Jaffer Sadiq might only be three movies old. But he has already managed to carve out a niche for himself in Tamil cinema – as an unconventional yet fierce baddie. And the actor is absolutely loving it. “It is not that I love killing people,” the actor says with a laugh. “But I do enjoy fantasy. There is an element of evil in all of us, but it only comes out when a person is pushed to his limits. That is probably what I am tapping into for these roles.”
In the past two years, the actor has managed to play anti-heroes in various shades of grey, starting with a conniving village henchman who manipulates a leader to kill his own daughter in Vignesh Shivan’s short in Paava Kadhaigal (2020). And then as Vijay Sethupathi’s deadly aide, who lacerates people with his signature cutting plier in Vikram (2022). But for his most recent outing, he plays a complex contract killer.
Jaffer is Rawther, an agile assassin who is paid a crore for a complicated hit job in Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu (2022). Rawther proves his mettle as early as his introduction scene, where he kills a man in a salon without shedding a drop of blood.
There’s a lot to love about Rawther, but his agility makes it to the top of Jaffer’s list. “He does everything with perfection,” Jaffer says. “And he is also someone who can come out of nowhere and anywhere. That is what GVM sir told me about Rawther. He can come from the ceiling, or can sprint from a hole on the wall and attack. I loved that about him.” And unlike most villains, Rawther is someone who is driven by logic rather than emotion, Jaffer says.
His scene in the salon was also the scene he auditioned for the film. And it was yet another such audition that changed his life. Acting, for Jaffer, happened by kismet. A runner-up of the second season of popular Tamil dance competition Ungalil Yaar Prabhu Deva, Jaffer has his roots in choreography and dance. “I came into this field for choreography and my passion for dance. And Paava Kadhaigal happened unexpectedly.”
Jaffer remembers struggling with camera fear a few years ago. “I was always around friends who would discuss cinema and stuff like that, and a few of them suggested I do auditions just to break this fear. And I was suddenly selected for Paava Kadhaigal,” he exclaims. Until the last minute, the actor couldn't crack Narikutty’s first shot, where he gives a sermon on honour killing. But Vignesh Shivan saw something in his eyes.
“He just wanted to see how long I could stay without blinking. I usually wear glasses, but stopped using them because I am a dancer. So, my eyes are naturally a bit closed. A lot of my friends call me "ara-bodha kannu" (drunken eyes) because of this, so I am surprised people find this fascinating.”
And just five days after the release of the Netflix anthology, Jaffer got a call from Lokesh Kanagaraj for Vikram (2022). “He told me so sweetly that he wanted me to do a role in his next film. So, I told him, 'anna don't decide just by my performance in Paava Kadhaigal’. I really like Lokesh na, so I wanted to be honest with him about how I came into this field for just choreography and how I had no connection with acting. I was just a doll in Wikki na's film, and all credits go to him. I was still not able to accept that I was getting recognition.”
And when they met, Lokesh immediately expressed trust in the actor. His foundation in dance choreography further gave him the nudge to take up acting. “Dance has taught me how to handle a scene. I have a fair knowledge of rhythms. So, for instance, If someone is saying something in anger, I am able to judge when he will start and end the dialogue. So, it helps me keep up with their tempo when I am delivering a dialogue with an actor.”
But Jaffer doesn’t believe in preparing for roles. He instead credits filmmakers who give him the freedom to run with the characters. “I am also inspired by the people I see around me and their mannerisms,” he says. But an on-screen portrayal of a criminal that stays fresh in his memory is that of Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby and gang from British crime drama Peaky Blinders (2013).
“I started watching web series and films with a kind of vigour only recently. And I absolutely love Peaky Blinders for the way it details people’s mannerisms. Maybe that could be a reference, but even I am not sure how I process a role.”
It is also refreshing to see such films give roles of agency to actors of all sizes and shapes, Jaffer notes. Persons of short stature have historically been reduced to playing jesters in cinema, for as long as show business has been in existence. “I wish more films that believed in all kinds of actors came up. Issues are faced not just by people who are short, but also by people who are too tall or too dark. In today's world, however, we are turned either into content or a flaw.”
Even if it is a comical role, all kinds of actors need to be given roles with some agency, he says. “Everybody has yearning and anger and other such emotions in them that are not explored. There is a Rawther and Narikutty inside them, just as they are inside us as well.”
As far as what’s next for the actor, film choreography is definitely in the cards. But for now, Jaffer is just enjoying the small and big thrills in his life. “I still cannot believe I have shared screen space with someone as legendary as Kamal sir. The entire experience was nerve-wracking as it was thrilling. I was supposed to die in both Vikram and Vendhu Thanindhadhu Kaadu. I don't know what Lokesh na and GVM sir were thinking about my characters, but they let me survive so that I can come back in part 2. My life has been filled with such thrills in the past few years and I’m loving it,” the actor smiles.