Samuthirakani: I aspire to be as pure as my characters
The director-actor Samuthirakani, talking about his latest release Vinodhaya Sitham, the importance of projecting goodness in cinema and more.
Anyone who has followed the works of Samuthirakani might wonder if he's the same person in real life as he is in the films he does--you know, the dutiful, doting, disciplined, pretty flawless man. After spending an hour with him, I could see that the optimism and patience of his famous character, Dhayaalan (from Appa and Sattai franchise), and the wisdom of his character in the recent Vinodhaya Sitham are fragments of his own personality. The conversation began with a rather obvious question: "How did you manage to build your brand?" He let out a long, loud laugh and answered: "I must give the credits to time (a refrerence to the theme of Vinodhaya Sitham). It happened over the years. The characters I did onscreen or the causes I stood for reached people in surprising ways, and they started treating me as their own family." Samuthirakani adds that the audience has given him a place in their hearts and safeguarding it is his priority. "Time hasn't been this kind to everyone. Every day, I remind myself to work harder and be a better human to save everyone's trust in me." The kind of line you would expect his characters to say.
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Interestingly, the image Samuthirakani has in the Telugu states is inverse. Save for Aakashvani, all other Telugu films have had him playing a violent villain. He explains that he took up those roles to quench the actor in him. "I hate to be boxed and branded as a certain kind of actor. Now, I am getting plenty of offers in Telugu to play characters that are pure and well-intentioned." He has often shared that every time he gets into the skin of a new character, he feels a physical transformation within him. He shares that the characters that have had the most impact on him are those he played in Visaranai and Vinodhaya Sitham. "Visaranai left me haunted for a month. The night shoots, leech bites, drainage stench... the very theme of the film shook me. After that, playing 'Time' in this film made me re-examine myself as a person and has cleansed me."
The protagonists in his directorial work are kind, pure-hearted men with no trace of evil. "I aspire to be that person in life. So, I keep writing characters who, when confronted with evil, respond with kindness. I believe that showing this in films creates positive thoughts in the audience."
Vinodhaya Sitham is Samuthirakani's most experimental film to date as a director. Did it bother him that he made it for an OTT platform, and not for the theatres? "Certainly not! This is the need of the hour. There are a hundred new creators entering cinema every day. If someone considers themselves as a legend and sticks to age-old methods, they will get left behind." He adds that he took up the project to prove that it is possible to make an engaging and yet, "clean film" for OTT. "At a time when streaming platforms are demanding profanity and vulgarity, we wanted to show that a film like Vinodhaya Sitham was possible. It is essential to restore goodness in this space too. To this end, films produced by Suriya's 2D productions are doing a great job."
Despite bagging a State award, Samuthirakani's debut effort as a director, Unnai Charanadaindhen, wasn't a commercial success. Does he ever wonder what happened with that film? "The financial world within cinema functions in its own terms and is unpredictable. Both Unnai Charanadaindhen and Neranja Manasu are good films, and I still don't find anything flawed in them. But such failures taught me to aspire for more. I keep telling myself and those around me, "Oru vishayam kedacha sandhosha padunga. Kedaikaati romba sandhosha padunga!" He adds that it is this approach that got him big projects like Ala Vaikunthapuramulo. "I also got offered another star vehicle at the time, but I chose Ala.. The film gained wider recognition and love."
Samuthirakani shares that success is a pursuit and not a destination. "My mentor, KB (director K Balachander), would tell me that there would always be people who hurl stones at us. All we can do is try and evade them. When eventually, their hands hurt from all the hurling and they see that you are not affected, they begin clapping." It turns out that the real Samuthirakani is as wise as the characters he plays in films.