Tamil Actors Roundtable 2021: There Is No Right Or Wrong Way, Every Actor Has To Figure Out Their Own Journey

Some of the finest actors in Tamil cinema talk about their journey in the industry and how there are no rules to survive

Actors Gautham Vasudev Menon, K Manikandan, Arjun Das, Devadarshini and Sanchana Natrajan discuss the process of getting film chances, self-marketing and their film journey with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts Below:

BR: How do you get scripts? Do you have to audition or network or do people give leads?

Sanchana Natrajan: It is not one thing. All three thighs that you have mentioned matter. It is like self-marketing. Whether people tag you as a brand or not, it is hard both ways. Normally, when you approach an actor, there are questions about whether people would come to the theatre to see them or not. When you become a brand you do not have to worry about it. When they come to you for a script, it depends on the previous films word of mouth and self-marketing. These are all the factors that matter. It is not just that you do only one thing and get a script.

Manikandan: True. All of these are important. A friend’s friend’s friend might bring a script to you. Sometimes, randomly someone might call and narrate a script. It’s a surprise every morning. There could be a script in the mail or sometimes, I would be invited to an audition. So all of these things happen. Information about the role is important. Earlier, some people used to think it’s arrogant for an actor to ask for details. But I have crossed that stage and now it is more open. People approach today and they give the information, screen time, the importance given to the role, and other details. This is a huge relief and it helps me a lot. Earlier, it used to be like a wall with no details. Now it is easier.

Arjun Das: I was fortunate enough that Lokesh sir cast me in Kaithi and Master. Before that, it used to be the same thing. I will approach through friends or go take part in auditions. After Kaithi, Master, Andhagaaram and Vasantha Balan’s Aneedhi, people have started perceiving me as a lead.

Before the big break in Kaithi, no one knew me. During that time, it was mostly references or auditions. My voice came out first because of GVM sir and then Lokesh sir gave me a chance in Kaithi. Master happened by chance because another actor wasn’t available. Then I worked with Vasantha Balan sir and other directors who approached me after that. It’s only after all these, now, people come with stories for me. I approached GVM sir through a friend and we spoke for ten minutes. But he called me later as he remembered my voice. One thing led to another and so, now it’s changed.

BR: Devadarshini, you have been around from Marmadesam. Since you are an established face, how is the process different from the newer ones.

Devadarshini: I don’t have a manager, I am not good at PR and I am not active on social media. It’s just a ‘works speak’ kind of thing. In fact, when Kanchana released, everyone told me ‘this is your break, so wait for characters’. I waited for eight months but nothing came. Then, it started pouring in. I guess they write a character keeping an artist in mind and this started happening for me. Now, after The Family Man 2, I have done multiple auditions for the past six months and I am still waiting.

Sanchana Natrajan: After seeing Sarpatta Parambarai, many people told me that they couldn’t recognise me and I would become busy as I would get a lot of offers. But that’s not how it works. The film did well but that is not to be considered a break. It’s been 4-5 months since the film’s release, only after this will people craft scripts and characters for you.

BR: Gautam, it’s been two years since you started acting, has your acting stint changed the way you direct actors?

GVM: It hasn’t changed anything, it is just a lot more respect now. I always leave it to the actors. I haven’t directed them to do certain things or I have never told them precisely what to do. I set up the mood and scenario and leave it to them.

Even when Simbu did Vinnaitthaandi Varuvaaya, he is capable of that. I have a metre that I don’t want Simbu to cross, that’s all. After the rehearsal and first take, I will move out. When I worked with Suriya, he would insist on doing another 5-6 takes, but I would have already gotten my shot.

When you stand in front of the camera, it is not easy. That’s when all the respect started to flow for all the actors. You realize you have to completely get into that zone. When I did Paava Kathaigal, it was very tough to act in front of Simran and I have to cry in one scene. I asked Simran to give me some time. But when people do that so easily in front of the camera, a lot of respect goes out to them. I am a director who leaves the actors or technicians to themselves. The policy is like you give me what you are best at and I will grab it. Looking at all these actors here, I would say they don’t need any more auditions from our side. Say, I would cast Arjun and not as a villain, and I would cast Manikandan probably like what Halitha has done.

For me, they are the actors in front of the camera who will give us the magic that we want on the screen. I am also hoping that people will cast me in different roles. The only thing is, I am not calling for roles, at least not today. Roles and calls are coming my way, and I pick roles that I can do in my comfort zone. These guys will do crazy things in front of the camera…I am not ready yet to do those as yet.

BR: Is there a problem of overexposure? For instance, Sanchana, let’s assume that you were not convinced by the Nota character. Would you just do it because it is a high profile film and it is likely to get a certain kind of reach?

Sanchana Natrajan: To me personally, I don’t think so. If I had to do something like that, then I could have probably done more films by now. As you said, there is a lot of exposure. But I believe what kind of exposure, what kind of work the filmmakers have seen from you is what is going to get you the work.

A filmmaker might know that I can do a role like in Sarpatta Parambarai but for something better than that, there should be a constant effort from me for the filmmaker to show them I can do more. That exposure from your side to the filmmaker should be there. I think there is no right or wrong way, every actor has to figure out their own journey.

GVM: I think it is what an actor wants. For example, let’s take Manikandan’s journey. He has done a lot of small roles in so many films, and you slowly get noticed. He even acted in Paava Kadhaigal and people slowly started noticing. Even I saw the film and asked who he is. Then Jai Bhim comes and from now on there will be no looking back, hopefully.

So I think it is what you want to do. Vijay Sethupathi, for example, did a lot of small appearances and then lead roles. He makes even the small roles his own. When I worked with Devadarshini in Kaakha Kaakha, I didn’t know she had that comical side to her on camera. When I saw her in Kanchana and many other films after that, I was like ‘wow, she is capable of this’.

This goes back to the thing—you just need an actor. I am sure the actor will do what the script demands and not because the actor has done something in the previous film.

Devadarshini: Let me be very honest, I have taken a lot of projects because it was my bread and butter. I started this as my profession, and at some point, you need to sign up because you want work. I have done a lot of work like that. Today, I am in a position where I can choose, be it comedy or a regular character. I am now waiting for a right script in OTT, I wasn’t able to do that when I started my career. Now, acting in OTT is not my bread and butter, I have my films and a lot of good work going. So, I haven’t signed up for anything else and I am waiting for the right script.

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"Baradwaj Rangan: Baradwaj Rangan is a National Award-winning film critic. He has authored Conversations with Mani Ratnam and Dispatches From the Wall Corner. His long-form story on Vikram was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.” His short story, The Call, was published in The Indian Quarterly. He has written screenplays and works for theatre. He teaches a course on cinema at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.."
  
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