Suriya interview: ‘I remember my first salary was ₹ 736’

The actor talks about how ‘Soorarai Pottru’ gave him a chance to relive the days before he entered the film industry

This Deepavali will be a quiet one at the Suriya household. “The new normal,” laughs Suriya over a telephone call.

The actor is gearing up for an unusual festive season. Unlike in previous years when his films would release to much fan frenzy in theatres, his latest movie, Soorarai Pottru, will drop directly on OTT platform Amazon Prime next Thursday. Inspired by the life of Captain Gopinath, the film has Suriya playing Maara, a villager who is a ‘rebel with an idea’, as the trailers suggest. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Why was the story of Nedumaran Rajangam (Maara), whose character is based on Captain Gopinath, important enough to be told to the world?

He [Captain Gopinath] changed the history of the Indian aviation industry. His dream was to make the common man fly, and he made about 30 lakh people fly with a ticket priced at just ₹1. He ensured villages and towns prospered by connecting them with bigger centres. Real India lives in the villages; he made people from there fly and succeed. In fact, he discovered that there was an air strip in Dindigul and many other places. And, he was a school teacher’s son from a simple background, proving that no dream is too big whoever you may be.

So, it’s also a story of hope, essential in the troubled times we now live in…

Absolutely. He said that if you have an iron will and believe in something, God will make it happen irrespective of your social status. I believe in that philosophy, and thought it was important to pass it on.

You worked hard in the garment business before starting out as an actor. Did you recall that phase while portraying this character’s initial struggles?

We all go through this phase once we turn 18, when we start thinking about our future. Questions like who will accept me, and how I will fare in this world start to crop up. I went through that too.

I did not want to follow my father’s [Sivakumar] footsteps in the film industry. I got a job in a garment factory, with my first month’s salary being ₹736, which I got after 18 hours of work every day. I still remember the weight of the white envelope that had that money. I re-lived all those days during the shoot of Soorarai Pottru that charts the struggles of the protagonist.

I also feel that somewhere over the last few years, I became satisfied with the place I am in and was not pushing myself enough. I desperately wanted to respect the love fans were giving me by giving them a film like this. After a long time, I felt refreshed at a shooting spot and experienced a new way of filmmaking. Everybody needs to press that refresh button once a while, and that happens only when you get a challenge. Happiness is facing new challenges.

Was there need to add drama for a cinematic representation of this real-life personality?

Yes. The book we have based the film on, Simply Fly, is 670 pages and we cannot do justice to that material in two hours. We have taken four highlight points. With director Sudha Kongara’s vision, we have added characters coming alive around the protagonist and made it a cinematic experience.

Tell us about the physical demands of this project…

Sudha had a 10-minute confrontation sequence that the protagonist undergoes when he is 18. I am 45 now, and there was no way I was going to play that part! I showed her the CGI work done in Hollywood film Gemini Man, and was hoping she would rope in someone who looks like me for that sequence. But she was insistent that I play it myself. In a span of 27 days, I went through an unhealthy crash diet — that I will not recommend at all — to make myself look like a teenager.

You have played army officers and cops previously. Is there a certain majesty that comes with representing the Armed Forces?

Definitely. They look after civilians in a very protective manner, just like how we would take care of our kid or younger sibling. They are very chivalrous in the way they behave with women. I really wish that each of us experiences life in the Army for a couple of years after schooling. I believe that will bring some order to life.

When you work with senior directors, there is respect and when you work with younger filmmakers, there is fun. How was it with Sudha, who you describe as your ‘rakhi sister’?

She assisted Mani Ratnam sir in Aayutha Ezhuthu (2004). There were sequences that Mani sir would okay, but it was hard pleasing her. She made me feel miserable! She was very close to me but I did not want to do a project with her as I don’t like to mix business and friendship. Her strong outing in Irudhi Suttru (2016) made me change that decision.

Your wife, Jyothika’s Ponmagal Vandhal, released directly on an OTT platform earlier this year and now we have yours. Do you see this as a trend or will things change once theatres reopen?

See, we need to adapt and evolve. It is not about one industry dominating another; it is part of evolution. But we human beings, being social animals, will want to see films in theatres. In future, small-budget, niche films will fill the OTT space and creators will be forced to make better, bigger content for the big screen. Soorarai Potru was made for a theatrical experience… every frame, piece of music and performance was done keeping that in mind. Having said that, we have to move forward and see what best can be done considering the current circumstances.

Many people feel your good-nature and discipline stem from your upbringing. You are a parent now. What advice would you share with other parents?

Both parents have to equally shoulder responsibility of children. You have to open your heart and make them your friends. With everyone having access to phones and laptops today, you don’t know what children are getting into or who is guiding them. They might be at home, but you might have no idea what is happening under your nose. Only if you are friends with your children will they come to you when they are perturbed about something.

Soorarai Pottru will stream on Amazon Prime Video from November 12 onwards

 

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