been heard saying in interviews in the media given on his 40th birthday that he plans to take a sabbatical and try his hand at story/scriptwriting! On the other hand he has teamed up with Kamal Hassan for a new movie and will be off to Monte Carlo for a long shooting schedule. The duo had made a wonderful movie, ‘Anbe Sivam’ a few years ago.
It is time for lunch and his tiffin arrives. He comes back after giving a shot and says, “I’d rather go home to eat my curd rice” and dons his helmet, bids goodbye with great warmth and affection and buzzes off on his bike to have his favourite meal amongst his favourite people. That is the quintessential Madhavan, actor, businessman, Producer, Writer, Aeromodelling buff, Golfer and family man.