Suriya: Jyotika and I are game for a film, if the script is right
Suriya discusses his upcoming film, Jai Bhim, and elaborates on why he believes in speaking up on social issues
Following the stupendous success of Soorarai Pottru, Suriya returns with Jai Bhim, which, on the looks of it, seems to rival his previous film in intensity. Considering that the Hindi remake of Soorarai Pottru has been officially announced, the conversation began with addressing his contribution to it. “We are all happy to be a part of it. The writing for the remake is currently happening. I will soon share an update on it. Nalla vishayangal koodiya seekiram varum, appo solren," says Suriya, flashing his signature smile.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The promotional material for Jai Bhim looks hard-hitting.
The intention is to tell a new, true story that has not been said before. We have made all attempts to make that the story feels honest. Be it the courtroom drama, showing a high court atmosphere in Tamil cinema, life in 1995, or the true incident on which the film is based, we have tried to make it compelling. Chinna eye-opener-a irukka vaaipu irruku. The film will also be a celebration of the unsung heroes around us, as it speaks of lawyers and what they can do and how one individual can be a disruptor. Biopics inspire us and I have heard people saying that Kaakha Kaakha or the Singam films have changed their philosophy. These films give us more responsibility to get things right and discuss topics that haven't been discussed before.
For instance, we haven't had many films touch upon the livelihood of the Irular or the Kuravar community. This film was a beautiful journey with director Gnanavel. It was Chandru sir's real-life incident that gave us the story. We had beautiful actors playing the part and I think we have put together a wonderful story. I believe that true stories will ring true changes in our society. That’s the intention behind making Jai Bhim.
The courtroom in Tamil cinema is usually shown in rather exaggerated fashion. How have you approached it in Jai Bhim?
Ippadi appadi kai-a thooki na pesura mathiri, padathula paaka mudiyathu (laughs). I don't pace from side to side as we are often shown to do in such scenes. Arguments in the court are presented as they happen in reality. I don’t overpower characters for the sake of it. We wanted the film to be as close to reality as possible. In fact, I think despite all our attempts, we have only shown about 30 per cent of what happened.
It sounds like it must have been tough to get into the skin of your character. Can you elaborate on that?
You come in with a lot of emotional baggage when you're doing such a film. How did an incident like the one we speak of in this film, happen? How did they live life like this? How did they move forward? What hope and belief did they have? How did they challenge such a powerful system in a way it was not done before? Bringing those answers to the screen was a challenge for me. The responsibility to be honest about those events was there too. The cast and crew believed in the story, and all actors have lived their roles. Lijomol and Manikandan stayed with the community and did everything with them right from sweeping, hunting to eating and sleeping in their houses which had no electricity and basic amenities. The people too considered them to be one of them.
Also read: Jyotika: My films must make women feel respected
Soorarai Pottru worked for your fans who expect mass cinema, despite little dilution in content. How does Jai Bhim address this balance?
Soorarai Pottru didn't have a single action sequence but managed to be entertaining and engaging. You remember certain films for a certain impact—like Moondram Pirai and Mahanadhi. It's not necessary to always have comedy, dance, and fight sequences to make a film resonate with fans. It all comes down to what you are trying to say, how the film is made and how engaging it is. Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru, Kaithi and many such films don't fall into the regular movie template, but still had great connection with the audience. Jai Bhim too won't fall into a template category but will have many takeaways.
The film seems to speak about oppression of a group of people, and yet, you are also bankrolling a film like Viruman directed by director Muthaiah, whose films are known to have casteist undertones.
We cannot stop people from having different opinions. For me, it is all about the intention. Every film is done with a true intention, and we definitely don't want to put somebody in an uncomfortable situation. We don't see that question arising with Muthaiah's project. We are all cautious and concerned about that film, which we believe to have a lot of layers. Muthaiah sir too is a person who doesn’t have wrong intentions. There are so many people in the team to make sure there are discussions if there are any areas of concern. It all comes down to whether we are seeing the whole white paper or just a black dot in it, so all that matters is who is talking what and from what perspective. I believe that the intentions are clear and genuine when it comes to Viruman.
Speaking of social impact, you have not shirked from lending your voice for topics like NEET and the Cinematograph Act. Are the films you choose these days an extension of your evolution as a person over the years?
Yes. The way we see the world, relationships and everything else when we are 22 years old is different from how we see it after we get married. Marriage has made me see many things in new light. Being in a joint family with a woman who has had to leave her home… it’s an experience that will make you understand a lot that cannot be learned by seeing films or reading books (smiles). You then develop your own set of values. These can change when you become a parent of a girl child, or when you do business or as you grow old.
At 40, you see life and profession differently. They say that silence is the worst form of violence. When something happens in a subject close to me, like education, on which we have the facts on ground reality, I think it’s important to have a dialogue. If someone is doing something, a rival who raises the right questions and engages in a healthy conversation becomes important. Criticism need not always be negative; it can be positive and bring in positive changes. Based on that understanding and how articulate I know I can be on topics that are close to me, I try to do that.
Coming back to films, after Jai Bhim, you have got Etharkkum Thunindhavan which sounds like a commercial entertainer.
We have an audience for many types of films. It’s like having diet food in the morning and biriyani for lunch… (smiles) I think we need many kinds of sensible entertainment. I want to give to all and be available for all types of audiences. I connect with all genres.
You are one of the few actors in the top league who are active on social media, and surely, you must not be new to the topic of fan fights. Even recently, a section of your fans seemed unhappy about you releasing the teaser of a certain film. How do you react to such outpouring of dissatisfaction?
I'm here only because of my fans who have poured their trust and unconditional love for me and been with me through my highs and low. I believe that I have also been with them by giving films they expected. I always ask them to never get into the 'who is right and who is wrong' debate, when something happens. When I see even fans of other actors getting into fights, I commonly tell, 'Namba anbave iruppom'. Perhaps an angry fan is a bad situation and let us just hope that they surpass that little negativity in their mind. I am aware of what I'm doing, and what can I say if some aren’t happy that I’m thankful to someone or helping someone out? (smiles). It's a small group of people, who, without analysing what others are saying, act with a mob mentality. I believe this too shall pass. At every age, we get stuck somewhere and eventually come out of it. My fans need to like me for who I am… Helping people out and being grateful for help I receive, no matter from whom, is what makes me, me.
In Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, you make a lovely point about how a person’s height doesn't matter, and how what matters is how high a person rises in life. How important do you think an actor’s responsibility is in breaking social prejudices?
I think we are all doing it. I believe that issues that emerge from people’s prejudices, beliefs, and morals, create bigger problems than those that stem from a reading of the law. We all live in a diverse society. Our superstitions and wrong upbringing have created many problems. To break them is necessary. We must talk about what men and women are being asked to do and not to do. Those who have undergone positive change must pass it on. It reminds me of a line from the same film, “Valiyavargal eliyavargala mela thookividanum, nambikai kudukanum, positivity share pannanum.”
Many fans are eager to see you and Jyotika do a film together. Is there something coming up on that front?
I'm not a director or a writer. I'm a producer who makes films I believe in. All I need is a good script, and no, it cannot be just another film. We have done a number of films, and this script must be something different and also excite us at the same time. Should that happen, sure, we will be game. Engaloda payyanum, ponnum paakura mathiri, oru padam seekiram pannuvom (smiles).