Interview: Madhavan on hosting the new TV show Mega Icons, Kamal Haasan and definitions of success

All set to appear on the small screen, as the host of National Geographic’s  new  show,  Mega Icons, Madhavan gets candid about success, his  equation with Kamal Haasan, and his idea of staying young.

Fathima Ashraf Published :  21st September 2018 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  21st September 2018 06:00 AM
Madhavan Mega Icons TV Series

R Madhavan

R MADHAVAN, known to fans as Maddy, believes in being in the right place at the right time. With over two decades in the film industry as an actor-writer-producer, and a filmography spanning seven 
languages, the 48-year-old star believes that he’d hardly be able to recreate his own journey. “I just followed my instincts and grabbed every opportunity that came my way. But I do believe that opportunities have to present themselves,” says the Vikram Vedha (2017) star, adding that there was no grand design or planning that led the way in his career.

In fact, that’s exactly what Mega Icons, National Geographic’s latest show discusses — whether there is something called ‘the right time’ or is it a person’s ability to manipulate the situations around him to his advantage? However, for the Alaipayuthe (2007) dream boy, who is the new host of the show, a mega-icon is someone who does what he feels is right.

Starting this Monday, the five-part series features the lives of cricketer Virat Kohli, actor/politician Kamal Haasan, former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, spiritual leader and Nobel laureate Dalai Lama, and social activist and India’s first women IPS officer Kiran Bedi — digging deep into the journeys of these five icons. With the help of acclaimed scientists and expert psychoanalysts such as LS Shashidhara (Developmental Biologist at IISER), Alok Mishra (Chairman, Brain Behaviour Research Foundation, Prof Lera Boroditsky (Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at UCSD) and Dr Santosh K Chaturvedi (Dean of Behaviour Studies and Head of the Department of Mental Health Education, NIMHANS), the show magnifies each milestone in their lives, while posing a thought-provoking question: Were these icons born to be different, or were they moulded into greatness by their own 
life experiences?

While his movies such as Savyasachi and Zero are gearing up for release by the end of the year, the Mumbai-based star’s most ambitious project yet — a biopic on rocket scientist Nambi Narayanan — is 
on floors right now. Set to release next year, the movie will see the Irudhi Suttru (2016) actor play the protagonist in different stages of Narayanan’s life, from the age of 27 to 75.

Talking more about Mega Icons in an interaction with Indulge, Madhavan discusses his role as a host, his personal equation with Kamal Haasan, and about the meaning of success. Excerpts:

How does it feel to be back on television as a host?  
I am really excited to be a part of the show, as it’s a chance for me to understand what goes behind the making of an icon. I have always been a fan of National Geographic’s content and its unique way of storytelling. When I was told about the show’s concept and names of the icons  we are going to be featuring, I instantly agreed to host it. What’s more interesting to me is that the show brings together some of the most inspiring personalities, selected carefully from varied walks of life — and I believe that each of their stories will reveal answers to many questions we have always wondered about geniuses.

What is the format of the Mega Icons like?
Mega Icons consists of intimate interviews, in which these personalities will speak about their journey so far. On the other side, we will also be analysing their stories by experts who are on the show with us. With the series, we are actually exploring how geniuses and high achievers become who they are. If they are born with an extraordinary quality, or are they a product of their conditioning?

How did you prepare yourself for the show?
Earlier, I have hosted game shows such as Deal Ya No Deal, but I haven’t done one like this before. In order to prepare for this role, I had to get an insight into the lives of all these geniuses at close quarters. It was really exciting.

In Mega Icons, you present the success stories of five legendary people. Looking back, what does success mean to you?
Success, for me, is not the ultimate goal but a byproduct. A man with a meagre income, having done his duty correctly, being married, has his children also married off, healthily and happily living at an age of 65, spends time with grandchildren, probably has more success than many people who earn 10 times his income. Therefore, I feel success is a very personal thing. Here in the show, we are not talking about that success alone. We are talking about people who have gone beyond success. For them, success is just one thing, but their service and their contribution to the world around them has made them a lot more than just successful people. 

What manner of impact do you believe the show will have on its viewers?
The show is more like a mystery that we are trying to solve. We are finding out if Virat Kohli, at the age of eight, knew that he was going to become the captain of the Indian cricket team one day. If he did, how did his life’s journeys lead him to become that? Did Kamal Haasan already know that he was going to become an icon, a legend one day, when he joined the film industry at the age of four? What makes somebody like Dalai Lama have the faith and belief to send across the message of peace, amidst all the oppression, violence and enemity? When we investigate something like this on the show, I’m sure that the people who are watching it will be able to imbibe a lot of life lessons, and these icons will appear to be more motivating than they already are. Even I was learning a lot while doing the show and I’m sure it will have the same effect on anybody who watches it.

Out of the five legends, who would you say surprised you the most?
For me, it’s difficult to pick a favourite or the one with the most impact from the show. I can’t even compare one person to another, as each one is such a diamond in their own field. All of them have the same amount of impact on me.

What according to you is an inspirational story? What bit of your life would you say is inspirational to others?
The story of anybody who rises from the rags is inspirational. It can be of anyone who rose from a mediocre surrounding to reach a position that is aspirational. I think that is the kind of story people want to hear as well as share. For me also, it’s kind of the same. How did a small town boy from Jamshedpur in Bihar make his way to the limelight? It’s the result of all the risks I have taken, and all the opportunities I have jumped into. I might not have been fully deserving of all the opportunities that I got, but I could grab on to those because I’m a well-mannered person. I think that part of my life is inspirational.

Your web series Breathe was a huge hit. What do you feel about working for an online series?
The digital medium is an interesting space to work in. If there is an exciting script like Breathe that comes my way, I would love to take it up.

You recently suffered a shoulder injury. How did you get back after the sabbatical?
After the break I took due to my shoulder surgery, I was confident of getting back on screen. I really love what I do, and the work keeps me going.

You also have the movies Savyasachi (Telugu) and Zero (Hindi) gearing up for release...
The producers have spent a lot of money on these projects, and they made us work hard for the promotions. We have been talking about the same thing everywhere, and the movie Zero is finally going to come out at the end of this year. 

Staying young
“How do I stay young is one question I cannot answer, because I don’t think it’s fair. Honestly, I don’t feel that young anymore. I look 48 and I feel 48. When people tell me I look young and all that, I actually don’t know what they mean.”

Fitness mantra
“I wake up early and spend a good amount of time in the gym. My fitness regimen is to work out in the morning. As far as my diet is concerned, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. I think all these keep me fit.”

Pan-Indian appeal
“I never really tried to please anybody anywhere. All I did was try and became a part of movies that I could understand. I always knew that my role here is to entertain, and I continue to do the same.”

The Kamal connect
The relationship Madhavan shares with Kamal Haasan is quite well-known amongst fans of both actors. Having worked together in films like Anbe Sivam (2003), Nala Damayanti (2004), Manmadan Ambu (2010), among others, Maddy has no qualms admitting that he considers Kamal a personal hero of sorts. He shares, “I’ve grown up watching his films. I’ve admired his acting, and him as a person, ever since I’ve got into cinema. He is a powerhouse of knowledge, whose commitment to cinema is unbeatable. I have learnt from him that you need to be in your character when you enact in front of the camera. Whenever I meet him, I feel like the same 16-year-old boy who first met him, with utmost admiration for him. It would be really early for me to spill any beans on what will come out when we discuss Kamal Haasan’s life in the show, or even any other icon’s journey for that matter. All I can say is that the show will not only discuss the journey of these icons, but will also help shape the actions of millions in the country, who aspire to make it big.” 

September 24 onwards, 
9 pm on National Geographic.|  @fathiimaashraf