Shanthnu: Friendships in cinema don't translate to film offers 

The actor who is hoping to redefine his image as a performer with his upcoming film, Raavana Kottam, talks about his journey so far. 
Shanthnu: Friendships in cinema don't translate to film offers 

Shanthnu's journey with Raavana Kottam dates back to 2018, with his five-year-long wait coming to an end on May 12. In an attempt to present himself in a never-before-seen, rooted role, the actor apparently walked barefoot in the burning streets of Ramanathapuram and stuck to lungis and banians even off-screen. The trailer of the film bears testimony to his hard work for this film that he is also a line-producer of.

"I bled many times during this shoot. I cried a lot. But looking back, I feel this film was worth everything," says Shanthnu, who hopes that this film will establish him as a solid performer.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Was there ever an alternative, less painful shooting plan?

No, director Vikram Sugumaran is a taskmaster, who doesn't believe in compromises. And above all, an actor like me, who longs for appreciation, is willing to go to any extent to achieve it. The scorching heat or wounds became secondary. We all strongly believed that keeping the film as rooted as possible would be key to keeping the audience invested. After shooting, Vikram sir confessed that he had tortured us a lot. But the truth is… enna madhri actor ku indha struggle venum.

Raavana Kottam appears to be a strong commentary on casteism in villages.

Yes, but we have made sure that it is a representation of the disparity in rural Tamil Nadu and not a glorification of any caste. Cinema is a powerful medium that can influence the masses, so I would never convey anything vile.

The film has caste politics at its centre, but we have tried to keep the balance right. The people who caught the test screenings also felt the same. I learnt a lot from Vikram sir and his viewpoints on politics have encouraged me to read a lot.

You seem to be quite self-aware lately.

I guess it is natural that someone like me who got the biggest of film launches but yet sunk to the lowest points in cinema is as grounded. Those who were with me during my good times have left me and laughed at me. Even though I took responsibility for my career at a young age, people blamed appa for my inability to be part of projects like Subramaniapuram and Kalavani. I have made many bad decisions, but I can tell you they were all mine. I am still evolving and trying to rectify my shortcomings. Only success can assure me that I am in the right direction.

Your script choices seem to have undergone a change after Koditta Idangalai Nirappuga (2017)?

You could say that. For a long time, I wasn't sure if my choice of scripts was bad, or if it was my trust in certain people. About five years ago, I got some clarity on what went wrong and sought to redefine myself as an actor. I signed Kasada Thabara and Paava Kadhaigal (Thangam) after this.
Around the same time, Kannan Ravi sir, the producer of Raavana Kottam and appa's friend, offered to relaunch me with a solid film. He said, 'If you win you get a career; if you lose, I get a life lesson.' How could I not give my fullest for Raavana Kottam?

Would you credit your OTT foray as refining your skills?

Certainly. Projects like Story of Things offered me roles that I couldn't have imagined doing for the silver screen. I had to deliver a compelling performance to make the audience believe in the horror element of my segment, Car. Thanks to this project and its director George K Antoney, I got to understand the importance of workshops and script-reading sessions.

Through my OTT projects, I got the realisation that the burden of turning actors into stars lies with the filmmakers and that it is not the other way around.

Telugu actors Naveen Polishetty and Siddhu Jonnalagadda wrote their own screenplays to revive their careers. Did you consider something similar?

I believe in surrendering myself in the hands of the right creators and letting them shape me. But I can tell you that I have realised my love for storytelling. Though I am not trained enough to write a film on my own, I can see myself doing that at some point. Establishing an emotional connection is the biggest success of a screenplay; appa was celebrated because of this reason. My privileged upbringing is a barrier that prevents me from writing raw emotions, but I am getting there.

You did Thangam with Sudha Kongara and Oru Chance Kudu with Gautham Menon for the web. What prevents them from casting you in features?

Both Sudha ma'am and Gautham sir could have gone with a bigger star for their projects, but they cast me without a second thought because of the OTT medium. Once they decide to make a feature, factors like bankability and success ratio of the actor come into play and the filmmakers also face pressure from producers, distributors, and theatre owners to cast a saleable face. I know that both directors would be happy to work with me with the right financial backing, but to earn that, I have to climb my way towards them.
I am friends with almost every hero out there. Even though most of them wish to see me succeed, a lot of factors prevent them from signing a film with me. Friendships in cinema don't necessarily translate to film offers.

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