SJ Suryah: I want to become a pan-Indian superstar
After playing the antagonist in Mersal and Spyder, actor-filmmaker SJ Suryah returns to playing the hero in Monster, which hit the screens last Friday
Right before we begin our interview, actor-filmmaker SJ Suryah does a bit of touch-up on his face and readies himself for the interaction — his 15th of the day. Suryah clearly wants to present the best version of himself, every single time. You don't expect anything less from a star, and the Spyder actor believes he is finally on the path to achieving the kind of stardom he's always craved. "Earlier, as an actor, I used to accept whatever scripts came my way. Now, after Iraivi, I have the luxury of choice. It's a good place to be."
He exercised this luxury when choosing director Nelson Venkatesan's Monster, which hit the screens last Friday. A film that pits his character against a pesky little rat, it has wowed the audience with its usage of a real animal instead of CGI. "I've played the villain to many 'tigers' of this industry, and now a rat is my villain," says Suryah, adding the director's vision to let the rat be just a rat was inspiring. "The rat here is not like the fly in SS Rajamouli's Naan Ee, which does everything that Chiranjeevi sir would have done. That was almost a superhero film. But Monster is about a simple rat that behaves like one. With this man-animal conflict as the backdrop, Nelson has woven a story with lots of drama. That's what makes it special."
With his acting credentials gradually getting their due, what does he expect a film like Monster will do for his career? "You see, it is a very normal role, but it was tough in its own way. It is not easy to act naturally. For the audience to have a connect with a performance that is not very showy, a certain magic has to occur. That magic will surely happen with Monster," he says.
Though he hasn't directed a film since Isai, and is steadfast about not returning to the director's chair, there is no denying that his brand of films has its own fan base. However, Suryah believes fans know where his true allegiance lies. "They know I am extremely passionate about acting. My wish is to become a pan-Indian superstar. I'd even say it's the very purpose of my life. I have lost a lot of money, said no to a lot of offers, and endured much in the pursuit of this goal."
This go-for-broke attitude goes back to the time he was a director, too. In his very first film, Vaali, Suryah took on the tricky subject of a man lusting after his sister-in-law. "I knew I was walking on thin ice; a small misstep would have meant the end of my career. But at the same time, why should the audience part with their hard-earned money to watch a run-of-the-mill film? I wanted to give them something refreshing, something new," says the actor, who reveals that he made Isai to showcase his own acting skills. "The films I did after Anbe Aaruyire effectively ended my acting career; it was all but dead and buried. Isai helped me break open the coffin and make my way back up to the surface. That's why stars are so particular about choosing the right directors. Being a big hero is a responsibility. One has to be careful," says Suryah, adding that he is completely a director's actor and never brings the filmmaker in him to someone else's sets.
But there are times when his past life intersects with his present. His turn as a villain in Mersal and Spyder saw him share screen space with actors Vijay and Mahesh Babu, whom he had previously directed in Kushi and Naani, respectively. "Mahesh sir used to laugh during our showdown scenes in Spyder. He kept telling me, 'I am used to seeing you as a director. I need to change my mindset'. Vijay sir, on the other hand, would take a look at my performance in the monitor, though he never saw his own scenes. He always took an interest in my acting."
Fans on social media too have taken to Suryah's acting and are putting up their own versions of it on platforms like TikTok. "When I finished New, my performance was mimicked a lot. Meme videos are a new phenomenon. I feel happy that I have done something that has inspired the audience on some level."
For someone who has always harboured dreams of superstardom, finally getting that audience connect must have been a dream come true. But is this the type of hero he always wanted to be? "It was not as if I wanted to be a particular type of hero. Not everyone can say dialogues like 'Oru vaati sonna 100 vaati sonna maadhri'. You just need to have a certain audience connect. Once that is there, it makes an actor a hero, and coupled with a strong ideology, that hero becomes a superstar. That's the kind of superstar I want to be."