His ‘Aaranya Kaandam” has just won the Grand Jury Prize at the South Asian International Film Festival. And he's had a complete makeover to take on more exciting roles. Sudhish Kamath talks to actor-producer S.P. Charan

When I bumped into Charan in New York, I could barely recognise him in his slim and trim avatar. His new film “Aaranya Kaandam” had won the Grand Jury Prize at the South Asian International Film Festival and as we partied late into the night, he got a tinge emotional and said: “I had never won anything all my life.”

At that minute, you knew how badly he needed that win and how much he deserved it for introducing to us two, nay, three filmmakers of exceptional talent in Samudhirakanni (“Unnai Saran Adainthen”), Venkat Prabhu (“Chennai-600028”) and now, Kumararaja Thiagarajan with “Aaranya Kaandam”, which marks Tamil cinema's first foray into the neo-noir genre (all set to release next month).

I make a mental note to dig deeper when we return to Chennai and Charan keeps his appointment, but only after making sure he does not miss his session at the gym. What led to this complete makeover?

“Lack of breath. I was in a really bad shape. Overweight, I wasn't fitting into my clothes, my self-esteem was too low and my dad kept telling me: You are putting on too much weight, you are going to end up like me. So I thought I need to do something about it. In May, I went on a crash diet and lost tons of weight. Now, I am trying to put on some good weight. All the fat is gone now.”

And to think he was cast in “Saroja” and “Va. Quarter Cutting” as the quintessential fat guy.

“Yes, I was always the cute, chubby fat guy. I am trying to get away from the cuteness,” he laughs.

“That was a decision I had to make. A lot of people who saw me after I lost weight said that I had lost my USP. Because, there are not a lot of fat kids who can act. One, I am not a kid. Two, I didn't like the whole concept of you having to be fat to get a role. So after losing weight, I can probably expand my canvas and experiment with characters as an actor.”

We know he can sing, act and he's also producing offbeat movies. But what really turns him on? “My primary passion is making films. It used to be singing but I don't get to do much of it. So making movies is what I am most passionate about but I think I am good at acting as well, so I won't shy away from any opportunity that I may get.”

Strangely though, he never seems to act in his own films. “I have never been a self-promoting guy. I have never been promoted by my dad either. Whatever I am right now, is because I have worked hard, be it as a singer or an actor or as a producer. I've had a few offers come my way to be the lead in the movie but then, I'll have to produce that movie. I realised this was a gimmick by assistant directors to find a producer and a hero in the same project. They think I'll fall for, you know, Neenga thaan saar hero. The next question I ask before they do is: Yaaru producer? Sorry, I don't act in my productions unless it's a character role. Like I did in ‘Unnai Saran Adainthen'.”

Doing it his way

Why did he decide on a career where chances of you losing money are often more than making a little?

“As a normal movie goer, I hate some of the trash that is coming out. From those days to now, I don't think we have evolved as an industry, we haven't grown. Maybe technically, yes, but script-wise, we haven't grown. There are a lot of people to blame — the producers, the directors, the stars...all of them. The entire system is messed up. Nobody wants to move away and try to experiment. There are a handful of actors willing to do this. That is not enough to rehabilitate the industry. I didn't want to be a small fish in a big pond and not be identified. I want to give quality content. To give varied content. Not just commercial cinema. It's very easy to throw some money at some star and say: You're going to be the hero in my next movie. Unless I have good content for these guys, I don't want to work with them. I think Suriya is the only one who is experimenting with himself, his acting and trying to do a variety of cinema.”

Thank God for that, we have some fine filmmakers stepping out of his productions. How much support does he get from his dad, especially, when it involves big money?

“First was ‘Unnai Saran Adainthen'. My dad was convinced about the script and it was a small budget film but we never made money from it. The second movie was ‘Mazhai'. That didn't work either. That's when dad said: Enough. No more spending money. But then, I heard Chennai-28 from Venkat Prabhu and knew I had to do this movie. I didn't tell dad I wanted to do another movie. I just said, you know what I want you to listen to the script. I sat Venkat Prabhu next to dad and he was blown away by it. Dad was like, okay, so what's the budget. We were third-time lucky. After that, dad was convinced that I knew what I was doing.”

Watch a video on the whole new avatar of S.P. Charan here.

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