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Updated: April 14, 2014 03:30 IST

Gag master turns hero

SUBHA J RAO
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Physical activity took a backseat as Santhanam used the gift of the gab to propel many movies to success. Till, the action-comedy Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham happened.
Special Arrangement Physical activity took a backseat as Santhanam used the gift of the gab to propel many movies to success. Till, the action-comedy Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham happened.

Santhanam speaks about making his debut as hero and how Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham challenged him as an actor

As a child, Santhanam was a very mischievous vaandu. He was constantly on his toes, jumping all over the place, making life difficult for his mother. In his teens, he discovered the impact of his comic timing. Physical activity took a backseat as he used the gift of the gab to propel many movies to success. Till, the action-comedy Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham happened.

The film, a remake of S.S. Rajamouli’s Telugu hit Maryada Ramanna, marks his debut as hero, a decade after he stepped into tinseltown.

The film, whose audio is being launched today, called for talents Santhanam did not know he possessed. Like dancing, jumping, falling and roping. “Recently, when shooting in the Red Hills area, I saw a bunch of mattresses on the set, and thought that there was hope for some rest. Till I was gently told that I would have to jump from a height and practise landing on the mattresses. But, I love this new me,” says the actor.

To fit into this new role of hero, Santhanam hit the gym. “This film is the logical next step for me as an actor,” he says. “Till now, I was a side dish, like a kootu or poriyal. I was on screen for half an hour or so, and provided whatever laughs I could. Now, I am the main meal. I have to hold the audience’s attention for two-and-a-half hours. I am excited, but nervous,” he says.

Usually, Santhanam is typecast as the hero’s friend. So, does Santhanam the hero have any on-screen friends? “Yes. Rajkumar, actor Devayani’s husband, essays an interesting character; RJ ‘Mirchi’ Senthil plays an important role too,” he says.

All these years, Santhanam has banked on comic dialogues to bring the house down. With this film, directed by Srinath, he ventures into the slippery terrain of slapstick comedy — where one bad move could see the joke fall like a pack of cards. “I know slapstick is difficult; it’s all about action-reaction and practice, and we’ve given it our best shot.”

For some years now, Santhanam has been doing movies, for most of which he did not have to put in too much effort. “In a sense, with Vallavanukku, I feel like I’m doing my first film. It’s a lot of learning,” he says.

But, one thing he is sure of. “I have to make this movie work. I don’t mind the hard work. But, I must not disappoint the audience.”

After seeing the reaction to this movie, Santhanam will take stock of his work. “I plan to do just a handful of movies every year; I don’t want to be overexposed. I want to be versatile. I still want to be a friend of the hero, but I will also take up roles that demand someone like me as hero,” he says. And so, he’s game for everything — tragedy, comedy, sentiment... “One must never restrict oneself to one genre. One must keep reinventing oneself; else, the actor and the audience will get bored,” he says.

In his coming movies, Santhanam wants to experiment. And, his current standing in the industry gives him the freedom to lay down a few ground rules. “One can only play depending on the ground one is provided. You can’t expect a player to hit a helicopter shot from a tiny ground!”

He also wants to dwell on characters and come up with unique humour. “That’s when you hit upon new subjects; it’s invigorating,” he says. He’s also going to focus on making happy films under his Handmade Films banner.

His turning hero has left his family smiling. His father, a die-hard MGR fan, wants Santhanam to work on his dancing skills. His mother is happy but worried he’s working harder. “My wife is the happiest, because she feels she will see more of me from now on. But, let’s see,” he smiles.

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