Three decades after he entered films, Sathyaraj still pampers the actor in him, writes subha j rao

He made his debut long before his current crop of fans was born. Despite that, most of them are familiar with ‘thagadu thagadu’ and ‘ennama kannu, sowkyama?’ — phrases made popular by Sathyaraj more than two decades ago. Such recall value is one of the reasons for the actor’s longevity in films. Hard to believe, but this is his 30th year in cinema.

And, no, he hasn’t allowed age to overtake him and ended up in roles where he recedes into the background. He has reinvented himself time and again. From villain to fearless cop to a dada who hopelessly falls in love, Sathyaraj has done them all. And, now, after two back-to-back powerhouse performances in Periyaar and Onbadu Rubai Notu, he is waiting for roles of substance.

How come he ended up doing so many movies that were an affront to his fans and the actor in him? “I made wrong choices, but I used to sign up if I knew I would have a good time on the sets. Once there, I would feel I was back in college, bunking classes and sitting on the parapet with friends. And, I used to have fun even while shooting for ‘serious’ films,” he says.

But, now, all that has changed. “After these two films, expectations have soared. I feel more responsible now and am waiting for the right script,” adds Sathyaraj.

He has been a trendsetter — swinging from villain to hero, and back; doing a Vedham Pudidhu and an Amaidhi Padai at the height of his career. “When someone completely changes genres, people automatically take notice,” he says. That way, films such as Nadigan (comedy), Poovizhi Vaasalile and En Bommukutty Ammavukku (sentiment), Kaaki Sattai (villain) were remarkable.

But the veteran feels he can be used better. “I am a director’s actor.” Director and buddy Manivannan is one of those who exploited his potential and his Coimbatore nakkal (sarcasm) well, he says.

Is the going good for 40-plus heroes? “You can say it — I’m 54. And, there are others. People should be writing scripts that suit our age, instead of asking us to run around trees. Only Amitabh Bachchan has managed to get such scripts. How wonderful it would be if Cheeni Kum was remade here? After all these years, you can’t play the hero’s dad and stand in a corner,” he states.

Action attracts

Sathyaraj is still enthusiastic about cinema. “Today’s technology allows even those who can’t fight to become action heroes. I want to experience everything. It would be nice to be a middle-aged action hero, like Bruce Willis and Nicholas Cage,” he says.

Did the actor expect to come this far when he came to Chennai with dreams in his eyes? “I came thinking I would not prosper. I wanted to do bit roles, and earn Rs. 5,000 a month. I never think positive. While doing a stunt scene, I imagine getting fractured, and start worrying about how to reach the hospital. All this, before jumping. Thanks to this attitude, I savour every success of mine.”

How about a multi-hero subject? “It will be safe, no?” he laughs. “But the trend has not yet caught on here, because solo-hero subjects are doing well. But, it will throw up many new subjects, and talent will be better utilised.”

How different was it working with young people? “I love it. Their thought process is so new and different.” And being directed by a woman? (Priya. V in Kanna Moochi Yenada?) “Amazing. Her way of looking at things is very different. And, there were many firsts — never have I been given a bound script before shooting in my 30-year career, and my costumes have never been better,” he smiles.