He has figured in 125 films, working with the industry's best. Stunt master Silva talks about his journey from being a ward boy in a hospital to becoming an action choreographer
Standing on a towering structure, he stares down. Yet another jump. Yet another chance to defy death. Or, maybe not.
His heart thumps, it gets louder by the second...the faces of his wife and children flash in front of him...the director shouts “Action!” and Silva jumps. He hurtles down and lands with a thud.
He’s pulled it off, once again. And yet another day of life greets him.
Welcome to a day in the life of a stunt man.
“For stunt artistes, it’s like dying every day. Action sequences that aren’t under our control like the ones involving speeding cars, trains and horses, are risky. We fall, hurt ourselves, break our bones; it’s normal for us,” says ‘Stunt’ Silva, who moved from Tuticorin to Chennai in 1990 in search of a job.
After a slew of odd jobs, which included being an office boy and a ward boy at Vijaya Health Centre (after he had trained to be a male nurse at Stanley Medical College) and a fruitless effort to break into the film world as a background dancer, he finally found his calling as a stuntman.
Silva has been dicing with death, doing stunts in the film industry for 12 years now. He started at the bottom and worked his way up to where he is now — a stunt director. He calls the shots not only with stunt artistes, but also actors.
Stunt master Silva sometimes wonders how he ended up in the film industry. Being part of Kollywood was never really in his scheme of things. As a child, he wanted to become a doctor. As he lost his parents at an early age, he had to go without education and his dream of becoming a doctor remained just that. After a point, there was no option but to move to Chennai.
After 12 years spent hopping from one dead-end job to another, he saw a faint glimmer of hope and purpose. “In 2002 I met dance master T.K.S. Babu who had come to the hospital (Vijaya) for a check-up. After a conversation with him he asked me how much I earn. When I told him it’s 500 rupees a month, he said background dancers in the industry earned that much per day. So I decided to give it a shot and attended Paul Raj’s dance school,” recalls Silva, 40 now.
There was one hitch, though. Getting a member’s card with the cine dancers’ union cost Rs. 5,500. “I didn’t have the money. So I saved money and went back eight months later, only to be informed it had increased to Rs. 10,500. I saved again and went back to find that it had gone up further to Rs. 15,500. I was angry. I gave up,” he says. “I then inquired if there was any union that charged Rs. 10,500 for giving a card and was told about the Stunt Union. I simply went there, got my card and started work.”
Silva was part of many movies, (including Lal Badshaah, starring Amitabh Bachchan,) but he was lost in the background with junior artistes. It didn’t make him happy. As this job failed to bring him fulfilment, he went back to Vijaya Health Centre. He was also running a travel car business on the side.
“But life had other plans for me. One day while browsing at an Internet centre I bumped into Peter Hein, a childhood buddy. He was doing well for himself as stunt director and persuaded me to give it another shot. So I gave in and accompanied him to Delhi to be a part of Run for which he was choreographing the action scenes,” he says.
The attention and respect Hein commanded from the stars and the unit surprised Silva. This was exactly what he wanted for himself. So, he worked with Hein in movies such as Anniyan, Kaka Kaka,and 7G Rainbow Colony, and, one day, Silva realised he could be a stunt director himself.
That was in 2007. Ever since, he has done 125 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. His last two releases are Veeram with Ajith and Jilla with Vijay. Karthi, Surya, Simbu, Dhanush…he’s worked with them all and his wish list includes working with Jackie Chan.
“I watch a lot of world movies, read a lot to get ideas and work seven days a week,” he smiles, pushing back his crowded, coloured curls.” Silva says he thinks of stunt steps even when he is off the sets, which could prove disastrous for anyone provoking him. It almost did for a couple of bike riders. They had crashed into his car and were yelling at him, though he was not at fault. He wanted to go out and give them a sound walloping, imagining that he was in a stunt sequence, but instead drove away. “Being an action choreographer doesn’t mean I should promote violence.”
Silva next plans to start a stunt school. “There is a need for such a school. The kind of action we do in films is different from the other martial art forms.” Perhaps this school will help many others like him who move to the city to make a mark and maybe like Silva they too will have a story to tell, that of starting off with Rs. 15 in their pockets and building it up to crores and more.