Comedy star and producer Santhanam speaks to Subha J Rao about the magic of the Laddu and being everyone’s friend

For some years now, he’s been every hero’s faithful friend. His entry on screen never fails to elicit whistles and claps. Now, he’s turned producer with the Pongal superhit Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya.

Actor Santhanam can’t stop smiling. It’s about 9 p.m. and he’s just back from the shooting of Vaalu, starring good friend Simbu. He sounds anything but tired and says he is overjoyed with the audience reaction to Kanna…, which stars Santhanam, ‘Power Star’ Srinivasan, Sethu and Vishakha Singh. “When I discussed the movie with Rama Narayanan, there were doubts if a retro film would work in this age. Also, the director and the heroes were new. That’s when I decided to co-produce it under my Handmade Films banner (named so, because he loves everything handmade!).”

The original idea was to make something on the lines of Hangover. But, the budget posed a problem. So, Santhanam set the story in Karaikudi and Kumbakonam. “I wanted to make a fun-filled festival film. We did not want a series of gags. The storyline had to hold audience attention.”

How easy was it to plunge into production, considering it has ended the careers of many? “It was a huge risk, because many people have lost everything after a movie. But, I was confident. We liked what we shot,” says the actor. “I knew the risks and kept the budget low. The film’s success has given hope that small can be beautiful.”

Santhanam, 33, has come up the hard way and cherishes his current position. “My life is all about hard work, lots of reading, reference and spending time with my team to develop a comedy track,” he says. There’s also the desire to never let down his audience or producers. “When I accept a salary, I pledge myself to a film. I have to make it work. It’s thozhil dharmam (work ethic). I must not make the audience feel cheated. The producer must not suffer losses.”

But, how long does he want to continue playing the hero’s friend? “Ten years ago, someone asked me the same question. I told them even 13 years later, I will continue to play the hero’s friend,” he laughs. “But, I ensure I don’t repeat myself. I work on my lines and the body language to create a memorable character.” Remember director M. Rajesh’s films, Kalakalappu, Mirattal, Thaandavam

Now, with growing sensitivity towards depiction of women in films, Santhanam says he tries to avoid double entendres. “I also refrain from using the word, ‘figure’. The youth are happy with the punch dialogues and body language; they don’t want vulgarity. Children run up to me everywhere and repeat my dialogues. That was an eye-opener. I’m going to stick to clean, happy comedy. I don’t want to hurt people.” His wife, Usha, he says, has helped him understand women’s psyche better.

Santhanam is not planning a sequel to KLTA right now. “I think there needs to be a gap of at least a year or two. That way, we can create something new,” he says. He plans to be more selective in his work, make another film under his banner, and essay roles such as Nagesh’s in Neerkumizhi and Server Sundaram. “I’m going to see which of these finds most acceptance and stick to it.” Who knows, a ‘serious’ film might also be in the offing. “I don’t want to do just ‘buffoon’ roles. There can be comedy roles with some depth; laughter for a cause.”

The actor also shares a great relationship with the heroes. “We all work for a film to do well. There’s no competition.” He has signed up for more than 15 films now, including Singam 2, Settai, Madha Gaja Raja, Ajith’s next with Siruthai Siva and Vijay’s Thalaivaa. “Sometimes, I end up shooting for three films in a day,” he confesses.

Santhanam’s day begins at about five and he hits the bed close to midnight. Stardom has meant little time at home with his parents or Usha. At home, he is still, ‘Raja’ the playful boy who turned around the fortunes of the house. “I used to get scolded by my mother until recently. Then, she saw I was struggling with my dialogues even in sleep. Now, I get pampered,” he smiles.