Suriya: I am not a great actor
Suriya speaks at length about his upcoming film, Soorarai Pottru, that will stream on Amazon Prime Video from November 12
The aphorism, ‘Life begins at forty’, may have to be changed to ‘Life gets even better at forty’, if it were to apply to Suriya. At 45, the actor retains the same good looks that marked his arrival in Nerukku Ner 23 years ago and garnered a fan-following. Greeting the media over a video call, Suriya begins by asking, “Has everyone become comfortale with such virtual meets?” and adds, “Until last month, my daughter was helping me with these Zoom calls.” Here’s the star at ease in conversation about playing the character called Maara in Sudha Kongara’s upcoming film, Soorarai Pottru…
Given the film is about a man who launches an airline company, let's start with your first and most memorable flight journey.
It was for the wedding of my aunt's daughter. Lakshmi akka was almost 18 years older than me, and for some reason, in young naivete, I thought I would get married to her. My little heart broke to hear news of her wedding (laughs). Appa and I went to Coimbatore in a flight; that was my first journey.
The most memorable one was when I travelled to Singapore and Malaysia, with appa again. Unlike now, the opportunities to open up in conversation with a father were rather limited for my generation. I was in class 10, and for the first time, he asked what I was planning to do with my future. He asked if I was interested in the film industry and I remember saying I was not really inclined. The air hostess offered us wine and appa asked if I wanted to give it a try. It was a memorable journey.
What about Soorarai Pottru attracted you the most?
After a long time, I had the satisfaction of doing something I love on the sets of Soorarai Pottru. The last time I felt like this was when shooting for films like Nandha, Pithamagan, Mounam Pesiyadhe and Kaakha Kaakha. This film gave me a lot of joy. Sudha is my rakhi sister and every year, we meet at least once for that reason. We rarely talk about films but after watching Irudhi Suttru, I wanted to work with her. I have always felt that working professionally with those close to me might sabotage the good relationship I have with them and I have refused business opportunities with friends for the same reason. But since Sudha was able to see me in that character, this film happened.
A dream, irrespective of how far-fetched it might be, if we stand by it, can happen; that’s what we have said with this film. The film is set in Madurai and will feature people and a culture we are used to.
How did it get conceived as a semi-biography?
We didn't treat SP like a biopic. It was based on an idea from the book, Simply Fly, which I heard three years back. Over the years, the idea got moulded into multiple drafts and never ever was I as close with the process of conceiving a script as I was with this one. Sudha kept me in the loop about every change and I was happy to hear her out. Very few have changed the face of India and GR Gopinath sir is one such personality. We wanted to make it as real as possible without letting go of the entertainment value. We have not succumbed to regular film tropes, and this is a film that establishes again my trust in good writing. I like portraying intensity and anger but here, it was rather controlled, and this fascinated me. The biggest challenge was that I am not afforded even a single smile throughout this film (smiles).
Sudha’s dedication meant that she was always around the clock to answer phone calls. She must have slept barely for five hours a day and spent every hour focussed on the betterment of the project. Her tireless work meant that we were able to shoot scenes in this film faster than I am generally used to.
Why is it that we don't have many stars working with female directors?
It makes me wonder. Did we ever refuse to be taught by a woman teacher in nursery school (smiles)? Everything seems to have changed now. We must feel proud of women and have much to learn from them. I know Sudha from Aaytha Ezhuthu days (when she assisted Mani Ratnam). If there's a jimmy jib shot, she would be manoeuvring it. For an auto sequence, she would sit in reverse on the backseat of a bike and watch the shot. It did not surprise me to see her controlling almost 200 people on the sets of SP. I keep telling Madhavan that Irudhi Suttru's impact made me choose this film.
What are the challenges posed by a film like Soorarai Pottru?
I play a character who is so broke that he asks his wife for a loan of a few thousand rupees. I am not a great actor—not one to pull off a profound performance in front of the camera. As actors, we are expected to think and behave like the character, but I depend a lot on my personal experience and emotions. As Sudha knows me personally, we were able to work my performance out to our mutual satisfaction. I know I have done a good job when I see her eyes getting moist during the shoot. If she asks for another take, I know I have stepped out of the zone. It was a joy to get as real as possible in portrayal.
You also play a teenager in this film.
At 45, it's definitely not easy (laughs). After shooting the adult portions, with the moustache and the beard, I had to shoot for the younger look the very next day. It was a sweet challenge. I maintain discipline throughout the year when it comes to my health. When I keep maintaining it at 80 per cent, jumping to 100 is easier when compared to starting afresh. Despite that, we even planned on using CG marks on my face to have age reduction as an option but Sudha and Niketh (cinematographer) took a call against it as they were convinced by my transformation.
We also heard that Sudha wanted you to step out of your comfort zone as an actor.
We all take comfortable pauses when we speak; so do I. But this film demanded that I mouth lengthy dialogues. A lot of meticulous work went into such small nuances, and all I had to do was surrender myself to the director. We worked a lot on staging and those who watch films carefully can figure out that we have broken the usual formula. Sudha wanted to see Maara in me, not Suriya. A woman's perspective is sharper and you will see it in this film.
What was the reason behind pushing the release date to Diwali?
For such films, the aircrafts used are usually decommissioned ones but here, we used the actual Kiran aircraft and fighter jets. I don't want to mention names but even the biggest Bollywood producers have failed to acquire permission to shoot with such aircrafts. Given the novelty of the exercise, the delay was inevitable. The committee saw the film and had no objections. When we finally got the go-ahead, the officials saw it as their own success.
After as long a career, what motivates you to try and give your best for each film?
I don't do films for fame or simply because I'm in the industry. I want each film to create an impact and prove that no dream is so big that it’s beyond fruition. Even when we think we have seen it all, life always throws something out of the syllabus at us. As Dhoni says, the process is more important. A film should be worth all the wait and effort and should answer the question of why we did it in the first place. Success, happiness, and identity will happen alongside.