Beneath Suriya’s grin, as he settles for conversation at Studio Green’s office, is a lot of fatigue. Between promoting Vikram Kumar’s 24 in Tamil Nadu and shooting for S3 in Andhra Pradesh, he’s had a hectic week. “But I have no complaints. As Rahman sir recently told me, we’re lucky to be doing what we are. I know that the ratio of our salary to the work we do may seem excessive, but only the hardworking can survive in this industry.”
So, when you’re out in your Audi and you notice the poor, do you feel guilty over how much you make?
Yes. I ask myself if I deserve what I have. What I have today is way more than I ever bargained for. Rahman and I were talking about this very recently. That’s why he’s doing what he is for society, and I guess that’s why I am running Agaram Foundation (an educational trust started by Suriya in 2006 for the benefit of the underprivileged). It’s my way of feeling less guilty.
It has been 10 years since Rahman composed for your film.
It’s a privilege to have him make music for my film. But I have to thank composers like Harris (Jayaraj) and DSP (Devi Sri Prasad) who’ve been terrific over the last decade. DSP was one of the reasons Singam did so well. And Harris’ ‘Suttum Vizhi’ was why I became popular in Andhra Pradesh. But 24 is very ambitious, and Rahman brings a global influence that really works. At the cost of hyping 24 too much, we were hoping to recreate some of the magic of epic Disney-like films in the past: The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mr. India…
Any favourites from the album?
I can’t seem to get ‘Laalijo’, the Telugu version of ‘Aararoo’, out of my head. I also love ‘Naan Un’. When I first heard ‘Kaalam En Kaadhali’, I was shaken. Vikram and I had no idea how to shoot all the diverse sounds in it.
You’ve mentioned almost all the songs in the album.
(Laughs) All right, I’m slightly old-fashioned and a Raja fan. So, I guess I love the slow songs better.
You have said that audiences expect you to do concept-based films.
I do these films because I don’t like easy hits, and want to be proud of my work. That’s why I do a 24 every now and then. But it’s important that the concepts don’t get complicated.
What if Christopher Nolan approached you with the Tamil script for Inception?
I’ll have to refuse him. Not every cine-goer here is a PhD student. (Laughs) Our films have to cater to everybody. That’s why even in this, one of the characters I play, Athreya, is masss-u, as Vikram Kumar calls it.
Rumour has it that Athreya’s wheelchair look was inspired by Stephen Hawking.
Yes, we needed the villain to look intelligent, and I remembered how much I liked the Hawking character in The Theory of Everything. But there’s no other similarity. Stephen Hawking has recently spoken about the impossibility of time travel. That’s a bit in contrast with what we’re saying in the film (laughs).
Do you find time travel intriguing?
I enjoy the concept. Tamil poets like Sambandar and Sundarar have written about it. Did you know that our Kapaleeshwarar temple has an engraving that is about time travel? But 24 is more than just about gadgetry and time travel. It is not at all complex; well, not like Inception anyway.
Do you agree with Vikram Kumar that Athreya is among the more intelligent villains written in Tamil cinema?
There are times when he exceeds audience expectations. But I don’t want the focus to be only on him. There have been greater villains in the past, like Chitti in Enthiran and Fletcher in Dasavatharam.
You try to underplay your work.
Because I’m not the only achiever here. I could tell you Athreya’s makeup took hours and it was hard work, but I remember that there were actors in the past who didn’t even have access to toilets. There were heroines who didn’t have a caravan and had to change in the midst of sarees hung from trees. I’m no pioneer. I don’t take myself too seriously as a star either. I was happy to be part of the celebrity cricket tournament organised recently.
Were you worried that fans may admire you less if you failed on the cricket ground?
I can’t worry about that. It was a lot of fun, and our objective of generating revenue for the Nadigar Sangam was achieved. As a batsman, I wish I had lasted more than one ball though. But you can’t expect sixers from an actor, just like you can’t expect a cricketer to be heroic on screen.
While on heroism, you’re probably the first Tamil actor to do a third sequel.
(Laughs) Yes. I’m not sure if there has ever been anything like it before in Tamil cinema. This has become possible only because of the audience’s love for Doraisingam (protagonist of the Singam franchise).
Kaakha Kaakha’s Anbuchelvan got a lot of love too. Did you consider turning that into a franchise?
Kaakha Kaakha was more of a love story. Maya died. It wouldn’t have been right to introduce a Mala in the second film. (laughs) But Singam was perfect for a sequel.
This interview was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.