SJ Suryah: It was hard to suppress my inner Sivaji Ganesan

The actor along with other involved in the making of Vadhandhi discuss what goes into making a successful web series
SJ Suryah: It was hard to suppress my inner Sivaji Ganesan

Content is copious in the Tamil industry now with the audience spoilt for choices. However, this variety doesn't always translate to success on the ground. Very few originals, be it in films or OTT content, make a mark on those who are exposed to a spectrum of global content. One of the rare successes in homegrown OTT content was Amazon Prime Video's thriller web series Suzhal. A gripping whodunnit thriller interspersed with rooted rituals, it wowed the audience. Close on the heels of its success, Amazon Prime Video is now coming up with another web series, Vadhandhi, that’s directed by Kolaigaran-fame Andrew Louis and stars SJ Suryah, Sanjana, Laila, Nassar, and Vivek Prasanna. Ahead of the show's release on December 2, here are the team members in a quick conversation about what we can expect from the series and their respective characters.

Interestingly, Vadhandhi shares a few similarities with Suzhal. Both are murder mysteries set in a small town. Both have a missing girl at the crux. Both see contributions from director-duo Pushkar-Gayatri. While they were part of Suzhal as writers and creators, here, they are creative producers. When quizzed about their responsibilities, Pushkar explains, "As per the existing system, every platform wants one person — in our case two — who is committed to the creative vision of the project. In Suzhal, we could take creative calls. In Vadhandhi, all we had to do was help execute Andrew's vision. Andrew is the creator, writer, and director of this show and he has the final word on everything. We collaborate with him more on a script level. We read the episodes and then provide feedback to Amazon. In this system, there are three different roles — one as showrunners, where we work with other writers and directors, then as creative producers, where we collaborate with the creator, and the third is where we get to be everything — showrunner, writer, and director. We are excited to attempt all three of these roles during our association with Amazon."

SJ Suryah, who is making his OTT debut, is equally excited, and the filmmaker-actor firmly believes that this will be the next big step in his career. "I've worked hard to make my way up as an actor. I never wanted to restrict myself. My persistence to establish myself on a pan-India level gave rise to Uyarndha Manidhan with Amitabh (Bachchan) sir. But unfortunately, that project got stalled. Now, with Vadhandhi, I hope it will give me that much-needed break on an international level. I'm doubly happy that it's my former assistant who has given me such a huge opportunity."

Heaping praise on his erstwhile assistant of seven years, Suryah says, "Andrew Louis' sensibilities have developed immensely. He has complete control over his craft and has a certain conviction. During Vadhandhi's shoot, he was very particular about dialogues and performances. He wanted me to be restrained like Sean Penn or Irrfan Khan. It was quite the challenge because subconsciously, my inner Sivaji Ganesan would come out roaring at times (laughs)."

Nassar, who is also playing an important role in Vadhandhi, agrees to Suryah's observation about Andrew's conviction. "We had this debate while shooting for Kolaigaran. He is particular about the lines and how they are delivered. Even Kalaignar Karunanidhi gave me a free hand with his lines, but Andrew didn't. But that conviction is also an impressive quality. He is clear about what he wants and shoots only what's required. As an actor, it's reassuring to know that all the scenes we shot will make it to the final cut."

Humbled by the praise coming his way, Andrew credits the learnings to collaborations with the right people. He candidly admits that some of the major creative decisions in Vadhandhi were born during conversations with such people. "I initially wanted the story to be set in an urban space. That's when Gayatri stepped in with the suggestion of moving it to another place with a more rooted flavour. This thought train finally halted at Kanyakumari," says Andrew. Looking at the trailer, we can see that Kanyakumari is an integral part of the narrative, especially with its distinct dialect that is not often showcased in our films or series. "There's a lot more significance to Kanyakumari than just the dialect. The place has a unique geography. It is surrounded by sea on one side and forests on the other. Vadhandhi's story also delves into the lives of the Anglo-Indian community, and Kanyakumari has a significant Tamil Christian population. All of this came together to add a lot of layers to our narrative."

Having already delivered a bonafide success on OTT, it is fitting that Pushkar, the most eloquent of the lot, concludes the conversation by defining what makes a good web series. "What we see in many series is a single interesting thread being stretched to the maximum. But that's not how it should be done. Understanding the medium's structure is important. The key is to have two major things: A solid original plot and well-defined, memorable characters. Not concentrating on this will make all our series just pale imitations of the West.”

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