Cinema

‘Villages nourish me’

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Director-turned-actor Alagam Perumal talks about his mentor Mani Ratnam and how the acting bug bit him.

Alagam Perumal is still smiling with the accolades coming his way for his portrayal of a wronged man in  Valiyavan. “The minute director M. Saravanan narrated the character to me, I was hooked,” he says. It reminded him of an incident from his childhood, where his father, a Government employee, remained silent despite being accused by a neighbour of something he did not do. “For years, I seethed that I was not allowed to retaliate. Then, I understood my father was doing his best to protect his family,” he says.

For some years now, Alagam Perumal, who started off as a director with  Dumm Dumm Dumm, has made a name for himself in character roles. He’s played them all — the angry dad, the happy dad, the house owner with a heart of gold, the teacher who’s a father figure… It all began at his mentor Mani Ratnam’s office. “I worked with Mani sir’s team from  Thalapathi to  Iruvar before branching off. Even afterwards, I would visit the sets. When he was shooting  Alaipaayuthe, he was looking for someone like Jagathy Sreekumar to play the quirky house owner. I’m not sure if I offered to chip in or he asked me, but I wore a  veshti and got ready to face the camera. My character brief: ‘When he’s drunk, he’s like Mohanlal; when sober, he’s like Mammooty’. It was a laugh riot.”

This was when his Vijay-Simran starrer Udhaya was caught in production wrangles. In the meantime, he made the superhit  Dumm Dumm Dumm, under Mani Ratnam’s banner. Actors were calling him up to be part of his next movie, but he went back to revive  Udhaya. By the time he got back to directing afresh, offers had dried up. That was when he took acting seriously.

Does he regret not getting back to direction? “I enjoyed my stint, and the director in me is still alive; he will hopefully emerge soon. But, I love acting too. I’ve worked in 30-odd films, under so many directors, with so many teams. It’s been a great learning. I’ve made note of so many peoples’ character traits along the way; they help me flesh out a character. I like to add my interpretation to the director’s vision.”

Alagam Perumal says the popularity of some of his roles stumps him even today. “People still remember the teacher I played in  Kattradhu Thamizh. Or my role in Pudhupettai and  Aayirathil Oruvan. That’s a great feeling.”

But he also stays in touch with the technical side of filmmaking. Even now, he helped out on the sets of Mani Ratnam’s  O Kadhal Kanmani. “With Mani sir, it is like being with family. Once a part of it, always a part of it!”

Mani Ratnam has been asking him to come up with another script, and Alagam Perumal is working on it. “I hate to stick to the same kind of subjects, be it in direction or acting.

There’s only so much variation you can bring to a father’s role. Because it has been a long while, my next script will showcase my strengths — it will be set in a village. But it will not be romance,” says the filmmaker, who traces his roots to Parakkai and Kulasekarapuram, in the deep South. “Villages nourish me. I still need to head there to recharge myself.”

Alagam Perumal is now doing a handful of films —  Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, PadithuraiTaramani, Idam Porul Eval and  Yatchan. “In all these films, I am merely the actor. I never allow the director in me to raise his head. I don’t even see the monitor, lest I am tempted to give suggestions,” he laughs.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 5:09:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/villages-nourish-me-alagam-perumal/article7067987.ece

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