Siddharth: I am a responsible citizen first, an actor next

The actor discusses his latest release, Sivappu Manjal Pachai, and how he wants to make cinema that reaches a larger audience
Siddharth: I am a responsible citizen first, an actor next

Siddharth is visibly kicked about his latest release Sivappu Manjal Pachai (SMP), which he calls his first 'universal Tamil film' in a long time. Director Sasi, he says, is one of the few filmmakers who tells middle-class stories authentically. "He is a special filmmaker. I wondered why we hadn't worked together for so long. We had discussed a script 7-8 years back." But he is glad that it didn't happen and agrees it was maybe not meant to. "He never repeats his heroes. So I wouldn't have gotten this film," says Siddharth, with a laugh. 

To be in the industry for 17 years and find new areas to explore isn't an easy task. But Siddharth has been doing it with ease across industries. SMP sees him become a cop for the first time. "I am happy that even after 17 years, I am getting good work. The day I don't get good opportunities, I would probably do something else." He says he doesn't understand questions that often pit him against other actors. "No offense to anyone but I like my process and what I have accomplished." The actor currently has five projects and adds that negative comments don't affect him. "Had someone told me I would get so much work in 17 years, I wouldn't have believed it. I have lived a happy and busy life."

Excerpts from a conversation:  

In Sivappu Manjal Pachai, you play a cop for the first time.

I always try to understand the background of my character and the need of a film. This film had two things. Firstly, it was Sasi sir's film -- he is someone who picks up stories from real life and narrates it cinematically. Avarkitta OB adikkamudiyadhu! His scenes are realistic, and if you are artificial, it shows. Secondly, it was a character I have never played before. I had to look and behave like a policeman. While getting the body ready was easy, getting into the cop psyche was tough. I didn't want Siddharth to be seen at any cost on screen. The body language had to be completely Rajasekhar's (his character in SMP). While you do put in a lot of effort for each character, the audience only notes it in certain films. When you touch the hearts of the viewer, it becomes close to their heart. They tend to remember the small details. I have seen this in Telugu where I have done several family films. SMP is one such film. This fetched me a response that I haven't received so far from Tamil family audiences. 

The biggest hurdle for an actor is that the audience should believe that he can do anything. It has taken me some time to achieve that. I took up different characters but a few of them, like this one, has reached everyone. That is satisfying. 

You have always been one for experiments. There is a bit of everything in your filmography. As someone who has seen his share of success and failure, how does your track record influence your future decisions? 

All my films have to be different from one another. I entered this industry because I am fascinated by the discovery that happens, the journey behind every film. If the hurdles you are facing are due to your own decisions, it is a different story. But when problems are situational or arise from the way industry functions, then one can't assume responsibility for the same. I am not someone who dwells on success or failure. In fact, you won't find any posters in my house. Cinema hands you a certain life -- it all depends on what kind of scripts you get and what works for you at that point of time. 

To be honest, I have decided that while I will continue to experiment, I will also do films that will reach larger audiences. That feeling where the larger audiences, not just a section, celebrate your films? I want that too. My upcoming films will be more commercial. I am getting the opportunities only now in Tamil to explore new spaces.

Talking about new spaces, you recently voiced for Simba in the Tamil version of The Lion King. It isn't every day that the dubbed version as much love.  

I have been interested in drama, oratory, and music ever since childhood. The Lion King had all of them. I knew the film would be big even when working on it. That's because unlike other dubbing films, these animals have no race, ethnicity, or any other demographical traits. It might sound weird when an American or European speaks Tamil; it has to be done carefully. But for a lion, it will work. We worked towards making this version more relatable. The reception among children was fantastic. Nobody makes films for them anymore. 

And also, the animation was terrific. It was a film done on a budget of hundreds of crores. It was like a picnic for me to be part of such a project. 

You were also part of Leila, which sparked a debate about whether content on Netflix and other streaming platforms needs to be censored. Your thoughts?

It won't happen. And shouldn't happen too. You can take that in any order you wish to. But we need to have a mature conversation about censorship in this country. While there is a strenuous process in getting a certain certificate, who is checking the theatres? As a producer who has backed an A-certificate film, I don't want the money of those kids. If children are going to see that, why do I need that certificate then? There needs to be a conversation about even film censorship. The current officer is much more progressive and things are better now. There is no use in blaming the system; bringing such new things is also not necessary. 

You are a star quite open about your political views. Has that ever proved to be a hindrance to your film career?

Not so far. I am a diligent taxpayer who thinks about his country a lot. I vote as a citizen. What else do I need to voice my opinions? If someone tells me that I shouldn't be vocal about social issues because I am an actor, then I don't want to be one. It makes no sense. I am a responsible citizen first and an actor next. I get the courage to ask questions because I abide by rules. Everyone who does their duties responsibly has the right to question. Everyone should ask questions.

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