Shanthnu Bhagyaraj: It is important to be part of visible projects like Vaanam Kottattum and Master
The actor talks about his latest release, Vaanam Kottattum, being part of Master, and what cinema means to him
A few days before the release of Vaanam Kottattum, the production house Madras Talkies put out a tweet. "His struggles are real, but his comebacks are stronger. His name is Shanthnu Bhagyaraj." Sure, being the son of a celebrated filmmaker might open doors easily, but Shanthnu's journey has also been defined by determination and struggle. "I believe that one should let life flow, and go with it. In fact, I believe that directors, production houses, and the audience know what suits me well," says Shanthnu, as we settle down for a heartfelt conversation about his cinematic journey, being part of 'visible' projects, and the attempt to diversify himself as an actor.
When did you realise acting was your calling?
I think when I did my first film, Vettiya Madichukattu. One day, out of nowhere, as I returned from school, appa asked me if I wanted to act. He had been looking for a kid in the same age group. I said okay and walked away. And then my father had second thoughts as to whether it would affect my education, but he decided to give it a shot and we had a screen test. I was asked to say certain dialogues while doing something else. I was able to do it, so my father felt that with some guidance, I could be an actor. The minute I started acting, I began to like the sets. The ambience, the people, the food (laughs)… I lost interest in studies completely. I got a lot of child artiste offers in between. But appa insisted I complete school, and after that, I was offered Shankar sir's Boys. However, appa felt I was too young for the role, and Shankar sir agreed with it after looking at my pictures. It was with difficulty that I completed school, and then, I was asked to complete graduation before I could act full time.
And then Sakkarakatti happened...
Yeah. I began shooting for Sakkarakatti in my final year. I had worked as an AD in Parijatham earlier. During Sakkarakatti, I used to study for exams on set. Padichitte iruppen, shot koopta apdiye poi onscreen romance pannuven. (laughs) My focus was only on cinema.
Success in cinema is also a consequence of good timing. You seem to have missed some opportunities (like Boys) due to this. How do you see them now?
I think the public needs to know what happened because there are multiple stories out there. People believe that I opted out of these projects due to my arrogance. But only my family and the production companies know what truly transpired. I was regretting it. Had I done Subramaniyapuram or Kalavani, I would have been a bigger star today. But I realise that we can't keep living in the past. If it is meant for us, it will reach us. Perhaps it was not meant for me then, which is why situations prevented me from being part of these projects. Since last year, I have been focussing only on the positives, on what I can do next. Also, enakku nadakka vendiya oru nalladhu, innorutharukku nadandha adhuvum nalladhu dhan. (smiles)
I love how Vijay anna transforms in a snap for a scene. He always stays on the spot just like everyone else. There might be several stars who are also so humble, but I've had the opportunity to witness it first-hand with Vijay anna. He is a good listener. I feel that he has begun to interact more with people now, and I once told him that he should be this way. And in response, he told me, "I am always the same da. It is only the people around me who change." That's something I will remember always.
You have said that you want to be part of projects that will take you to the audience, irrespective of the screentime afforded to your character.
Sakkarakatti's initial high kept me afloat for a couple of years. But after 2011, until my wedding, I was in depression. I wasn't working; I wasn't getting the right scripts. When I did get the right script, producers weren't ready. Even people who I considered my mentors, insulted me behind my back. After the wedding, I got to do a guest appearance in Kathai Thiraikadhai Vasanam Iyakkam, and after that. I began to do several things which got me noticed. For example, Mupparimaanam received a lot of love online. But why didn't it get a good theatre run? All of this taught me that while it is important to be part of a good project, it also has to be one that reaches the audience. Visibility kidaikkum.
So when I got an offer from Madras Talkies, I immediately said yes. I am a huge Thalapathy fan, so working with him in Master was a dream come true. En life la en padatha ethana makkal paapangalo, adha vida nooru madangu avaroda oru padatha paapanga. Why would I say no? I also have Ravana Kottam and Kasada Thapara, both of which have interesting and different roles. I am also doing a Netflix film where I had to perform very realistically. My experience with Vaanam Kottattum helps there. I am learning to be a better performer.
How has your father's films influenced you?
I admire how appa's films broke the taboo around sex. His films always spoke about the usual 'adult' conversation between a man and wife but did it with such dignity that everyone enjoyed it. Also, it is amazing how he can write films that belong to both extremes of a spectrum convincingly. People accepted both; that was the strength of his skill.
Being a star kid, no matter what you do, or don't, he is bound to be drawn into the equation.
He has done so much, in so many areas —screenwriting, acting, directing and so on. So no matter what I do, it won't be a space without his contribution. I have stopped trying to beat what he has done. I have to come to terms with people attributing my success to him, or responding to my failure with lines like, “Avaru paiyan-a irundhutu ipdi panriye pa.” I can't stop this from happening. I can only learn to focus on what I do and ignore such reactions.