Samuthirakani has come a long way in tinsel town. The actor-director gets talking to Udhav Naig about his upcoming Nimirnthu Nil and other projects

Even as Samuthirakani’s stock as a director kept rising after the release of Nadodigal, he was quietly making a mark as an actor with films such as Subramaniapuram, Sattai and Eesan. Today, he juggles the two jobs deftly. Chilling in his caravan at the shooting spot of Nee Ellam Nalla Varuva Da starring Vemal and himself, Samuthirakani says he has agreed to act in this film as he got a couple of days off from his directorial venture Nimirnthu Nil, in which Jayam Ravi and Amala Paul play the lead roles. “I play an encounter cop in Nee Ellam Nalla Varuva Da. It is a good script. I am doing it for Nagendran (the film’s director), a dear friend,” he says.

Despite his success as an actor, Samuthirakani identifies himself as a director. "Even when close friends want me to play a character in their film, I take it up only when it just cannot be turned down,” he says.

Talking about the lead character of Nimirnthu Nil, he cannot but make references to his own life when he was a rookie in the world of Tamil cinema. “The hero is someone who is good-natured and law-abiding. He tries to live a principled life despite societal pressure to make compromises. He is almost like me when I came to Chennai, as a youth unaware of how things operate in the real world,” he says. Though Jayam Ravi plays a double role, he says the film does not employ the usual good guy-bad guy trope. “The other guy in the film is also kind and lovable. Things change when one of them is pushed to the limit and forced to pay a bribe,” he says.

Doesn’t this remind you of director Shankar’s creations? When asked about this, he insists the film is not as serious as it sounds. “It has a lot of comedy.” If this is an attempt to exploit the widespread cynicism prevalent in society about governance, who is the movie addressed to and what is the message? “It is addressed to the youth of today, who seem to believe in ‘the survival of the fittest’. I have explored this concept in the film and am sure youngsters will easily relate to it,” he says. His previous films, he claims, were targeted at specific groups: Nadodigal at lovers and their friends, and Poraali at homeless people with psychological disorders.

His approach to cinema has changed a lot from the time he became a director a decade ago. Today, he is a lot more confident as a director than he ever was. When he made his first two films, Unnai Charanadaindhen and Neranja Manasu, which were unsuccessful, he says his ideas were a bit vague and cluttered. “I would work hard, but was always tense. These days, I plan things and foresee problems that could arise while making a film.”

The kind of films he does — pivoted on characters raised in authentic rural societies — might make people wonder if he is an assistant of Bharathiraja. But it was K. Balachander who gave him a valuable lesson in filmmaking when he worked with him: to strive for clarity and simplicity while expressing an idea. “He used to tell me that a film should be understood even by a child.” The filmmaker hopes that the audience gets the message of Nimirnthu Nil: don’t do things you don’t want others do to you.

As Nimirnthu Nil nears completion, he is already thinking about his next venture. He wants to give his own spin on Su Thamizh Selvi’s Keedhari, a story about a shepherd. “I want to act in and direct the film,” he says.