The teaser of the Zee5 show has since been taken down as several viewers and Hindu groups have objected to it.

Actor Daniel BalajiDaniel Balaji/Facebook
news OTT Saturday, May 30, 2020 - 21:49

Over the last couple days, actor 'Daniel' Balaji has received a torrent of phone calls, most of them beginning with abuse directed at him and his family. Nearly every caller attacks the community they think he belongs to, or his decision to play the role of a self-proclaimed godman in a series produced by OTT platform Zee5.

"I am being personally targeted by certain groups. They assume I am Christian and question my intention in playing role. The ‘Daniel’ prefix in my name actually comes from having played a character with that name in my first role in the TV serial 'Chitthi'”, the actor explains, in an exclusive interview to TNM. "They first question how I can play the role of a godman when I am Christian, and then allege that I have insulted Hinduism and Brahmanism. And they have come to this conclusion through just a teaser," he says, flummoxed.

The two-minute teaser of the series, titled 'Godman’, was uploaded on May 26 and created an instant furore on social media. The video had to be taken down as a result of the backlash. Amongst the dialogues that have caused controversy is a godman named Anandhar (actor Jayaprakash) asking, "Where does it say only Brahmins can read Vedas?"

The question is posed to Balaji, who essays the role of Ayyanar, a petty criminal who is a drunkard and womaniser. The shots played over Anandhar's question show Balaji in intimate positions with women, and Anandar himself being arrested. Several have interpreted this as a pot shot at Brahmins and the religious beliefs of Hindus.

"That is not true at all," retorts Balaji. "The teaser is usually cut in such a way that it grabs attention. Just because the scenes come in that order doesn't mean the story is such. People are reacting prematurely. Yes, my character is having sex. But this is before he becomes a godman. For a normal human being, sex is part of their lives and not something to be disapproved of. As for the arrest scene, I am not sure what the context is. I only know about the journey of my character," he adds.

And is this character, as rumoured, based on self-proclaimed godman and alleged rapist Nithyananda? "Maybe there is a resemblance in the appearance, but other than that, the dialogues and journeys are very different," Balaji says.

"My character Ayyanar is first shocked that he too can become a godman, especially when he is not educated or refined. He doesn't know any language other than his mother tongue and he has to learn Vedas and other scriptures. I am someone who has done several negative roles and for the first time I saw a character who is bad actually getting a chance to become good. Everyone has two sides to them and this role helps me show both," he adds.

But what is his take on godmen and cults?

"I am a spiritual person by nature, but not having been in any cult myself, I don't have an opinion about this. Clearly these godmen are offering something that the followers want and believe in. No single man can form a cult. As long as followers believe what you say, you will remain a godman," he says.

And talking of followers, Balaji is fully aware of the trolling that awaits him when the series releases.

"I know how much they will troll me but I am not scared at all. It is just funny that when I act as a rapist, these people will appreciate my performance. When I do a movie where I murder people they says 'superb!'. But when I am actually playing a character who is transforming from bad to good, I will be abused," he says. "Hundreds of people will get ready to dish out all kinds of words at me. But I ask them, is that Hinduism? Is that what the Bhagavad Gita has taught them?" asks the actor.

Trolls and troubles aside, he states that it has been exciting working on a web series. A fan of Money Heist and Game of Thrones, Balaji has found acting in this format a good experience.

"As an artist your role doesn't change. You still have to do the same things, except there are more shoot days," he says. "I didn't have to really prepare for the character. They were looking for a dark-skinned man and I fit the description. And having conducted many pujas myself, I could help design the set for those scenes," he adds.

Balaji also got a chance in the movie to reunite with the heroine of one of his first movies 'Kadhal Konden'. Sonia Agarwal plays the role of a politician in the series.

"We are very comfortable working with each other and we would discuss and prepare for scenes before the shooting. I will tell her how I am going to do it and she will explain her plans," he says.

As for the director Babu Yogeshwaran, who earlier helmed Jayam Ravi’s Daas, Balaji describes him as soft-spoken and easy going.

"He wouldn't even raise his voice in the sets. He gave the actors freedom to interpret the role and present it. In fact, I would keep asking him if the scene was okay and if I needed to do something else," he says. "And he would sometimes tell me to alter or tone down the acting. It was overall a very good experience." 

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