Pasupathy, plays the inspiring boxing coach, Rangan Vaathiyar, in Pa. Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai (starring Arya). In this masterclass with Baradwaj Rangan, he talks about his training as an actor under Na. Muthuswamy at Koothu-P-Pattarai and how working with Kamal Haasan in Marudhanayagam helped him quickly adapt from the stage to the screen. Edited Excerpts…
Koothu-P-Pattarai is like a training school for acting now. But when you were a part of it, it had a lot of people who loved theatre. What did you learn about acting in Koothu-P-Pattarai?
Firstly, Koothu-P-Pattarai is not a place for cinema. It was never that. At one point only certain kinds of plays were staged, and on the other side were street plays. There wasn’t a middle ground with literary quality that talked about social problems. There were many writers but few rightly trained actors. When people like [Konstantin] Stanislavski were teaching abroad, Na. Muthuswamy started writing plays but couldn’t find actors. He needed a specific kind of actor aware of music, space and the body. So, he started training them.
He used to tell us that it wasn’t a part-time job. Though we were amateurs initially, it wasn’t enough. We never thought of films even though people like Nassar, Thalaivasal Vijay and Meenakshisundaram visited us because we weren’t attracted to cinema. I got into films only for survival after Koothu-P-Pattarai. I would have become a director but Nassar changed my path. I was well-trained as both an actor and director. He told me that becoming a director was harder. I used to be like a king in Koothu-P-Pattarai. My guru would address me with respect as equals. The hierarchy in films was unacceptable to me. So, I decided to act as it was a relatively easier path. He made a film called Maayan with a few of us.
Kamal [Haasan] sir cast me during that time in Marudhanayagam, just based on Nassar sir’s word for me. He didn’t even know if I could act or not; he had 100% confidence in Nassar. That’s how my career started.
You’re doing a certain kind of play in Koothu-P-Pattarai, with social and technical awareness. And you’re acting for the camera lens in ‘Marudhanayagam’. Were you able to adapt immediately?
It was a small struggle but not for a long time. Muthuswamy used to tell us that we should get out of our comfort zones. The major thing Muthuswamy tells is that it’s not his job to prepare an actor. He says his job is to prepare a man, who will become a good actor. A good actor need not be a good man. But if you create a good man who also knows acting, great work can come out of him. He wasn’t happy to produce a mannequin.
Acting is the same, irrespective of film or theatre. There’s a thin line between the camera and the audience. I didn’t get it at first, but gradually I did. When you’re new to cinema, you’re not respected as an actor first of all. If someone told me what a frame was, I would be able to follow it. But the new actor wouldn’t even know what ‘position’ is as people are busy with various things on set. There was no one to guide me.
But Kamal sir used to guide me though. He told me that if I moved too much it would be wasted when the frame is restricted. He would want an actor to ask questions. He would educate me as to how I must turn my body to get my position right. Because I worked with Kamal sir and Nassar sir I didn’t have any problems. They taught me like they’d teach a child. And since I lived an experimental life with Muthuswamy, I was able to learn quickly. It wasn’t a problem when I worked with Mani Ratnam sir either. Me and SP Jananathan were like friends. He would set the frame based on how I acted. I understood the basics within my first five films.
You don’t have to tell me the film but tell me a moment, at least, when you felt satisfied during shooting…
I felt it a lot of times in Virumaandi because of Kamal sir. I’ve done three films with him. I want to do more. He was helping me throughout Mumbai Xpress. It would be very spontaneous, like in theatre. He will follow what you do if it’s good. In Virumaandi, we shot a sequence but after three days, they were shooting the same scene again. I was worried I had made a mistake. Kamal sir called me and asked if anything occurred to me on seeing his performance. I told him that I only observed my performance. After seeing the scene again, I told him that his counters were very weak. He told me that’s why he was reshooting.
As he was focused on me as a director, his performance was missing something. But he didn’t have to explain it to me. With him, there’s no hierarchy. It’s a democracy. I was able to involve myself because of Kamal sir.