Sivakarthikeyan: I wouldn't be jumping off buildings just because it is a superhero film
In an exclusive chat, the actor opens up about shouldering a superhero film, his film choices and much more
It isn’t every day that an interview begins with the interviewee stating that they’re nervous about the questions they are going to get. Sivakarthikeyan’s answers certainly don’t reflect any of that anxiety though. The actor, who is playing a superhero in his next film, Hero, admits to being intimidated by success at first. But now, he says he has finally begun to enjoy it a bit as well. Seated in his comfortable caravan, I catch Sivakarthikeyan in a reflective mood as we discuss Hero, success, failure and everything in between.
What was your first reaction when you heard it was a superhero film?
I was very excited. (smiles) I love superhero and animation films. I find them very entertaining and I feel animation films have some of the best heroic moments on screen. Also, I love the hope these films instill.
It began with an interesting coincidence. Mithran and I had decided we will work together even before the release of Irumbu Thirai. After the release, I was about to meet Mithran to discuss the film. I had just told a friend that I would love to do a film like Gentleman. Mithran opened our discussion saying, "Anne, Gentleman madhri oru padam pannalaam." I was shocked and surprised. Mithran developed a fresh story with that thread. Gentleman wasn't a superhero film, but Mithran has made Hero into one. He wanted the film to appeal to my young fans as well. The film speaks about the pressure students face, how we should treat them and what they require from us. However, it is not a film that's just for them. But they will bring more people into the theatres.
In Tamil cinema, superhero films haven't clicked because our regular heroes are in a way, superheroes. And there are also the comparisons with Hollywood. Did you think of this when you signed the film?
You are right. The bigger heroes don't need a mask, they are superheroes themselves. For me, to get there, I need something like this. Naa avlo periya hero kidayathu, ipo dhaan valandhu vandhuttu irukken. However, we weren't worried at any point because nothing was in excess. I wouldn't be jumping off buildings because it is a superhero film. The challenges he faces make him a superhero. We also place the question, 'who is a hero or a superhero?' That's the film's major idea. Mithran has achieved this brilliantly.
Interestingly, most of your onscreen characters have been underdogs. From the looks of it, Hero, despite being a superhero film, doesn't seem to be any different.
I believe audiences will connect to such stories more. I have personally related to such stories over the years. I feel that people relate to music and films to a higher degree than other art forms. Such stories also suit my physique perfectly. I don't have a beefed-up body, nor am I very handsome. I believe there is a guy like me at every home, which is why the tag 'Namma Veettu Pillai' feels right. So when I do a story that sees an underdog rise against hardship to achieve something, I hope it reaches them the same way.
I remember you saying that Velaikkaran was your upper limit for serious cinema. Have you upped the ante with Hero?
Velaikkaran was quite serious, Hero functions in the same zone but with more action. Also, Mithran ensured that while my character begins on a relaxed note, my character grows up as the film gets serious. We don't return to that casual zone at all. This film has a lot of action, especially in the second half. Most of what we shot in the last two months were action sequences. "Nadula scene kudutha pudhusa irukkum. Ninnu dialogue pesanuma nu." (smiles) My mind was on complete alert mode during action sequences as I knew that if I missed my timing, people could get hurt. I saw a new version of myself on screen, and I liked it.
There was criticism for Remo and Mr. Local as well. However, there was a marked change in how you handled these situations. What changed?
Remo was criticised, but commercially, it was a huge hit for me. However, it took me a while to understand the criticism placed on that film. However, for Mr Local, it was completely my fault. I really like Rajesh sir and I should have opted for a different film with him. He has given great entertainers like Siva Manasula Shakthi, and Boss Engira Baskaran. However, I had other pressures and was stuck in a place where I had to wrap it up fast. Enna irukko adha panidalaam nu ponadhu than kaaranam.
And in any case, one can't lie about the earnings of a film. I will never do that and that is of no use as well. The business of your next is only determined by your previous film, and one can't bluff their way through it. I could visibly see what went wrong with Mr. Local and accepted it.
After Remo, you'd accepted the criticism and also promised that your future films will not be misogynistic. However, Mr. Local received backlash too. How do you process such criticism?
I only take constructive criticism. People who thrashed Remo didn't celebrate Kanaa as much. I am not sure why. I do have to consider that. Honest people have pointed out both the good and bad in my films. But were both reactions projected the same way? There were even attempts to brand me with that image as well. If that was the case, it should have changed with Kanaa. Why didn't it? Nobody speaks about other films which have these issues. Some of them are even called classics. So I could figure that some people had an agenda behind it and were doing it on purpose. But I didn't take it the same way. Idhu venaam nu solraangala, adhu illama padam panren. That's easy for me. If they are repeatedly going to bring it up, then I don't see the necessity to respond to such questions. None of my future films will have it as well. I learnt from that experience and have moved on. If people are still stuck with it, then paavam avangalukku vera point ila nu artham.
What has been your biggest learning over the years?
I realised that I shouldn't restrict myself too much. I am also quite sensitive; I wish to change that. I have learnt to push myself to think on a wider scale. Instead of rejecting ideas immediately, I have begun to analyse them and see what I can do in that idea, where I can grow to provide what the script demands. All of this is coming from the audience. That's the thumb rule: Respect the audience. If they say it is right, it is. It might be the oldest story in the book, but if they celebrate it, that's the verdict. No matter how much you experiment, if they don't like it, then it is a failure.
With each film, you have managed to keep looking higher, be it with the cast, or the crew, the story or the production scale.
With every film, I look for something new to try. I did Remo because I wanted to shed my inhibitions completely. With Hero, it's all about the action. I can't make the mass films I wish to eventually without being good at action. Action makes sense when there's good content backing it. Also, action is not just about bashing people up. It is about owning that moment. Mithran kept saying that for Hero, it was key that I owned the suit and carried it well.
I think I have only created a portfolio of sorts for myself. I have learnt various aspects of being an actor. It is surprising because I never thought I could do so much. Several people told me that they teared up when they watched Namma Veettu Pillai's climax. That's a bond that I have only managed to forge so far with humour. The action in Hero is an addition to my skill set. A director should be confident that he can do whatever he wants with me. Only then can I truly go to the next level.
Here's the video interview: