Sudha Kongara interview on ‘Sarfira’: Akshay Kumar has not lost touch with his roots

Watch: Sudha Kongara interview on ‘Sarfira’: Akshay Kumar has not lost touch with his roots and reality

Director Sudha Kongara on remaking Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’ in Bollywood as ‘Sarfira’ with Akshay Kumar

Updated - July 06, 2024 12:41 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2024 12:07 pm IST

“Always find a unique story. 100 years of cinema has happened. Don’t give the audience the same crap.”

This quote gets top spot among 24 commandments that hang tall at director Sudha Kongara’s office in Chennai’s Alwarpet. Armed with a few impressive feature films and a National Award in her kitty, Sudha may not perhaps read these commandments every day, but she does turn to them when confused about films. “It’s just there to remind me of what to do when I’m confused. For me, an idea has to resonate.”

Like it did a few years ago when she read the story of Air Deccan founder Captain Gopinath’s journey, and decided to make it a film. The result was the successful Suriya-starring National Award-winning Tamil film Soorarai Potru, which she has now remade in Bollywood with Akshay Kumar and Radhikka Madan as Sarfira.

Akshay Kumar in ‘Sarfira’

Akshay Kumar in ‘Sarfira’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangeme

Sarfira, she feels, will strike a chord with audiences. “I am confident. I watch my films as an audience member and I felt this was an underdog story and had universal appeal.”

Flying high

When Soorarai Potru released in 2020 directly on Prime Video, it created an impact not just in Tamil Nadu, but also across India. It was trending in Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Haryana, something that caught Sudha by surprise. “It was meant to be a Tamil film for the southern states, and here we saw it, being watched and embraced even in remote places in India.”

Doesn’t that pose a problem now, because Sarfira will be consumed on the big screen by the same audience? “I still believe there are huge pockets of people who have not watched the film. Even in Tamil Nadu, not everyone has watched Soorarai Pottru.

Those who have, however, still marvel at actor Suriya’s performance as a young man with the dogged determination to fly high. “Before we went to shoot, we were figuring out how he could show the character’s desperation on screen, and that took us back to his own days as a garment factory employee a few decades ago. He dug deep into that phase in his life to play Maara effectively.”

Sudha Kongara with Akshay Kumar, Radhikka and Suriya on the sets of ‘Sarfira’

Sudha Kongara with Akshay Kumar, Radhikka and Suriya on the sets of ‘Sarfira’

With Akshay Kumar, the process was different. “He is an ebullient, outgoing actor. He has not lost touch with his roots and reality, despite the money he makes or how popular he is.” Sudha cites one instance from a song sequence (‘Dhoka’) to prove her point. “We suddenly realised that he was in a fresh costume, but the portion of the song that we were shooting needed him to look a little dirty. The make-up team rushed to get some amber powder, but before they could get it, he fell on the muddy ground and rolled. He got up and asked: Is this good enough?”

Cinema for life

Sudha is a self-confessed fan of Mani Ratnam, who inspired her to take up the world of cinema. She remembers watching Pagal Nilavu, Mani’s 1985 film, when she was in Class VIII, and then subsequently fell in love with his cinema. “In class XII, we had to relocate to Vizag; even there, we got VHS cassettes of Mani’s films and watched them. I love the realness in his cinema. Mouna Raagam is my all-time favourite; he just got that generation of women.”

Sudha Kongara

Sudha Kongara | Photo Credit: S Shiva Raj

Sudha also has a professional relationship with Mani, having assisted him on a number of projects before becoming a filmmaker herself. What has her biggest learning been? “He always tells us that hardwork and focus is the key. When my first film tanked, I was a mess, but still had the idea of Irudhi Suttru in mind. While everyone was telling me it was going to be an impossible task to pull off, it was Mani sir who told me: ‘You should do it.”

And she did. Not only did she go on make the film on a boxing coach training an amateur, she also went on to contribute to the streaming space with her segments in anthologies Putham Pudhu Kaalai and Paava Kadhaigal. So, what’s next? “Writer Naran has written a book on the first three lady doctors in South India, set in the 1940s. I really wanted to do it, but I’m moving from film to film, so there just doesn’t seem to be time. My next project will be a Tamil film, based on an idea that has driven me crazy. I have this I-have-to-tell-this-story kind of excitement with it, and I’m looking forward to that.”

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