SJ Suryah, who recently starred in Selvaraghavan’s Nenjam Marappathillai, speaks with Baradwaj Rangan about how he started out in the industry, his shift from being a renowned director to a recognized actor, the inputs he takes from his directors and his future projects. Edited Excerpts…
What did you want to become while entering the industry?
I always wanted to be an actor. It was always my target. To make a star you need a producer and director. They have to believe in you and I didnt have that. So, I decided to become a director, earn money, then direct and produce myself. I perfectly planned out my journey in 1994 and in 2004 I released New. I was a hero, producer and director. I am lucky it all happened in 10 years. Right from my childhood, it was never about whether I could become an actor. I always felt like an actor.
You’ve seen several ups and downs from being a director, an actor and a producer. How do you handle failure?
This is the only reason I’ve remained a bachelor. Because, here my success nor my failures will affect my system and I took it as a part of life. With a wife and a child, the sympathy I receive from failure is definitely something I can’t handle. I have the freedom to spontaneously become a steward, as an actor , work in an IT company and so on if I am single.
When you directed movies like Vaali and Kushi, would you also act out your scenes for the actors?
(laughs) As much as Selvaraghavan sir extracted work out of me in Nenjam Marappathillai, I used to do that with my actors as well. People should understand that an actor’s job is to fulfil the director’s requirement. That’s what gives you a high.
How did you concentrate on both acting and direction in New?
It was a huge task: acting, directing, producing and writing the script. And I’m not Ambani’s son. So I had to direct Nani simultaneously in Telugu with Mahesh Babu to make money to fund my film. But I enjoyed the process. I have no complaints—good or bad, success or failure.
All actors have a reference point, either knowingly or unknowingly. What’s yours?
There are so many of them: MGR sir, Sivaji sir, Rajini sir, Raguvaran sir, Kamal sir, Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt… they’re all great actors.
Do you think we are reaching an age where films without huge stars are also appreciated, like how you received so much recognition for your role in Monster.
There was always a star in me. Truly, if Shah Rukh Khan had acted in Monster it would have definitely crossed 300 crores. But some actors don’t take it up on the assumption that it’s a small movie.
There was definitely a star in Anjanam Azhagiya Pillai. He was an ideological person, who respected even the tiniest of animals.
You used to take up conventional roles in your earlier films but you’ve gained stardom with your unconventional or character roles recently. Do you think that’s because times have changed?
Definitely, times have changed. This trend will continue even in my future projects like Iravaakaalam and Bommai. It’s great that there’s acceptance from the audience. This kind of stardom is definitely unique; it’s probably a blessing.
Can you be a star in spite of being a good actor?
It’s simple. An actor with an ideology is a star. Let’s say I’m acting as a brave man in a film. People would appreciate me for it. If one lived as a brave person and then acted as a brave character, that’s what makes him a star. He is a fighter by his own personal ideology. He is a fighter in real life. When he acts as a fighter, he becomes a star.
What do your future projects look like?
I am working on Bommai directed by Radha Mohan sir. Audiences have only seen a soft, family drama side of Radha Mohan but here they will see a new version of him. It’s the story of a mannequin and I play the role of a mannequin painter. Yuvan sir has killed it with the music in this film. He has contributed to more than 50% of the movie.