Soori: The goddess of art won't let me down
The actor speaks about making his debut as a lead actor in Vetri Maaran's Viduthalai Part-1
Soori believes in taking risks both for and with films. The comedian announced in 2019 that he would be making his debut as male lead under Vetri Maaran's direction and since then, began turning down other films in order to be fully available for his dream debut as a hero. The path he chose with Viduthalai was a bed of thorns, not roses, as the film demanded that he live in the wilderness and perform daredevil stunts. Four years, one dislocated shoulder and 18 stitches later, Vidhuthalai Part-1 is ready for its release this March 31.
A determined Soori believes it was all worth the pain. "Being launched as a lead in a Vetri Maaran film wasn't even in my dreams. I was ready to give everything for Viduthalai from day one. I declined many acting offers during these four years which eventually resulted in financial loss and left me jobless for quite some time. But I kept reminding myself of the lovely journey I have set out for with Viduthalai and where it could potentially place me as a performer." While a couple of other comedian-turned-leads have bid adieu to their comic roles after their transformation, Soori hopes to balance both. "Comedian, hero nu sattai dhaan maarum; aana potukra aalu onnu dhaan. There are people who love the comedian in me; I don't want to disappoint them. I will play the comedian when roles excite me. Until then, I hope to be occupied with my lineup as a hero."
He goes on to thank Vetri Maaran for encouraging him to balance both responsibilities. "I got an offer to share screen space with Rajini sir in Annaatthe after I got committed to doing Viduthalai. But Vetri sir was gracious enough to plan the schedules in a way that made me available for both films. In fact, he pushed me to take the film saying it is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. This gave me the motivation and space to take up films like Don and Viruman while shooting for Viduthalai."
While news about Vetri Maaran and Soori's collaboration began to surface in early 2019, the actor reveals that the director had promised to cast him as a lead much before Vada Chennai. "I can't thank Vetri anna and producer Elred Kumar enough for this. What started as a four-crore project slowly turned into a two-part film. They could have gone with a bankable star to ensure guaranteed returns. But they believed in my hard work."
He shares that the four-year-long journey with Vetri Maaran has transformed him as an actor. "I have learned and unlearned a lot while studying in this school called Vetri Maaran. He is a keen observer. The simple corrections he suggests to an actor will ensure that we come through as refined performers. Chinna chinna changes panale podhum, miga periya nadigan ah therivom." Soori reveals that the magic happens through the conversation the director has with his actors before the shot. "He gives a clear explanation on what is expected from an actor. He walks them through the chronology and background details of the scene, the mindset of the character and their limitations. Once this meditative monologue is done, the magic starts to kick in and we get transformed into our characters."
Though Soori's character Kumaresan bears no similarities to his previous roles, the actor believes that his two-decade-long drill as a comedian set the foundation ready for Vetri Maaran to build on. "Every character I played in the past, small or big, has led me to this point. I am glad that I took up films like Kadaikutty Singam which kept the character artist in me alive. I always believe that a good comedian can pull off any role. So, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the comedian in me nurtured the hero within."
Kumaresan is a constable who goes through a moral conflict and is forced to pick a side in the film. Soori shares that he found the character relatable in a way, as he apparently went through similar situations in cinema. "Many times, I can foresee certain jokes being a dud at the theatres even while filming. But the scene would have either been written by a huge director or tweaked by a top hero; so, I would be in a difficult spot. After the shoot, I would get immersed in the guilt of not taking a stand and disappointing the audience. In retrospect, I could have refused to do the sequence by saying a clear no, but I was afraid of hurting the seniors then. But thankfully, I have reached a place where directors respect my suggestions now and I have also learned to navigate through such situations better."
Soori shares that Ilaiyaraaja, the composer of Viduthalai, has been his 'Thunaivan' (reference to the short story the film is based upon) since his teenage days. "I believe nobody can deny the dominance of Raja sir in their life, at least during a particular phase. I came to Chennai at the age of 19 and struggled for years together with no sign of success. Amidst all the battles, Raja sir's music was my beacon of hope and solace. His music gave me peace, made me fall in love and motivated me to never give up in life. It feels surreal to think that he has composed for my film."
Soori, who has the film's sequel in the post-production stage, has also completed shooting for director Ram's Ezhu Malai Ezhu Kadal, co-starring Nivin Pauly and Anjali. He is also currently working on Koozhangal-fame Vinoth Raj's Kottukkaali, alongside Anna Ben. Furthermore, he has a film each with directors Ameer and Vikram Sugumaran in the pipeline. Isn't it a 'risk' to sign so many films as lead, even before testing the waters with Viduthalai? "It is. But when life gives you all that you have wished and prayed for, you wouldn't think twice before embracing it; I am currently in that phase. Ivlo dhooram paasama kootitu vandha kalaithaai, epdi enna kai vitruvaa?"