Movies

I’d rather be the man who gets slapped, says Anand Sami of 'Lens'

Anand Sami, the prolific theatre artiste and anti-hero of Lens, on how he prepped for his role in the film and having a foot in two worlds

“I am always scared before a performance. Whenever I am, I deliberately slow down. I become more grounded. I take my fear as a positive attribute,” says Anand Sami, when one probes him about his acting process. Those who have watched Lens, might recall the chills he gave you as the emotionally intense Yohan, who calmly tells his Skype friend that he is about to witness his suicide live.

Those who have been following Sami’s theatre arc, would have experienced his magic on stage too. At Chennai Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, he staged a solo performance, where he played a man and a woman. In Jujubee, a satirical play by Chennai-based Perch theatre collective, which he is part of, he acts as Raja Idiminnal, the ban-loving king of Rulampettai.

In Lens, a movie about pornography and cyber crime, directed by Jayaprakash, Sami plays a man, haunted by his wife’s suicide. The couple’s intimate moments are recorded by a hidden camera. The rest of the film is about the consequences of this and Sami’s transformation into a maniac. The film, a multi-lingual, which was made initially in a mix of English, Tamil and Malayalam, has been dubbed in Tamil for commercial screening. “Many of my friends said they liked this version more,” says a pleasant-looking Sami, dressed in a black shirt and jeans at Amethyst, a far cry from his character on screen.

Fighting barriers

Initially, he looks a little tense. “Do you understand Tamil?” he asks me. He is instantly at ease when I nod. Sami tells me he was nervous about the interview because of the language barrier. In fact, it was his lines in English that intimidated him about Lens than the acting. “We had shot the Munnar segment first, where Yohan spends his happy days with his wife. In it, I am speaking fully in Tamil. I was absolutely comfortable. Then, the director told me that for the rest of the film, I will have to speak only in English. I told him, this was not my cup of tea and that I will introduce him to another actor.”

However, the director told him to speak English casually, like how he would in everyday life, and Sami finally took up the role, on the condition that, the previous night he would be told about his scene for the next day. “I would prepare for the whole scene the previous night.” However, if you watch the film, it is hard to sense Sami’s inhibitions. He was in every way the suave villain, comfortable in his skin and language.

The visual element of the script appealed to him. “All the minute details, even the sound of the pigeons, were in the script. I could imagine the whole film as I read it. Sixty per cent of it turned out the way I had imagined it in my head. The minute he told me about my character and the look, I did not wait to listen to the entire story. I was game,” says Sami. It took him just 20 days to shed weight and change his hairstyle. The director was impressed. When his wife read out the whole script to him, the conviction to do the film grew stronger.

Introduction to theatre

As a young corporate in his pre-theatre days, Sami had moved jobs between 10 companies in two years. After acting in a short film made by the students of Loyola College, he auditioned for Kavyanjali, a TV serial. “My friends kidnapped me and took me to the audition. As usual, I was hesitant. I mouthed the same dialogues as the previous contestant, but in my own style. When they asked me for a photo, I gave them a passport-size one.” (laughs)

The Tamil soap ran for seven episodes. Next, he decided to knock at the doors of Koothu-P-Pattarai. “My plan was to spend three months there. But, Na Muthuswamy, the founder and artistic director, told me I will have to spend at least six months.

I wondered whether I was wasting my time.” Sami soon realised he could not be more wrong and spent seven years there, which cemented his foundation as an actor. From thevarattam, thapattam and Silambattam to the art of dialogue rendition and street theatre, he traversed different worlds of physical and political theatre.

New terrains

In 2009, he joined Perch. It is at Rajiv Krishnan’s adda that he learnt “energy”. “He also kept pushing me to be open to new ideas. He knew I was closed to exploring some areas. For instance, he would insist his actors write down their roles and a script around it. I just could not get myself to write. I am more of a visual person. While working with Perch, I had to think like a playwright.”

But, gradually he realised this is how the team worked, where the director was more of a facilitator and every actor would give their inputs to make a play. When it comes to acting, he wants to go by his instincts. He does not find the “acting before the mirror” exercise of any use to him. “Like a photo, my expressions get rigid. Even though I am a thinking actor, I try not to think too much.”

There was a time when he never thought he could make it to movies because he did not have the looks of an actor. However, now, Tamil cinema has changed, and so has the hero-villain characterisation.

“Young directors are imagining characters differently and breaking standards. There is more scope for us as actors. I would love to work with directors such as Nalan Kumarasamy and Thiagarajan Kumararaja. In their films, every role has equal weight.” In future, he would love to balance both his theatre and cinema careers. Sami says he prefers to work with directors who will understand his love for theatre as well. And playing an anti-hero is more interesting, he says. “I’d rather be the person who gets slapped than the person who does. The hero has so much pressure to be the responsible man. The villain has shades of grey. There is more freedom in playing the mean guy.”

Other plays and films

Passenger

Varnajalam

How to Skin a Giraffe (Perch)

Under the Mangosteen Tree (Perch)

The Water Station, a play

by Sankar Venkateswaran

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 4:42:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/id-rather-be-the-man-who-gets-slapped/article18723019.ece

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