M. Sasikumar speaks about living up to expectations and cracking the box office mantra. Subha J. Rao listens in
He studied in an upmarket boarding school, yet made a mark with a film that celebrated everything rural. Subramaniapuram went on to become a super hit and set a trend. A slew of village-based films followed. But, M. Sasikumar, who is awaiting the release of his Kutti Puli on May 30, does not see any irony in this. “I might have studied in Kodaikanal and Madurai, but at heart, I am still the boy from Pudhu Thamaraipatti,” he says.
“Anyway,” he continues, “a film, English or Tamil, is all about emotion — sadness, betrayal and love. It is about one person’s story, and that story has to be real enough for the audience to invest time in it,” says the director-actor-producer, who has seen consistent success at the box office. In fact, his last outing as actor and producer, Sundara Pandian, had a 100-day run!
Audiences seem to be waiting for every film of his. There’s a huge buzz about Kutti Puli in trade circles. “I don’t even hold preview shows. My film is for the audience, and it is only right they see it first,” he says.
So, has he cracked the elusive box office mantra? “Oh no,” he laughs. “I’ve been very, very lucky.” Luck apart, there’s a lot of work that goes into every movie he is part of. “The screenplay rules supreme. It must be riveting and entertaining. Which is why I spend a year on pre-production, to research and get the background of the film right. I’m not a pub-goer, but before I directed Eesan, I hit many pubs to see what the scene inside was like. If I don’t experience it, how will I make it look believable on screen?” he asks. “A director must do his homework. Only then can an actor build on it.”
Sasikumar also has no pretensions about himself or his fan base. “I know I am not a ‘star’. I am the everyday man who is not larger than life. For fans, I am like a friend, a family member,” he says.
His films are known for excessive violence, but Sasikumar says that’s just staying true to the milieu the film is set in. “You’ll never find glamour or vulgarity, though. I don’t want to embarrass audiences. Post-Sundara Pandian, I’ve realised women watch my films expecting clean entertainment. They liked the fact that my character was a romantic at heart, wooing a girl, and professing his love.”
So, how well has he settled into his routine as actor? Does he miss direction? “Direction is my passion, the reason I entered the industry. I’ve grown to love acting. Many actors crave acceptance all their lives; I got it very easily. I have to handle it responsibly. As an actor, I willingly submit myself to the director’s vision,” he says.
Encouraging new talent
Sasikumar is also known to promote new talent, right from Subramaniapuram. Remember Pasanga that went on to win the National Award? “With Subramaniapuram, I realised that a film with new faces can work. When I have the resources, why not promote newcomers? It’s nice to be acclaimed; but, it’s nicer to see those you back win laurels. I love giving them a platform, because I am first and foremost a lover of cinema.”
Sasikumar is also grateful to all those who contribute to a film’s success. Which is why, for the 100th day celebrations of Sundara Pandian, he met every single person involved with the film — visited them at home, office or film sets — and presented them the commemorative shield. “It took me two-and-a-half months to meet all, but it was a fulfilling journey.”
This film, directed by Muthaiah, is about a happy-go-lucky man who is afraid of no one, and respects women. It’s also about the relationship among three people — a man (Sasikumar), his mother (Saranya Ponvannan) and his girl (Lakshmi Menon).
Speaking about Lakshmi, with whom he pairs up again after Sundara Pandian, Sasikumar says that her grasp of the language is good and that he’s delighted with her progress in tinsel town.
Sasikumar recalls meeting Saranya on the sets of Raam, where he was an assistant to director Ameer. “I initially called her Ma’am, but after Kutti Puli, she’s become Saranya Amma for me. She’s the hero of the film!”
Sasikumar’s relationship with Samudirakani is the stuff cinema legends are made of. They’ve directed each other and worked well as a team. “Kani, cinematographer S.R. Kathir, and I go back a long way. Our thought process is similar. We don’t have to plan to make a movie together. Whenever we feel like it, we will start full steam,” says Sasikumar whose next film is the Socrates-directed Brahman.