Vasanthabalan, Sriya Reddy and Bharath interview: On ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’ and reuniting after ‘Veyil’

Watch | Vasanthabalan, Sriya Reddy and Bharath interview: On ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’ and reuniting after ‘Veyil’

The team of ZEE5’s upcoming political-thriller series ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’ talks to us about collaboration, trusting one another, being conscious about their creative choices, and teaming up once again after 2006’s ‘Veyil’

Updated - May 15, 2024 07:31 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 02:51 pm IST

Remember Sriya Reddy as the tender-hearted Pandiyamma in filmmaker Vasanthabalan’s breakout 2006 hit drama Veyil? And Bharath as the doting brother and angry young man Kadhir? Even 18 years since its release, Veyil is still fondly remembered among Tamil audiences. And now, ZEE5’s upcoming political-thriller series Thalaimai Seyalagam has reunited the trio.

“Actor Pasupathy was also supposed to play a character in this series... which would have made it a complete Veyil reunion,” says director Vasanthabalan, who serves as the series creator, as he reminisces about the film that catapulted him to the limelight. “It’s close to my heart because it isn’t just my story, but it’s also the story of my hometown Virudhunagar,” he says.

Bharath, Sriya Reddy, and Vasanthabalan

Bharath, Sriya Reddy, and Vasanthabalan | Photo Credit: S Shiva Raj

Sriya says she feels proud of having been part of a film that is now considered a classic. “I could do anything beyond that, but people will still go back to it, saying ‘You did Veyil, right?’” Bharath calls it one of those few films in an actor’s filmography that is spoken about repeatedly over the years. “I don’t know if I will ever get to play a character like Kadhir from Veyil again.”

For Bharath, it was the experience of working with Vasanthabalan again that urged him to take up Thalaimai Seyalagam. “He was confident that I would be the right fit for it; when a director places such confidence in you, there isn’t a lot to think about. Moreover, through my experience, I could gauge what the outcome would be like,” he says. Meanwhile, Sriya is known to be an actor who is selective with her scripts and conscious about how her character is written and designed. “And I did have some 800 issues with all that, but I knew I would be comfortable under his direction. I can perform only when I am comfortable, and so, nothing else mattered because he was there,” she says.

Produced by Radhika Sarathkumar and R Sarathkumar under Radaan Mediaworks, Thalaimai Seyalagam also stars Kishore, Remya Nambeesan, Kani Kusruti and Adithya Menon in pivotal roles.

Excerpts from an interview:

Vasanthabalan, you have spoken about how you get ideas for films from the literature you read, or from everyday life (like with ‘Angadi Theru’). How do you decide if an idea would work as a feature film or a web series? What was the idea behind ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’?

The first thing I need to see is if it is something I could pull off. Then, I see if the idea would interest me even after five years. These are the two parameters I use while approaching a story. Thalaimai Seyalagam started from a script that Radhika had; it was about a woman’s fight to reach the top in politics. She asked me if we could push this idea and write a series, and I took it up as a challenge. I did mention that it was too political and needed to be altered to avoid criticism. So I reworked that idea, added more characters, and then it became Thalaimai Seyalagam.

Director Vasanthabalan

Director Vasanthabalan | Photo Credit: S Shiva Raj

Your films look so drastically different from one another, and your storytelling form has been evolving with every new release; your last film was a psycho-thriller. Is it because you don’t want to be restricted to a set of genres or a particular style?

That’s something I am doing very consciously. After Veyil, I haven’t done a film with a rural backdrop. I don’t like repeating the locations I shoot in, the costumes I give to my characters, or even the props I use on set. I don’t even want to repeat my artists because I want to be surprised by actors with their performances.

With Thalaimai Seyalagam, I wanted to do a political series and a story that deals with the whole of India. This was a difficult project for me; the footage was about five hours and 20 minutes, which is the length of two or three feature films. And all that had to be shot within 65 days, and in several locations across India. On top of this, there are 12 lead characters in the series, and they all have to be handled equally.

Sriya, you have a diverse filmography that includes roles like ‘Veyil’ or ‘Kanchivaram’ where you had to show a vulnerable side to your character. But because you have done bold and fierce characters in popular commercial films like ‘Thimiru,’ and recently, in ‘Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire’, isn’t there’s a risk of being typecast?

I do very few films because I am very selective about them. I believe in how deep I can get into a character. I am not here running for money or fame, nor am I here to make 100 films. I don’t care how people perceive me or if I am typecast of anything; all that matters is doing a killer job at portraying the character. Even for my character in this series, it was difficult because it was a different shade — it wasn’t who I am. Veyil’s Pandiyamma or Kanchivaram’s Annam is who I am in reality.

Sriya Reddy

Sriya Reddy | Photo Credit: S Shiva Raj

This selective approach to choosing films has certainly worked for you. Is there a rule or a principle you held onto throughout your career that you are proud of? Any lessons you wish you had learnt when you were younger?

Sriya: One thing I have always believed is not to have any regrets and to always walk forward. I am very content and grateful; I am not running any rat race and I don’t want to work 365 days a year. I have to satisfy myself first, as an actor and a person, and only then I can satisfy everybody else. I truly believe in working hard to tell good stories and giving my life and soul to perform — that is my motto.

Vasanthabalan: During Veyil, I shot with Sriya only for three days, but there were so many instances that showed the dedication she had for that role. She had to learn matchbox-making and perform under the hot sun. With Thalaimai Seyalagam, I gave her the script six months ago, and she would argue with me if I changed even a single word in the script!

So when she says she gives her heart and soul to a project, I could feel that. She would deliver the lines without missing a beat. If we kept a frame for her, she would send her assistant to click a picture of it on the monitor and show her, so that she knew how it was lit up. She is very conscious of her look, her position in the scene, and how she is portrayed.

Vasanthabalan with Sriya Reddy and Bharath on the sets of ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’

Vasanthabalan with Sriya Reddy and Bharath on the sets of ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Bharath, you are an actor who is open to doing films in multiple languages, and newer formats like web series and multi-starrers. How satisfied are you as an artist with this approach?

A lot. Though cinema is all the same, the sensibilities and working patterns keep changing whether it’s Telugu, Tamil or Malayalam cinema. In fact, I have done a Konkani film completely shot in Goa that is yet to be released; it’s a women-centric film but I wanted to be a part of it and it was fascinating to understand how that industry functions. With multi-starrers, I have done a lot of them right from my initial days, and I am not an actor who is insecure about sharing screen space. So, I get a sense of satisfaction in exploring myself as an actor in different industries, meeting new people and getting more exposure.


Bharath | Photo Credit: S Shiva Raj

With ‘Thalaimai Seyalagam’ what was that big takeaway?

Bharath: This will be one of the best web series in my filmography because of the director’s value, the cast, the production value, the making, and so on. The biggest takeaway will be that even after 10 years, people will remember that I did a good web series with Vasanthabalan sir — that is important for me.

Thalaimai Seyalagam premieres on ZEE5 this Friday

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