Hero, villain, and everything in between
Thambi Ramaiah, who recently starred in Vinodhaya Sitham and Enemy, talks about working with his frequent collaborators Samuthirakani and Siva, his acting process, and more
Interviewing celebrities is, to borrow a quote from Forrest Gump’s mother, a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. With Thambi Ramaiah, for instance, there is not a single dull moment. When asked about his debut as a lead hero in the recent film, Vinodhaya Sitham, he breaks into a song. When discussing his acting process despite playing similar characters, he provides a live-action demo that involved me in the scene. “You interview a lot of people, and I give a lot of interviews. So, I must ensure people remember this as a unique interaction. Every single time I interact with anyone, I want them to go away with the satisfaction of having a distinct memory of it. This is an extension of what I do in films as well,” he says.
The Samuthirakani Continuum
While there is no doubt that it was Mynaa that established the importance of Thambi Ramaiah as an actor, it is his collaborations with Samuthirakani that made him a household name. In fact, Thambi Ramaiah has played the same character, Singaperumal, in three films with Samuthirakani, and it was the latter who once again gave him another opportunity, this time as a lead actor with the ZEE5 film, Vinodhaya Sitham.
“Imagine being as busy as Samuthirakani, and still finding time to write a film like Vinodhaya Sitham. On a personal level, it was a tough time for me as there was a death in the family, and Samuthirakani was apprehensive about approaching me for the role of Parasuraman. But I reached out to him and told him that art is the true medicine for my pain,” says Ramaiah. “If my search for life’s questions was satiated by Prabhu Solomon, the search for my life’s meaning has been completed with this Samuthirakani film.”
Thambi Ramaiah wears his heart on his sleeve and the words he uses, while discussing Samuthirakani or films, including Vinodhaya Sitham, might seem a tad dramatic, but there’s no doubt his responses are genuine. “I saw a younger brother in Samuthirakani earlier. Now, after this film, I see him as a father figure. As a fan of cinema, I am awed by how he has understood my strengths in acting and extracted such a performance from me. In fact, he is surprised that he made such a film, and I am surprised that I acted like I did. It is divine intervention. In an industry that has seen the likes of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Rajinikanth, and Kamal Haasan having the top billing in a film, now, I have been given a similar experience. I don’t even know how I can repay Samuthirakani.”
The Siva Trilogy
The importance of a blockbuster is pronounced for a supporting actor because their place in the industry gets determined by the success of their choices. One of the constants in Thambi Ramaiah’s career has been his presence in director Siva’s films. An interesting facet of the actor’s collaboration with the director is how the duration of his screen space has increased with each film. Both Veeram and Vedhalam feature him for a few scenes in the second half, with the former leaving us in splits and the latter in tears. “If my role becomes memorable despite the short runtime, it is not just about my performance, but also the space and content given to me by Siva. He is a wonderful actor himself and gives enormous belief to his actors. As a filmmaker, he’s calculative and shoots only those scenes he knows will make the final cut,” says Thambi Ramaiah, adding, “In Viswasam, I got a promotion as an actor. If you notice carefully, I might not have many dialogues, but I am the representation of the happiness, loneliness, and strength of Thookudurai (Ajith Kumar).
Acting, the Process
Starting out as a writer, and then a filmmaker, and finding a niche in acting eventually, Thambi Ramaiah is one of the few National award winners from Tamil Cinema. After being a part of comedy tracks in films, it was his serious turn as a cop in Mynaa that made audiences sit up and take notice. “Right from my directorial days, I had the confidence that there was an actor in me. My producers and actors too felt I had an expressive style of narrating my scripts. My body language, my expressions, and my verbal style would change with each of my roles. But yes, it was Prabhu Solomon who first believed in my potential to carry a full-fledged role,” says Thambi Ramaiah, who explains that his decision to work with newcomers is to learn new perspectives on his performances. “If a role requires that I be arrogant with a star like Ajith Kumar, then I have to believe my character has the scope to. I don’t do such roles to boost myself. It is all about the role and its place in the film.”
A voracious reader and writer, Thambi Ramaiah ascribes his acting style to his observational skills and his love for people. “Acting comes from a place of love for the people. I love people. I observe them. Also, I take characters from books I read and the people I meet. Taking characters from society helps make them relatable. It is important to understand the power of our craft. The effort to secure a place in the audience’s heart should be there till the end. I am blessed with the opportunity of regaling so many people, and I need to make the best use of it.”