For Samuthirakani films are an addiction. The noted director-scenarist-actor talks about the years of toil that now seem to be paying off

Remember the intense, bespectacled leader of the Naxalites in the Mohanlal starrer ‘Shikar'? Many might remember that striking performance. Tell Samuthirakani that and he chuckles self-consciously. Samuthirakani looks and behaves like an old friend. No starry airs of a renowned director, scenarist and actor (among other things) that he is.

In Mollywood

His latest outing in Malayalam as actor is in ‘Thiruvambady Thamban' and he will be seen next in ‘The Reporter'. There is talk about a collaboration with Mohanlal. Dileep's ‘Mayamohini' has impressed him and he says he admires Dileep. “He is the real hero. Some actors don a woman's role briefly during the course of a film but they make it a point to appear as a man. But look at Dileep, he had the confidence to carry off a woman's role throughout a film.”

The first time Samuthirakani saw a film was when he was in Class 8. He was giving company to a friend playing truant from school. All it took was one show and he was hooked. The magnificence of ‘life' on 70mm transported him to a place he fell in love with. After that, “I had to watch a film daily,” he says. He searches for the right word to describe his need to watch films. “Addicted?” one hesitantly offers. “Yes! The need was like an addiction,” he agrees.

He wrote and directed the blockbuster Tamil film ‘Nadodigal'. He assisted K. Balachander in his serials and directed some of his own. His films have been remade ins other South Indian languages. ‘Nadodigal' was remade in Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. Being a director is just an aspect of his career. He writes his own scripts, dubs (has dubbed for ‘Aadukalam') and has even sung for the end credits of one of his films.

Today Samuthirakani's career looks perfectly in place, as he talks one realises it is the result of hard work. Ironically he started out wanting to be an actor. “But people felt my looks were not suitable,” he says very matter-of-factly. To ‘get better', as an actor he started writing out and rehearsing scenes and realised he was a good storyteller instead. He turned scenarist and directed a couple of films, ‘Unnai Charan Adaindhain' and ‘Neranja Manasu'. Both films didn't do well and ‘Neranja Manasau' was a flop. The first film got him the Tamil Nadu State Award for the Best Story Writer. After two failures as director most people would have quit but not Samuthirakani, he worked harder.

There are plenty of stories from his childhood that Samuthirakani narrates. Like the one where after his father forbade everybody in his family from giving his money to watch films. “I would take a bed sheet and go to the cinema theatre, spread the sheet outside and lie there and ‘listen' to the film,” he says. As he talks about his need for the 70 mm fix, it is clear he tells a good story. Or of his first screen appearance in Pandiarajan's ‘Padikkira Vayasu', “I brought tea for the assistant director for a week. All for a scene where I had to utter two syllables!” He was doing his graduation at the time.

He turned to television after his movie flopped and assisted K. Balachander in his serials and directed a few Tamil ‘mega' serials (‘Anni', ‘Thangavettai' and ‘Arasi'). He also acted in ‘Poi' and while assisting Ameer in ‘Paruthiveeran' did a cameo in the film.

Making a name

Recognition as actor came first with Sasikumar's ‘Subrahmaniapuram'. With that film he also found the lead for his next film, which “had to be a hit.” The script for ‘Nadodigal' took shape while he was working 19-20 hour days on his serials.

And in 2009 Samuthirakani arrived as director with ‘Nadodigal'. Acting in a film which Sasikumar directed and then directing him (in ‘Nadodigal'), how was that? “I don't interfere with the director. I put myself completely in the director's hands.” It goes without saying that as director he brooks no interference. His scripts stories of everyday people and tells of what happens to them. “I read the newspaper everyday and that is where the stories come from. And I write my own scripts, not assistants to provide ‘inputs',” he says.

He has announced a yet-to-be named project in Tamil with Jeyam Ravi and Amala Paul. Known for working with newcomers and avoiding established names, why Jeyam Ravi? Not that he is averse to established names, but “professional ‘actors' tend to overact. But in this case he has surrendered himself completely to me, the director. I have completely changed his look for a role in the film,” he says showing Jeyam Ravi's look on his ipad. That he inspires that kind of confidence in an artiste says much about the faith his talent inspires.

Actor or director? “A director!” How does he do it all? “It is all the grace of the One above, I just go with the flow.” Another feather in Samuthirakani's cap…humility.