Selvaraghavan moulded me for ‘Nenjam Marappathillai’: SJ Suryah

A scene from ‘Monster’

A scene from ‘Monster’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

SJ Suryah discusses his acting process, and why he’s excited for tomorrow’s release Monster that features a rodent in a major role

SJ Suryah gets a sense of complete satisfaction only when he gives 100%. Anything in-between is considered a failure. This has been the case since the days he worked as a waiter before his eventual plunge into the film world. “Even if I have to clean a table today, I make sure that nobody does it better than me. I don’t discriminate between my jobs — whether it’s direction or working as a waiter, I treat them equally,” says Suryah, whose latest film Monster releases today.

When Nelson Venkatesan narrated the premise of Monster — about a rat tormenting the protagonist — Suryah jumped in excitement. Though the chances of the rat becoming insignificant are quite possible, Suryah says he was convinced by the director’s screenplay. “Who defeated Thanos in Avengers: Endgame? Not Iron Man, Thor or Captain America. It was... Ant Man. A rat may be small, but it has the potential to create havoc,” he laughs, adding, “Nelson was adamant to shoot the combination scenes with a real rat. I liked the sensibility when he narrated Monster’s script.” If Sudalai from Spyder was a psychopath, his character Anjarum Azhagiya Pillai in Monster is on the other end of the spectrum and lives “life like a saint”.

Second innings

Despite his successful stint as a director, Suryah has not had a fortunate run as an actor. For, he was collectively panned for the kind of films he did. But Suryah doesn’t point fingers at the directors and instead, he blames himself for the bad choices, “Maybe I wasn’t ready for acting back then. But I realised one thing — that I should not lose as an actor.”

During that rough phase, only a fraction of filmmakers identified Suryah’s potential as a performer. Karthik Subbaraj was one among them and it paid off when Suryah left the audience stunned after portraying the self-destructive Arul in Iraivi. Suryah owes everything to Subbaraj, who, he says, removed him from his “pathetic situation and turned the table”. The film broke the traditional impression people had on Suryah. Consider the pre-climax scene where Suryah has a quiet meeting with Vijay Sethupathi. It’s a tracking shot, but Suryah pauses a second and says, “Meet Jagan before you head off.” That scene stood out for his nuanced approach. How does he bring in these little variations that add value to the character? “Every director is unique. Karthik creates an atmosphere for his actors and allows them to play around. Selvaraghavan is on a different league, for he is precise about the scenes. He moulded me for Nenjam Marappathillai, so much so that you can categorise SJ Suryah before and after that film,” he says.

Method acting

While admitting that he insists on directors enacting the scenes in advance, Suryah says he gets a rough idea about the character when he sits down for narration. He adds: “I tend to observe the director’s body language and mood. Based on that, I understand the range expected of me.” But how taxing is the process when he takes up a monstrous (no pun intended) character like Sudalai for Spyder? Does he prepare himself psychologically? “Murugadoss gives everything in detail in the writing. Plus, the dialogues help a lot. For that movie, he suggested that I watch The Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins is one of my favourite actors, but I learned a lot from Jodie Foster too. The process of getting into the skin of the character is a real blessing.” Is that why he chose to take a back seat with Monster, after playing a series of dark characters? “I’m trying to become a seasoned actor trying all genres. The scripts that are coming my way are exciting, like Monster. I’m conscious that they don’t typecast me,” he adds.

Suryah’s last directorial was Isai (2015), but he is now content with essaying “different characters” on screen. Even the films that he directed dealt with complex characters, with an inherent dark humour. Was that intentional? “At that point, yes. My mindset and thought process were completely different when I made those films. But when I look back at them now, I find that there are a lot of problematic ideas. Which is why I’ve been careful with my choices now,” smiles Suryah.

What’s the status?

SJ Suryah teamed up with Selvaraghavan for the horror-thriller Nenjam Marappathillai, which was supposed to release in 2016. But the film is yet to see the light of day due to financial issues. About Nenjam Marappathillai, Suryah says it’s a “typical Selvaraghavan padam”. He adds: “Wherever I go, people ask me about this film. In fact, Nelson also said that he’s badly waiting for it. I hope the issues are sorted out and it releases soon.”

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:55:04 PM |

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