People derive pleasure from saying offensive things: Sujith Shankar
In this interview, the actor talks about being stereotyped as a villain, his experience acting in Nerkonda Paarvai and his impressions of Ajith
Though Sujith Shankar got noticed after he played the antagonist in Fahadh Faasil's Maheshinte Prathikaram, his breakthrough was Rajeev Ravi's Njan Steve Lopez, in which he played a mysterious character with a troubled background. Since then, he has managed to consistently be a disturbing presence on screen with the largely negative characters he's played so far, including in his Tamil debut, Nerkonda Paarvai, starring Ajith Kumar.
Excerpts from an interview:
Any fears over being stereotyped as a villain?
Not at all. Occasionally, someone from my home says I'll be called for the same roles again if I do them well, and so, maybe, I should do the roles badly (laughs). I see them as a responsibility. It's all fine as long as you are not celebrating a negative character. I aim to haunt, not earn whistles.
Every negative character you have done so far is different from the other. Do you get the time to do research about your roles?
I don't get the time usually. It all depends on the team. When you are working with a like-minded group, there is time to work out the details. Most of the time though, we are only told about our role, and not the scenes and dialogues in detail. Spontaneity then is our only option.
Surely, there must have been one or two negative experiences in playing all your negative characters?
Yes. There was this one time where they made me wait, in costume, for five days for a role that required only four or five lines. The shot didn't happen until the fifth day and I wasn't given the script either. I was asked to show up before noon, but they ended up shooting the scene only at night. When I finally got in front of the camera, one person was there to prompt a line that was really campy. It's a challenge to do something like that without knowing the lines beforehand. I wondered why they were hesitant to give me just two minutes to memorise just five lines. It's not like I'm going to run away with the script (laughs). We are asking for the script so we can do our character well, not to make it worse. Being prompted isn't my style.
I have to ask you about working with Ajith in the Tamil remake of Pink.
Well, you usually see a lot of interviews where actors say a certain star is humble, genuine, and so on. But Ajith sir is the real deal. He is a genuinely warm and honest guy. There is an incredible aura around him. The five of us -- me, Rangaraj Pandey sir, and the three boys -- were in one caravan, and one day, Ajith sir came to eat with us. It was bizarre and surreal. In most sets, a certain heirarchy is usually maintained, but not here. He is not pretending to be a gentleman, unlike some. He actually is one.
The final court scene in Nerkonda Paarvai was so riveting. Were you on the sets to see his performance?
Yes. That scene alone took us 15 days to shoot. Though Vinoth sir had told me that he can finish my portion in five days, I said I wanted to be there to see the working process of Ajith sir, Vinoth sir, and cinematographer Nirav Shah, even though I didn't have much to do there. It was fun to be part of all the discussions. It was not a typical set. Everyone was so serious about what they were doing.
There have been some regressive comments from a few online reviewers in Tamil Nadu, saying that it's hard to empathise with the girls because of their lifestyles.
It's become a habit for some people now to say something offensive because they get a weird pleasure out of riling people up. Be it in social media or outside, I see this as a calculated move. What the film is saying is more important than where the story is set. Since these things happen everywhere in the world, I don't see what culture has got anything to do with it. Pink was a Delhi-based story, yes, but Nerkonda Paarvai is not necessarily Chennai-based. We can take the same content and do it as a folk play because it's so strong and complicated. The film mentions why certain things happen and how some people handle them but it doesn't offer any clear solutions; it's open-ended. It says the fight has to go on.