June 11, 2010

Suriya: Sunny Side Up

Southern superstar Suriya talks nine to ninety with Filmfare on movies, marriage and the big cross-over to Hindi films

We discuss how South actors like Kamal Haasan, Rajnikant and Nagarjuna never really hit pay dirt up North as opposed to the girls like Hema Malini or Sridevi. “It’s the same even in the South if you have noticed. We accept girls from the North easily but the guys have trouble finding their feet,” he points out gently. Then he makes a revelation, “This is not a career shift for me. Honestly, I don’t see myself doing too many Hindi films. It has to be something special like Ghajini or Rang De Basanti that will tempt me. Rakhtacharitra is another feather in my cap, not a career leap. It’s just another step in doing more diverse and challenging work.” He makes it very clear that he doesn’t intend to compete with Hindi film actors for a place at the top. “Only the best of the best can survive here. It does make a difference if an actor can make it in Hindi films. It’s good to be appreciated here. I have been around for ten years, have done 25 films in Tamil so my thought was, what next? I have no intention of trying to attain superstardom here. I think I am more suited for strong character roles. And honestly, I have bigger projects in the South. Why would I give those up?”

Ram Gopal Varma is currently at the lowest phase of his career. Does Suriya feel secure placing his faith in the director just now? Staunchly defending his director he says, “I like Ramu’s vision, the way he puts together a project, his craft as a director. It will definitely be growth as far as I am concerned. I am inspired by the way Ramu works.”

But language is a problem. He gave up Hindi in the 7th standard and is grappling with the nuances of the language. Even though Ramu told him not to bother learning Hindi, he tried. “I gave up after two months. I think it’s a mental block maybe. Somehow in Tamil Nadu we are not much for Hindi. It’s as if we think we’ll get infected or something if we let the language into our lives.

His marriage to his sweetheart Jyothika (Nagma’s half-sister who made her debut in Hindi movies opposite Akshaye Khanna in Doli Sajake Rakhna) was one of the most talked about events a few years ago. A thriving actress, she gave up her career to stay home. The two have a daughter Diya and are expecting their second child. About his wife, it’s not difficult to get him to gush, “Jo has changed a lot for us in order to fit into a joint family. She is not an actress anymore. She is not the Mumbai girl anymore. She has never brought it up but I am sure she had some trouble adjusting. But she did so very well and we are all very pleasantly surprised. Since we all live together, it’s not possible to entertain friends at home. We have a separate apartment where we do that. But she has given up acting and is at home with my parents when I am away shooting.”

Moving on, I ask him about his Northern counterpart in the Hindi remake of Ghajini, Aamir Khan and he grins, “Aamir is truly someone I look up to. Only he can do a Ghajini as well as 3 Idiots and also direct a film like Taare Zameen Par. He is really versatile. I like his detailing, his perfection. When I played a cop in Kakka Kakka, I didn’t want to play a policeman the way he had been played in earlier Tamil films. Aamir in Sarfarosh was my reference point. We have been in touch and he is always prompt in his responses.

I was also touched that he spoke a lot about me during the publicity for Ghajini. He is like my elder brother in Hindi films.”

He is full of praise for young actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Dhanush back in Chennai. “I haven’t seen too much of Ranbir’s work but this I can say-that he can make even an average film look good. And Dhanush has done some exceptional cinema. His choice of films is always interesting.”

Unlike brother Karthi who has assisted Mani Ratnam or Aamir who ventured into direction, Suriya says he has no plans to direct in the future. And the reason is quintessential Suriya. “People with strong opinions make good directors. I can’t even choose between colours. If someone asks me black or red,
I get flummoxed. I am okay leaving everything to others.” Except his dreams. Those are his.
Aamir is truly someone I look up to. When I played a cop in my Tamil film Kakka Kakka, Aamir in Sarfarosh was my reference point. I was also touched that he spoke a lot about me during the publicity for Ghajini. He is like my elder brother in Hindi films.

Sukanya Venkatraghavan