Sathyaraj: I would love to play a villain again

Actor Sathyaraj, who along with Vasanth Ravi, and director Guhan Senniappan, discuss their recent release, Weapon, coming back for Vikram 2, and more…
Sathyaraj: I would love to play a villain again

Just like how some things are lost in translation, there are some adaptations, even while adjusted for cultural differences, that will still remind us of the original. The idea of superpowered humans has been approached from every possible angle by comic book giants like Marvel and DC that no matter how hard you try, it has become an insurmountable task to make a rooted superhero film without reminding the audience of at least a handful of famous Marvel/DC characters. “Sathyaraj sir’s character in Weapon is inspired by X-Men’s Magneto,” director Guhan Senniappan comes right out the gate with a confession. As a big fan of comic books and Japanese manga, Guhan says he wanted to have telekinetic powers in the film. “I think you can surpass the issue of having the film look derivative by working on the execution. With the costumes and the setting, we made sure that Weapon doesn’t look like any other superhero films you have seen before,” he says.

Following his director’s lead, Sathyaraj makes another confession. “I am completely unaware of any of the superhero franchises. I know the names but only because my grandsons talk about them.” The actor gives a compelling reason for why he chose the role despite his paltry knowledge of the genre. “I have been playing the ‘good dad’ on-screen a lot recently. And that could get boring. Maybe if the dad I’m playing is a little bit twisted like in Love Today (2022) or Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam (2013), it would be interesting. With Weapon, I thought I could expand my options and be a part of something new.”

The actor started his career playing henchman, second-tier villain, and soon became one of the top choices to play the antagonist, before cementing his legacy playing a hero in several films. Rubbishing rumours that he refused to play the villain in Sivaji (2007) and Enthiran (2010), Sathyaraj reveals that the reason he refused the roles was quite simple. “The characters just weren’t interesting enough for me.” He then adds, “I have absolutely no problem playing a villain. But today’s heroes won’t accept my brand of villainism. I play an antagonist with a hint of sarcasm, I will playfully mock and tease the hero in the film and the A-listers are not okay with that.” Sathyaraj will soon be reuniting with actor Rajinikanth in Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Coolie. On if he ever confronted Lokesh about not bringing back his Vikram (1986) character in the 2022 Vikram, the veteran actor replies, “I did confront him about it. We had Etharkkum Thunindhavan (2022) shooting in Karaikudi and they were shooting Vikram nearby. I asked Lokesh why he didn’t bring back my character and he pointed out how my character Sugirtharaja died in the original film. I suggested that maybe Sugirtharaja’s heir might come back for revenge,” he laughs. This is the kind of spontaneous energy and instinct to improvise that Vasanth Ravi claims to have picked up from his co-star Sathyaraj. Vasanth says, “What I learned from film school was totally different from the experience of actually standing in front of the camera on set. An experienced director like Ram sir guided me through the change and a veteran actor like Sathyaraj sir showed me how to improvise on set.”

While Sathyaraj credits his improvisational skills to years of experience, one wonders how an actor like himself, who is outspoken about his political and rationalist ideologies, manages to retain a healthy relationship with his co-stars over all these decades of working in the film industry. The actor gets candid, “You can maintain a relationship with someone if they are open-minded enough for a healthy discussion. But if they are a fanatic, I try to stay away from them because I know there is no point in engaging in a conversation with them. As an actor, you cannot take a difference of opinion too seriously” He then humorously adds, “I have acted in over 225 films now. If I only worked with like-minded people I would have only done around 15 films.” He then cites legendary actor, the late MR Radha, as an inspiration for tackling ideological differences. “He played a lot of religious roles but even then, there is a hint of sarcasm in all of them and people seldom notice that.”
The actor then connects this train of thought to his earlier comment about playing a villain. “That is the kind of energy I want to bring to a villain role and if big stars are up for it, I’m game,” he signs off with a smile.

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