There comes a time in every Tamil cinephile’s life where they have to decide between becoming a Rajnikanth fan or a Kamal Haasan fan. It’s not something you have to proclaim to the world or even accept as your own personal characteristic, but everyone knows, deep down, that they’ve already chosen one of the two. On a very basic level, a result of this decision may have seeped into your own career decisions as well, especially if you’re in a creative business. Putting it broadly, it’s between doing what you love versus doing what people love.
Now imagine the thought process of a star at that crossroad? Should you continue to make films that promise creative satisfaction or should you make films for a growing fan base? Or is there a middle path where both aspects can be satisfied? Figuring this unique predicament seems to have taken up a lot of time in the 2010’s for both Suriya and Vikram, arguably the biggest stars to have emerged out of the 2000s. Graduates of the Bala school, these two stars don’t fall into the usual career trajectory of a romantic hero slowly ascending the ladder to become a certified mass action hero like Vijay or Ajith. Their initial appeal was based on tragedies (Pithamagan and Sethu) and experiments (Kasi and Nandha) before finding their respective sweet spots with films like Saamy and Khaakha Khaakha.
But the truth is, neither of them managed to take that momentum into the next decade. With 2010 starting with a massive hit like Singham, Suriya too couldn’t really go back to doing smaller more experimental films without the scale befitting a big star. What this means that he ended up with two kinds of fans; people who love him in when he’s in the GVM-AR Murugadoss mould and those who love him when he’s in the Singham series, with this also creating a fan base for him in both Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. But with his high concept “Kamal films” like 24 and 7Aum Arivu not getting its due and with his mass action “Rajini films” Singham 3 and Anjaan not helping either, the star seems to be at a crossroad again.
But with Soorarai Pottru releasing next (at some point in the future), it finally looks like a film that has enough for both Suriyas, satisfying both kinds of fans. As we wait for this film to take flight when the skies clear, here’s a set of roles that made Suriya the actor with no haters and the person everyone wants to be.
Meeting The Mother In Nandha
For an actor coming off the shared success of films like Friends and Nerukku Ner, Nandha was the first major film where we saw Suriya carrying the weight of an intense film on his shoulders alone. Until then, Suriya had a certain blankness to his expressions unlike the restraint he would develop later on in his career. In his earlier films, his silences could hardly speak and instead of his character’s thoughts, it always felt like it was the actor’s thoughts that was coming through. But all that changed just minutes into Nandha. After seeing several scenes of the young Nandha growing up in juvenile prison for killing his father, you expect the scenes that follow to show you a man hardened by his time in the clink. He’s not a boy anymore and that toughness is evident in his gaze and body language. But when he sees his mother again along the temple corridor, all those years of hardship melts to reveal the boy again as she looks away indifferently. See the range of expressions as he waits for his mother to caress his cheeks after all those years, as he tears up. Like a boy stuck in a rogue’s body, this scene sets it up for the rest of the movie. Suriya, as an actor, became another person with this film and we’ve never left his side again whenever he tears up.
The Love Montages In Khaaka Khaaka
In Ameer’s Mounam Pesiyadhe, we saw a lot more of that signature Suriya subtlety which would later become his strength, especially in films like Khaaka Khaaka and as Sanjay Ramaswami in Ghajini. As the disciplined ACP, Anbuchelvan needed to be rigid and uptight to look like a person who doesn’t Netflix and chill. How does such a man find time for love when he seems too dutiful and arguably, too boring for a normal life? But instead of developing another personality just for the love portions (like we usually see in such films and their songs) he uses the awkwardness as one of his charms. For a character that’s not afraid of bullets, it’s really adorable to see him behave nervously in front of this school teacher. When they meet again at the police checking, that’s when Maya (Jyotika) realises who he really is. He could easily have come across as a real prick in this scene throwing his police officer weight around. Technically, that is what he’s doing before he retreats again when Maya snaps back at him for being too inquisitive. Add a voiceover like, “avalukku enna pidikale…enakku adhu pidichirandudu” to this romance and we got one of Tamil cinema’s favourite love stories.
Earlier Portions of Pithamagan
This remains, to this day, Suriya’s most heartbreaking performance and that’s not merely because of his tragic end. His Sakthi is truly a loveable character; he plays the fool, acts silly and is really loud but instead of a caricature, the character remains grounded with an ability to brighten every second he’s on screen. It’s the film where we learnt that he can handle comedy too. Figuring out that heightened Bala metre of acting is one thing but owning it in his way is another matter altogether. You see sparks of this character in Suriya’s performances in later films as well but not with the same kind of complexity. A character that makes you LOL so hard can seldom tear you apart later on. But that’s the magic of Pithamagan.
Meeting The Mininster In Ayutha Ezhuthu
A true mark of this actor is that one finds it impossible to accept another person in a role you’ve seen Suriya in before. For anyone who was used to the original Ghajini, it became difficult to adjust to the Hindi version, even if it was Aamir Khan taking over the role. That was the case with Yuva as well with a lot of us preferring Michael Vasanth to Ajay Devgn’s Michael Mukherjee. Enough has already been written about this scene but just notice what he does he switches from “unne” to “ungale” while talking to Bharathiraja’s minister character. It’s one of those great scenes where’s there a clear mismatch between the respectful words being spoken and the not-so-respectful thoughts in their minds. It’s like cursing, but with courtesy, and a single expression here or there could have ruined the whole scene. Watch the Hindi version of the same scene and you’ll notice the difference. Michael Vasanth’s arrogance comes from a kind of confidence in one’s own ability. We became a follower right after.
THE Train Scene From Vaaranam Aayiram
There are dozens of scenes in Vaaranam (like the “we made love Daddy” scene in the phone booth for instance) that could have made this list but it’s eventually the train scene that one goes back to ever so often, even if its for the 100thtime. Every second of this scene has become so iconic that there are several other films that have parodied this to great comic effect. But the original remains timeless, with the boys wanting to be him and the girls wanting to be with him. No train journey after this has remained the same. Instead of stalking, we saw a scene that celebrated wooing and even serenading, unlike we’d seen before. Suriya oozed charm in bucket loads and like that guitar pick at the end of this scene, we, the audience, have remained in this man’s pocket ever since.