“Back in the '90s, no one was ready to cast me as a lead actor or produce my films. So I had to direct films to make a name for myself,” SJ Suryah recounts with a laugh. With his terrific performance in AR Murugadoss’ Spyder making a solid impression, it’s hard to forget his laughter even in the midst of a casual conversation. In Spyder, he kills people for fun and derives sadistic pleasure when he hears others cry, and breaks into laughter. It’s this psychopathic streak of the character (Bhairavudu), SJ Suryah admits, that caught his attention. “The role was quite intense and on top of that, he’s a psychopath. It’s a challenge for any actor, and at the same time, whenever you get a chance to do something unusual, you feel all charged up. I figured out that the role is going to be quite challenging when Murugadoss began narrating the story. I was on a high,” he recalls.
Post-Spyder, SJ Suryah is betting big on Atlee’s Mersal, which will also release in Telugu as Adhirindhi. “I spent the last few months juggling between the sets of Spyder and Mersal (Adhirindhi). The switch between the two characters was also a big task and it was a great opportunity for me to explore two extremely different characters. While I played a dark role in Spyder, when it comes to Adhirindhi (Mersal), I’m playing a very stylish role and my look is going to be very classy. Like Daniel Craig! You’ll have to watch the film to see why I loved the role so much. The flashback episode is going to be amazing,” he explains.
Although he had made up his mind that he would continue playing lead roles after earning rave reviews for his role in Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi, SJ Suryah admits that he made an exception for these two films. “I admire both Murugadoss and Atlee a lot. Moreover, the concepts they told me were quite interesting. I also felt that playing such negative roles will help me to take a big leap in future when I play lead roles. For instance, take Shah Rukh Khan — I feel that his performances in films like Baazigar and Darr helped him a lot when he became a hero. Both Murugadoss and Atlee were very clear about what they wanted, and they have immense faith and respect for other technicians. I was in safe hands [laughs]. I pretty much made an exception for these two films, but I won’t mind doing such negative roles again provided the the character is powerful and exciting enough for me. Otherwise, there’s no point. I’ll continue to play lead roles.”
Of late, a string of poorly written roles for villains had a ripple effect on the film experience itself. Why would you root for a hero if his nemesis isn’t strong enough? Under these circumstances, an actor like SJ Suryah has made a sea of difference. AR Murugadoss has already showed us what the actor is capable of doing, and now, all eyes are on Atlee. “The biggest take away after doing a villainous role in Adhirindhi (Mersal),” SJ Suryah says, “has been that when you approach a scene with a subtle performance, whether it’s dark or stylish, it reaches people a lot more than when you do a loud character. You have to truly believe in what you are doing and also, avoid doing cliched stuff. These days, people aren’t really bothered about what you do. They care about how you it and how well you play that role. Look at Aamir Khan — he might have done a lot of action and romantic films, but in Dangal, he played an old man, who loses against his own daughter, and then in the climax, he barely has a role to play. But everything he did in the film won him a lot of respect and appreciation. It’s by backing such good scripts that you become a true hero. You don’t have throw in a few punches and kick the goons.”
Sometimes, all it takes is to laugh and laugh when others cry. Or you could be a cool dude who matches a superstar eye to eye, and still make an impression as a villain. Whatever the case maybe, SJ Suryah is living his dream at the moment. Period.
Mersal (Adhirindhi in Telugu), directed by Atlee, is slated for release on 18 October.