‘It’s important not to confuse the real Sivakarthikeyan with the actor’

Sivakarthikeyan talks to me about the most ambitious project of his career, Velaikkaran, and how the story affected him so much that he’s decided never to be part of commercials

The plan was for Sivakarthikeyan to breeze in, have a group chat with some members of the press, and spread the word about Velaikkaran. But he’s a bit too nice to say no to an exclusive conversation with us. At the conference hall of the Residency Towers, the actor — a star now — had a chat with me about a variety of topics including his upcoming film, Velaikkaran, and his last film, Remo, which came in for some criticism over its portrayal of love. Excerpts follow:

When we last spoke — around Remo’s release — you spoke of slowly working your way to doing good cinema. Is Velaikkaran an example of that?

I think you’ll quite like the film. (smiles) You’ll be able to relate to it as a viewer… and as an employee. I’m not the hero of the film. The content is. I have no forced stunt sequences or love angles. Right after Remo, I wanted to do a film that would be in contrast. I’m glad I got Velaikkaran.

Is this to be thought of as the beginning of Sivakarthikeyan’s entry into serious, big-budget cinema?

If you’re asking if I’ll stop doing commercial entertainers, no. My next film with Ponram is an example. It’s those films that allow me the liberty of working with new directors and experimenting with content. Velaikkaran, I think, is my upper limit for content-oriented cinema. I’m aware that the stakes are bigger than ever.

It’s often said that Tamil cinema failed to tap Rajinikanth’s underrated acting talent. Is there a worry that your rising star value could prevent you from doing meaningful, small-budget films?

The problem is, even if Rajini sir were to do a small-budget film, it will still be purchased for a hefty sum, and this in turn necessitates that the collections be proportionally big. Our market isn’t like Hindi cinema’s, where a film can be successful simply by doing well in A centres. Eventually, I hope to do films like Chak De, but hey, there’s a lot of time for that. I haven’t even really started doing the five-song, five-fight routine yet.

Is Velaikkaran the most serious film of your career yet?

Without doubt. The film kicks off without much ado, and then the story’s layers begin to peel gradually. The film has given me confidence that good content can bring out more nuanced performances from me. No other film I’ve done has had me emote as much.

You’ve said that for the first time, you approached a director (Mohan Raja) for a film.

Yes, I loved Thani Oruvan. I loved how, despite being your usual story of a cop and a criminal, it felt so different. I loved its core idea of the hero going after his enemy, of how he almost adores him. Thani Oruvan gave me the confidence that Mohan Raja sir could pull off a film with me, without comedy tracks.

Thani Oruvan had a social angle too: that people shouldn’t wait for personal loss before taking up arms against evil. How about in Velaikkaran?

Here, we talk about where our money actually goes. How is it that no matter how much we earn it’s never sufficient? This is a huge problem, especially for the poor. Mohan Raja sir explains it all in the film. In fact, so affected am I by this story that I have decided never to act in television commercials.

Given the revenue you will likely be losing out on, it must have been a big decision for you.

It was only because of it that it seemed an easy decision. I wouldn’t want to make money at the expense of a poor, innocent child somewhere getting conned by an advertisement. I couldn’t live with myself for doing that.

I find this dichotomy interesting. On one hand, you show your social concern by taking a stand against ads. On the other hand, you do a film like Remo which justifies stalking and sexism.

It’s important not to confuse the real Sivakarthikeyan with the actor. For instance, I don’t smoke and drink. I don’t chase women. I despise violence. But I cannot tell a director that I won’t do those things in a film. On Remo, one Tamil publication wrote, Remo samudhaayaththin saabakedu. Really? I understand giving me advice, but why would people try to stop a film from doing well?

Remo did do well though.

Yes, it did. But what if it hadn’t? I wouldn’t want the director/producer to suffer. Remo’s just a film, and I don’t think it’s right to say that what’s shown on screen affects everyone. Advertisements, however, are a different ball game.

But hey, if such love tracks create so much trouble, I’ll try and avoid them. In Velaikkaran, for instance, there’s no stalking. Nayanthara plays a character called Mrinalini, and the relationship she has with my character, Arivu, is based on the understanding they develop with each other.

Now that you’re acting with top heroines like Nayanthara and Samantha, is there a temptation to believe you’ve truly arrived as an A-list actor?

Not really. I don’t think that’s the achievement. I take more pride that producers are trusting me with budgets that make it possible to accommodate such heroines. But yes, I grew up admiring their work, and I’d be lying if I said it’s not a big deal.

What do you suppose has got producers betting big on you?

I don’t know. I guess it’s because even my average films like Maan Karate did well at the box office. So they must must have wondered what a good film featuring me could do. I hope Velaikkaran turns out to be that film.

This interview was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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