Some of the best performers of 2021 talk about their favourite performances of the year and how it's imperative to fight stereotyping in the Tamil industry.
After a stellar 2021, actors Gautham Vasudev Menon, K Manikandan, Arjun Das, Devadarshini and Sanchana Natrajan come together to discuss their acting journey and Tamil cinema in 2021 with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts below:
BR: Let's talk about our favourite performances in 2021. My favourite performance 'male' was Pasupathy in Sarpatta Parambarai and SJ Surya in Nenjam Marapathillai. Coming to female performances, I liked Dushara Vijayan in Sarpatta Parambarai. What about you guys?
GVM: I liked Pasupathy in Sarpatta Parambarai and I liked Devadarshini in The Family Man 2. I liked Samantha as well but I really liked what Devadarshini pulled off. For me, the performance of the year was Manikandan in Jai Bhim. It was such a physically demanding role, all the police station scenes and the whole drive in the character, he really pulled it off. I have noticed him in small roles earlier and this one was very befitting.
Devadarshini: I really loved Samantha in The Family Man 2. Because if you consider the kind of work she had previously done, she did something totally different from her line of work. It completely changed her image. I was surprised and even she must have been surprised with that form of work.
Manikandan: I liked all actors of Sarapatta Parmabarai. I liked the performance of everyone in that film. Their acting showed that even if the character was very small, there could be huge impact. The performances were as strong as the writing. More than strength, I would say their performances were more convincing. When we act and speak another regional dialect, there are more chances for our personal character to be revealed. The whole cast and crew of the film tried their best to not make that happen.
I have relatives in Vada Chennai. Be it Sanchana Natrajan or Dushara Vijayan in the film, they literally performed like how Vada Chennai women would behave. So Saarpatta Parambarai is my favourite.
Sanchana Natrajan: When I did that fight scene with Pasupathy sir in Sarpatta, I felt like how I fight with my father at home. I am a very loud person at home. So when I was told there was a scene like that, I was waiting for it. In that scene, Pasupathy sir's acting stood out for me. Even when I was performing and I looked at him, I felt like 'I have to say the next dialogue, wow, how is he doing it'. So Pasupathy sir was my favourite.
In Jai Bhim, Manikandan was brilliant. But for me, Suriya sir was my favourite. I am a huge fan of him. Apart from that, I felt that after many years, I saw the Suriya sir I really liked and it was so convincing to see him on screen. I feel that performance was the best in Jai Bhim.
Arjun Das: I liked Manikandan and Lijomol Jose's performances in Jai Bhim, Dhanush sir in Karnan and I think everyone did a great job in Nayattu. So I have a lot of favourite performances.
BR: Any industry tends to slot a person a certain way. There is this general slotting going on and because of the profession you take up, you got to keep this going. When Devadarshini gets a breakthrough like this, does it feel like one can escape stereotypes
Devadarshini: I remember your review about The Family Man 2 where you had said that I should have wept with tears when I saw the script. It was almost like that because I've been in the industry for several years and I got something so different from what I've been doing in the past 10 years. I have been doing funny roles and supporting characters. When they considered me for this role, I had this question to ask 'How come me?'. But I didn't because I wanted to just take it. It was a very pleasant surprise to me to know that somebody was thinking so much out of the box, they're not typecasting me and whatever I am already doing. That was a relief.
Sanchana Natrajan: With Sarpatta Parambarai and a performance like that, there comes a little bit of satisfaction as an actor. Even if you do a character of a normal college going girl, if you perform that character very well, that satisfaction will be there. But with Sarpatta, the satisfaction was a little bit more because there was more space. I was born and brought up in Chennai, and within that space, I can do the character. Typecasting is still there and we need to choose a character or script beyond the typecast.
BR: Do you think now the directors are thinking out of the box while casting?
Manikandan: Both are there. There are stereotyped characters that will always come along. Somehow we have to break those and come out of it. Only once in a while will we find scripts like Jai Bhim. But, there are directors who think out of the box. Halitha Shameem does this effortlessly. For Sillu Karuppatti, I asked her how I will fit the role of an IT guy. But she trusted me, even though I had to speak English fluently.
Arjun Das: Initially, after Kaithi released, I got more offers to play villains. But after Master, thanks to the last scene, that notion changed. I started getting romantic stories and scripts with lead roles. Now, with the films I'm getting, everyone is seeing me as the lead. But it took me a while. After Kaithi, Andhaghaaram also helped me and it created the impression that 'he can do other characters as well.' Recently, I also got to work with Halitha Shameem and she saw me with a different perspective. So for me as an actor, directors are changing. Of course, I still get calls for villain roles, but now that's up to me to take it up or not.