It seems actor R. Sarathkumar never grows old. Actively involved in the film industry for more than two decades, he remains fit and agile both physically and mentally.
“It is an art,” laughs Sarathkumar. “If I am dull and tired then it is a message that I had missed my workout schedule. I have a personal physical trainer and a full-fledged gym at home,” he says.
He remembers how his father M. Ramanathan mentored him on keeping good health and cultivating a reading habit. “He is responsible for what I am today,” he says. “He made us read Aesop’s fables, Panchathanthiram tales and then we graduated to read James Hadley Chase, Irving Wallace and George Bernard Shaw’s books. My vocabulary is more because of reading books than going to school,” he admits. He is fluent in all the south Indian languages, and quite adept in Russian, too.
A delivery boy
As a youth Sarathkumar worked as a delivery boy for the Tamil daily Dinakaran and worked as a journalist in Bangalore. But his love for films brought him back to Chennai. Being a big fan of M.G. Ramachandran, he wanted to emulate the legend. “He is someone who planned his career to perfection,” he says. “If he is remembered even after 25 years of his death, then he is too great.”
With no prior acting experience other than participating in school cultural programmes, Sarathkumar acted first in a Telugu movie Samajamlo Sthree at the behest of a producer friend. Growing in confidence, he produced the Tamil thriller Kan Simittum Neram with Karthick and Ambiga in the lead. “My movie brought Karthick good name. At that time he was picked by Mani Ratnam for Agni Natchathiram ,” he says.
Sarathkumar’s next venture, Mr. Karthick , became a big flop. He became an actor when Raju, personal make-up man of actor Vijayakanth, recommended him to the Pulan Visaranai team. Sarathkumar played the villain. “They wanted a tough man to do that character and found me fit enough for that meaty role,” he says.
There was no looking back from then on. “I was so lucky that all the movies I acted in got released,” he says. “I have not been to any acting school and my films are my lessons. I perfected my acting seeing my films and correcting mistakes. After numerous self-analyses and self-criticisms my confidence grew and my acting became casual,” says Sarathkumar.
He has won three Film Fare awards for best actor. He has acted in more than 130 films and played unforgettable roles in Suriyan , Nattamai , Natpukkaga and Ayya .
From cinema to active politics it was a smooth transition for him. “I see politics as an extension of social service,” he explains. “I want to do more for society. Politics is a bigger forum where I can address the people. I am more conscious about what is happening in society and I have my opinion in everything and have no fear in expressing it. I don’t hold back any of my views and thoughts.”
As the president of the South India Film Artistes’ Association Sarathkumar plans to bring in more revenue for the Association. But he can’t stay away from films. He is now involved in the Telugu project Genius , which tells the story of a powerful police officer fighting against political bigwigs, and in the Kannada project Myna , based on the true story of a conscientious police officer who frees a murder accused framed for 34 unresolved murders.
Sarathkumar is producing and acting in Chennaiyil Oru Naal . It is a remake of Traffic, a Malayalam flick about organ donation. “The film is a big hit in Malayalam,” he says. “It is a film with social cause and is releasing in January.” He promotes organ donation in a big way and has pledged his own body to an NGO in Guruvayur.
He has also acted in the much talked about Kochadaiyaan by Soundarya Rajnikanth and is involved in K.R. Selvaraj’s Vidiyal , which is releasing in April.
He is looking for characters that create an impact. In Kanchana , he played a transgender. “It has to be challenging,” he says. “The film Kanchana would have been a big failure had the fans laughed at my introduction scene.”
Run-of-the-mill characters do not interest him. Says Sarathkumar, “Now I am reinventing myself to do characters that suit a young audience. I am waiting for a good script.”