SJ Suryah: I still live the life of a teacher’s son

Actor-director SJ Suryah talks about his upcoming film ‘Bommai’, returning to direct, how the films starring him in supporting roles help the ones in which he plays the lead, and more

Updated - June 13, 2023 01:32 pm IST

Published - June 13, 2023 01:03 pm IST

SJ Suryah

SJ Suryah | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

SJ Suryah wears many hats; actor, director, producer, playback singer and music director, to name a few. Despite having a brilliant track record as director - working with the likes of Ajith, Vijay, Mahesh Babu, and Pawan Kalyan - Suryah has always been keen on being an actor. As he nears his 20th year of turning lead actor, the actor looks forward to this week’s release Bommai, directed by Radha Mohan. Excerpts from the conversation.

Despite doing serious films like ‘Gouravam’ and ‘Payanam’, Radha Mohan is known for his breezy, feel-good films like ‘Mozhi’ and ‘Abhiyum Naanum’. How was it for you when he narrated ‘Bommai’, a thriller?

I loved the story the moment I heard it. With Bommai, he has come up with an interesting concept; about a man named Rajkumar and how his delusions cause him to see a girl in a mannequin with whom he falls in love. Despite it being a thriller, it will also have the essence of Mozhi and Abhiyum Naanum. It’s a film that I believe will take me to the next level as a performer.

SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Bommai’

SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Bommai’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Since my days as a junior artiste, I have wanted a Tamil actor to have a cross country reach. Today, we have a lot of pan-Indian actors and I’m not sure if they aspired to be one before; but I did. It wasn’t possible despite being in the industry for so long. At a time when big-budget films like KGF and Baahubali are going to the global arena, a smaller film called English Medium made a big mark even in China. If English Medium can do that, why not Bommai? I want to make the film in Hindi too.

The imaginary girlfriend is a trope of its own; we’ve seen it in films like ‘Soodhu Kavvum’. Similarly, statues coming to life have also been popular by films like ‘Night at the Museum’. How different is ‘Bommai’ when compared to such films?

In those films, it’s a fantasy element. Shankar sir made Enthiran, but it’s not like a Terminator film. He made a film that’s rooted and applicable to our sensibilities. Here, the question of why my character sees a girl has an answer that will connect to our audience. That’s a zone where filmmakers like Radha Mohan sir thrive. Ange dhaan avar uyir irruku. When seen from that perspective, the audience will feel for my character.

SJ Suryah and Priya Bhavani Shankar in a still from ‘Bommai’

SJ Suryah and Priya Bhavani Shankar in a still from ‘Bommai’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The film sees you reuniting with Priya Bhavani Shankar after ‘Monster’ and after chartbusters like the albums of ‘Kalvanin Kadhali’ and ‘Nenjam Marappathillai’, you’re working with Yuvan Shankar Raja once again...

Yuvan sir’s music makes the film extra special. He’s a specialist when it comes to infusing a background without making it feel intrusive. The song ‘Mudhal Mutham’, in Yuvan sir’s voice, has come out very well, although it wasn't what Radha Mohan asked him. Radha Mohan sir asked him to remake and not remix the ‘Dheiveega Raagam’ song (from Ullasa Paravaigal) because the story demanded it and Yuvan sir pulled it off neatly. My combination with Priya has been good; I feel she looks just like the doll she plays.

Unlike some performers who concentrate on their characters and not on the overall picture, the films you’ve chosen have consistently worked as well as given you the space to explore your acting talents. How do you pull off such a balancing act?

Good films find me and that’s a blessing. Just being talented is not enough. It’s also about being at the right place at the right time. I only choose a fraction of what I’m offered. My needs are quite minimal as I still live the life of a middle-class teacher’s son. I’m still a bachelor who believes that he graduated from college just a few years ago. I never do films because of my personal or financial needs.

SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Bommai’

SJ Suryah in a still from ‘Bommai’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the last few years, you’ve also had your share of misses like ‘Kadamaiyai Sei’ and despite gaining appreciations for your role, ‘Spyder’ didn’t do as well as it was expected to. When things don’t go as per plan, is there course correction of any sort?

After a fall from the top and going off the radar, I started afresh with films like Isai and Iraivi. The general perception was that from 2009 to 2015, SJ Suryah was out of the game. But thankfully I got the good roles with a mix of lead and negative roles. Some factors are also not in our hands always and hits and misses are all the work of God. Then Iravaakaalam happened and despite being similar to a French film, it didn’t release. Then I did a film with Amitabh Bachchan sir which stopped midway and I again had a tough time. But my attempts have always been big. Then a slew of good films came my way, including Bommai. Then Vadhandhi happened. I was recently shooting for Jigarthanda Double X in Thandigudi and a tribal kid recognised me from that series. Thanks to mobile phones, everyone has become theatre owners (laughs).

I’m waiting for a film starring me in the lead to become a big hit. When I’m doing supporting roles in other films, that will acclimatise the audience and get me goodwill for the films in which I play the lead. It’s like preparing a field before sowing seeds.

You’ve been vocal about how you always wanted to become an actor but you’ve also mentioned returning to direction recently. What’s the status of that project?

I have always wanted to be in front of the camera and I’ve finally gotten into a rhythm. I now have to strive to grow that aspect. That said, I’ve also got a script titled Killer that’s ready to be made and I want to both direct and star in it. I’ll most probably start working on it in October, after my current commitments.

Bommai is releasing in theatres this Friday

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