Shivarajkumar interview: On his cameo in Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer,’ and letting his eyes do all the talking

Watch | Shivarajkumar on his cameo in Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer,’ and letting his eyes do all the talking

The veteran Kannada superstar on sharing screen space with Rajinikanth, why gangster roles are a natural fit for him, and working with Dhanush in ‘Captain Miller’

August 22, 2023 04:29 pm | Updated August 23, 2023 02:29 pm IST

Shivarajkumar in ‘Jailer’

Shivarajkumar in ‘Jailer’ | Photo Credit: Sun Pictures/YouTube

“I don’t know what’s happening actually,” says a smiling Shivarajkumar, on the overwhelming response to his cameo in Rajinikanth’s blockbuster Jailer. Shivanna, as he is called fondly by fans, is the buzzword on social media. Cine buffs, especially those unaware of his stardom outside Karnataka, have gone gaga over his screen presence.

“I am not active on social media; my daughter (Niveditha Shivarajkumar) only looks after my accounts. But I have seen the memes, reels, and pictures about my cameo in the film, and it feels great,” he says. The veteran actor says he was “taken aback” when he witnessed the craze for his appearance, particularly the second one in the pre-climax portion, while watching Jailer at the Woodlands Theatre in Mysuru. 

“That’s when I realised the magic that director Nelson (Dilipkumar) created,” says the 62-year-old. In Jailer, Shivarajkumar plays a reformed criminal Narasimha who goes on to help the protagonist Tiger Muthuvel Pandian (Rajinikanth), a retired jailer of the Tihar prison. In the last act, Narasimha arrives in the nick of time to save Muthuvel Pandian’s family from the goons.

Shivarajkumar in his upcoming Kannada film ‘Ghost’

Shivarajkumar in his upcoming Kannada film ‘Ghost’ | Photo Credit: T Series/YouTube

Nelson sets up the surprise nicely and elevates Shivarajkumar’s entry with a slow-motion scene and Anirudh Ravichandran’s thunderous score. “The director asked me to smoke a cigar and walk casually. That tension-free walk added to the character’s swag. I then had to give a sharp look at the villains; Narasimha has no worries because he has trapped the baddies without their knowledge!” he recalls.

The Kannada star pulled off a rare feat of grabbing the limelight, atleast momentarily, from Rajinikanth. Perhaps the last time it happened was when Ramya Krishnan portrayed Neelambari in K S Ravikumar’s Padayappa (1999). But Shivarajkumar points out that Rajinikanth is the “leader of the pack and deserves all accolades for the film’s success”.

ALSO READ:Ramya Krishnan interview: On her ‘Jailer’ reunion with Rajinikanth, and reigniting the ‘Padayappa’ magic

“Rajini sir’s fans want to see his style on screen, and Jailer has enough of it. That’s what made films such as Baashha, Padayappa, and Sivaji such huge hits. But in recent times, he has experimented with his career. He is getting the pulse of several unique characters and enhancing them with his trademark style. That’s how he was so convincing in his age-appropriate role in Jailer,” explains Shivarajkumar.

Having debuted in 1986 with Anand, Shivarajkumar — with monikers such as ‘Century Star’, ‘Karunada Chakravarthy’, and ‘Hat-trick Hero’ — has acted in over 125 Kannada films. Growing up, he was excited by the role of the gangster, thanks to Amitabh Bachchan. “I love Amitabh sir in suits. The way he sits, his voice, and his overall attitude in films such as Agneepath (1990) and Don (1978)... it gave me a kick. He showed us that you can kill with your voice and looks.”

Shivarajkumar in ‘Captain Miller’

Shivarajkumar in ‘Captain Miller’ | Photo Credit: Sathya Jyothi Films/YouTube

Shivarajkumar’s menacing eyes also made him an ideal candidate for the role of a ‘mass hero’. His father and thespian Dr. Rajkumar was the first to spot a spark in his eyes, he recollects.

“When I did Modada Mareyali, my father told my mother that I emote with my eyes. My father is a big star, and in fact his eyes speak a lot in front of the camera. So getting a compliment from him was special. Later on, Upendra told me he became my fan because of my eyes. Then popular cinematographer B C Gowrishankar told me that, after Rajkumar, the only actor he liked keeping a close-up shot of... was me.”

The actor, trained at MGR Government Film and Television Training Institute, says he has a 360-degree approach to a ‘masala film hero’ role. “I emphasise on my body language and go into detail about the character. I believe in improvisation.”

Shivarajkumar’s upcoming film Ghost terms him the ‘OG’, meaning the Original Gangster. It’s a natural fit for him, given some of the actor’s biggest hits are gangster films; in Om, Jogi, and Kadipuddi, he struck a chord with fans with his portrayal of an innocent man dragged into the big and ugly underworld. Now, post the Jalier mania, fans outside Karnataka want his earlier films such as Om, Tagaru and Mufti (Pathu Thala in Tamil) to be either dubbed in many languages, or released with subtitles.

“We are considering the idea,” says Shivarajkumar. “Om can be dubbed, while Tagaru will be made in Tamil with Vikram Prabhu. Jogi was remade in Telugu and Tamil. And currently, I am shooting for the prequel of Mufti, titled Bhairathi Ranagal,“ he adds.

This leads him to reminisce on how his hit films influenced pop culture: “Om was a nationwide sensation. N C Sippy wanted to remake it and introduce me in Hindi, but we had sold the film rights to someone else. When Jogi  released, my hairstyle became a rage, and my flashy jeans pants in the film became designer wear!”

His next big Tamil role is in Captain Millera period action-adventure flick starring Dhanush. “The making of the film was wonderful, and I had a great time with Dhanush off the sets as well. We went for late-night dinners with his kids; in fact, during the first schedule, my wife came to the set with home-cooked food, and she’d baked cakes for his children too. The entire crew, including the director Arun Matheswaran, was really sweet,” he offers.

ALSO READ:‘Captain Miller’ teaser: Dhanush goes all guns blazing in Arun Matheswaran’s actioner

By signing non-Kannada films, he is pushing his boundaries, says Shivarajkumar. “I am not here to compete with anybody. There is no language barrier in acting, and I’d love to keep reinventing myself,” he signs off.

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