Nineteen years ago, Siddharth’s first film, Boys, released in 2003. But Tamil cinema buffs may know that he first appeared on the big screen a year earlier as a background actor in Kannathil Muthamittal (released in 2002), in which he assisted filmmaker Mani Ratnam.
Siddharth played an uncredited bus passenger when he began his journey, which has now crossed almost two decades. After all these years, it must feel good to look back? “I don’t think about it,” he answers, rather unsentimentally. He is not a dwelling-in-the-past kind of guy. “I always look forward to things. I don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy looking back.”
Siddharth goes on to discuss his upcoming Disney+ Hotstar show, Escaype Live and the emergence of a ‘pan-Indian cinema’.
What did you want to do when you stepped into cinema? Has that changed now?
No. I want to do exactly what I wanted to then, which is to act, be in a film set, and tell good stories.
The only difference is, back then, I didn’t have a fan base. Now people know who I am. Other than that, everything — the hunger to learn and the curiosity — has been the same. Twenty years ago, if you offered me a deal, wherein I would get to be in films for the next 20 years, I would have readily taken that.
Another thing that has not changed is your willingness to do films in which you are not the sole protagonist. It is not a common trait among stars…
I have never wanted to be a star. I don’t identify as a hero. I hate that word. I have friends who are big stars in the conventional sense. I know the life that they live and the work that they do. It’s very different from what I do.
Each person has to find their own path and stick to it. My journey has always been about telling good stories and to be known as an actor who’s not afraid to try new things. So, I don’t look at the screentime I get or how many people are there in the film I just look at what my role is and if I’d like to watch the film as an audience member.
What kind of films do you prefer?
I like films about real people. When I used to travel to places like the US, France or Britain, as a young person, I would know about the people there because I have seen some depiction of them in their films. But the people there didn’t have any idea about me, the way I talk or the way I dress because they have never seen people like me in my films. That’s when I realised I wanted to be in films that showed the lives of people in my country.
What made you sign up for Escaype Live?
It is an incredibly vast and diverse show. It shows today’s India very beautifully — not just the visuals but also the emotions. It talks about social media and how far people will go for attention, fame or money. It was touching on a lot of topics that I discuss on a daily basis. Usually, OTT shows are called ‘cerebral’ or ‘intellectual’. But this one is massy. Despite talking about real, complex issues, it will be accessible to everyone
Another interesting thing is I, a Tamilian, will be playing a Kannadiga in a Hindi series. I play a software guy from Bangalore called Krishna Rangaswamy. He is a simple, middle-class guy, who doesn’t look like a hero. But there is a lot of heroism involved in what he does. The consequences of his decisions are tremendous. It took a lot of research and preparation to get into this character.
Can you elaborate on the preparation?
In the show, I have to speak Hindi like a Kannadiga would. A Kannadiga watching the show must believe I am a guy from Bangalore.
When I am playing a Kannadiga, I don’t want to be insensitive to their sentiments, especially in an age where everyone can voice their opinion on social media. So, I spent a lot of time learning the language. And, this is just a part of the preparation.
Would you call it method acting?
Some people call it ‘method’, some call it ‘process’, others call it ‘training’... Losing weight or putting on weight or putting on muscle is considered as preparation. But that’s not acting.
Acting is more about understanding the motivations of the person you are playing. If I am standing in front of the mirror as Krishna Rangaswamy, I need to see him. If I see myself, it will show in my eyes or my body language. It’s about creating alter egos. If you take the great Kamal Haasan, who is a major influence for many actors including myself, Aboorva Sagodharargal is listed as one of his top-10 performances. For me, the beauty of that performance is not in the way he looked -- that’s for everyone to see; it is what happening behind his eyes, how he is thinking like that character. That’s what makes him a genius.
You have worked in several languages. What is your take on the emergence of ‘Pan-Indian’ cinema.
When I was doing Rang De Basanti, 16 years ago, I said I want actors to be able to work in multiple languages and have audiences across the country. So to see the term ‘pan-India’ being discussed now is very amusing to me.
I find the term a bit silly because it is used only for regional films that go beyond its region. We still don’t call a Hindi film pan-Indian; it is called Bollywood. So, it is, in a way, othering.
You treat one thing superior and everything other than that is given a different name. So, I would call KGF an Indian film or a Kannada film. There are people who coin and give importance to these fancy terms. I don’t believe in it. Great content will be seen everywhere. My boss (Mani Ratnam) made a film called Roja 30 years ago. Everyone all over India saw it.