The villain who wants to be hero

SJ Suryah, who’s playing the villain in both Mersal and Spyder, says this is the closest he has ever been to achieving his ultimate dream of being a star

SJ Suryah receives me and quickly steps into another room to change his shirt. “I wore the previous one for some other conversation. I don’t want to look the same again,” he says. He resumes his late lunch. “It’s all as advised by the dietician. I’m acting a lot these days and have to look fit,” he smiles, as we settle into a conversation over his characters in Mersal and Spyder, and the impending realisation of his ultimate ambition. Excerpts follow:

After your role in Iraivi, you seem to be an actor much in demand.

I have to thank Karthik Subbaraj for that. He believed that I could do justice to Arul, the character I played. I always wanted to become an actor, and it’s all happening finally. I became a director, only so I could launch myself as a hero some day.

Why the fascination with being a hero?

Everyone wants to be at the top of their jobs, right? Being a hero is the highest position in the department of acting. It’s not easy to become a hero. You need a director and producer to believe in you. I didn’t have any backers when I tried to break into the industry after completing my graduation at Loyola.

And that’s why you eventually launched yourself as a hero in New.

Yes, and something about my characters in both New and my next film, Anbe Aaruyire–something about their wildness and recklessness–made an impression on audiences. Yet, I wasn’t really getting acting offers from other directors. Something had gone wrong, and I needed a lengthy break to realise that I needed to prove myself as an actor first. That’s why I wrote Isai, and conceived a character, AK Shiva, who goes through intense situations. The industry took note.

And they’ve now turned you not into the hero you wanted to be… but a villain.

(Laughs) Superstars like Rajini sir and Shah Rukh Khan had to be villains before they could be heroes, right?

Is that the sort of mass adulation you seek?

I feel shy to express that. If it has to happen, it will.

You had no hesitation accepting the villain roles in Spyder and Mersal?

I said yes to Murugadoss without even asking for the story. It didn’t even matter to me who the hero was. It was a surprise to learn the hero was Mahesh Babu and that the film was a bilingual.

You spoke very decent Telugu at the audio launch of Spyder.

During my early days in the industry, a Telugu family took me in. Perhaps that aided my learning of the language.

While you accepted Spyder quickly, I understand Atlee had to give you an elaborate three-hour narration.

I was mindblown by how he enacted the whole narration of Mersal, especially its flashback portions. I was concerned about playing a villain again, but I accepted it because of the high Atlee’s narration gave me.

Do you think your roles in Mersal and Spyder will redefine the landscape of villains in South cinema?

I never set out to achieve such things. I’ve always believed that wonders cannot be made; they should happen.

You were effusive in your praise for Mahesh Babu and Vijay at the audio launches of both films.

They have achieved what I have always wanted. They are at the top of their professions and have surrendered themselves to cinema, despite having already earned fame, power and money. It was a great learning experience for the hero in me.

Any chance SJ Suryah, the director, could make a comeback?

(Laughs) The plan was always to turn director, so I could become an actor. So, director SJ Suryah has done his job. Let him rest.

I imagine that you are being bombarded with acting offers?

To play both villain and hero. (Smiles) I’ve heard almost 26 scripts so far, and have narrowed down about three. All the ones I’ve chosen have me playing the hero.

If there were a showdown between the villains of Mersal and Spyder, who do you think will win?

I don’t know. Water turns to steam when heated, and ice when frozen. I don’t know who will win if ice and steam fought.

Spoken like a true diplomat. It seems you are cut out to be a star after all.

(Laughs) Thank you. I hope so.

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