SJ Suryah: My best is yet to come
The actor, along with Vishal discuss their new film Mark Antony directed by Adhik Ravichandran, playing dual roles, their love for each other, and the legend of MGR
By now everyone who has seen the riotous trailer of Mark Antony knows that the film is a blend of time travel adventure and gangster drama. Actors Vishal and SJ Suryah, who play the leads in the film, confess that they would rather go to the future instead of the past if they ever get a time machine. "I have never wanted to go back in time and correct my mistakes or alter any events. They have happened for a reason and I believe in focussing on the present to ensure a pleasant future," says Vishal. Suryah, on the other hand, shares that he would like to take a peak into the future if possible. "With that insight, I will be able to tweak my present in a way that I reach the most favourable variant of the future."
There is a consummate ease in the equation between Vishal and Suryah, which sees them pull each other's legs with the same honesty as praising each other. Surprisingly, they were just acquaintances before signing Mark Antony. "It is the film that brought us together. Now, Vishal is like my own brother and my 2 am friend," shares Suryah, who goes on to reveal that he was initially hesitant to sign the project. "Adhik initially pitched the Jackie Pandian to me as an aged gangster and I immediately turned down the offer out of the feat of being typecast. I believe that a good actor can sell himself as a college student even in his 60s, with the right skill and attitude. But if the industry starts stereotyping him, he can't escape the trap." Understanding Suryah's concern, Adhik rewrote the script to accommodate a double-action role for Suryah too. "Both Vishal and I will have dual roles in the version you see now. The final narration I got from Adhik was extraordinary and I was able to see the audience enjoying it in the theatres already."
The year 2004 was life-changing for both Vishal and Suryah in a lot of ways. Both of them made a transition from filmmaking to acting with their respective debuts Chellamae and New. "It was Arjun sir who gave me the final push to act," recalls Vishal. "I was assisting him in Vedham. One day, he called me to enact a scene that was meant to be performed by Vineeth. He called me to the editing suite the next day and said, 'Evlo nala panni iruka paaru! Odu olunga nadikura velaiya paaru. (See how well you've performed. Go and act.) You can direct even at 60s, but to be a hero you have to start young.' Even though Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu sir have asked me to consider acting much earlier, it was Arjun sir's words that made to work towards it." Unlike Vishal, who had a nurturing environment and supportive mentors, Suryah had to fend for himself. "I had more critics around me rather than well-wishes when I started. My own ADs laughed at my acting and mocked it. With no form of guidance, I had to figure out the way up all alone. But I am glad that I didn't give in to the insults. God has been kind to give me only the best scripts in my second innings. But I strongly believe that my best is yet to come and I will be a bigger star than what I am today."
Quite interestingly, both Suryah and Vishal are huge admirers of legendary actor-politician MG Ramachandran. While Suryah loves MGR for his extraordinary charisma and optimism, Vishal shares that he is forever in awe of the leader he was. "It is easy for an actor or politician to make a particular person or group of people like him. But it is almost impossible to make everyone in a State root for him. MGR achieved the impossible and had zero haters. Everyone loved him regardless of their differences. He never lost the zest to help people even after he got shot. He only went on to work twice as hard. I just try to mirror the examples set by him and Vijayakanth Anna when it comes to philanthropy." The seed for the MGR fanboy in Suryah was sowed by his father, who was an ardent fan himself. "Growing up, the word superstar was synonymous with MGR. He spread an extremely positive aura through his films and I used to feel excited whenever my appa took me along to see his films. The fact that a star can exude so much energy and positivity is one of the reasons why I decided to be an actor."
Apart from having loads of fun working with Suryah, Vishal states that he also learnt a lot from him as a performer. "It felt like going to acting school again. I got reminded of my Koothu-P-Pattarai days when I began observing Suryah sir. He delivers a surreal range of performances that most can only aspire for. Seeing him perform was such a joy. I strongly believe that my acting has improved just by acting along with him." Suryah, on the other hand, shares that he learnt a lot from Vishal off-screen. "Though Vishal is seen as a macho action hero by the audience, he is a kid at heart, who only wishes the best for everyone. He wouldn't even leave a puppy unfed in his vicinity. I was quite impressed and inspired by his generosity. When an actor has noble values like this, they become stars."