OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Actor Sathyaraj Interview | The greatest weapon for an actor is being in a place of no image

Actor Sathyaraj opens about his upcoming superhuman film Weapon, the Modi biopic, playing versatile supporting characters and more 

Actor Sathyaraj Interview | The greatest weapon for an actor is being in a place of no image

Last Updated: 10.56 AM, Jun 05, 2024


Sitting in a room a table away from actor Sathyaraj, a thousand questions flashed through my mind. The actor, who has been a prominent face in the industry, seems to have gotten the best second innings of his career, with some uniquely structured roles. The upcoming Tamil film Weapon, which is touted to be a superhuman saga, is one such film for him. Having varied roles in his filmography, contributed by modern-day Tamil cinema, I curiously asked him: What is the biggest weapon that an actor can wield?

“A place with no image. I think I am in that comfortable stage where I can do a Love Today, a Kattappa (from Baahubali), a Periyar, as well as any other character.”

Or even a Narendra Modi biopic, had late filmmaker Manivannan been around?

Sathyaraj laughs and says, “Of course no one asked me. I am not sure if people would have believed the rumour had it been any other actor. But since it was me and my face cut, the similarities could have prompted many to believe that.”

Versatility on a platter

The veteran actor, who started out as a villain and shifted gears and played caped crusaders and heroes, soon transformed into a supporting character artist, whose roles greatly differed from film to film. It was also just a year apart that Sathyaraj played a path-breaking character in Vedham Pudhithu (1987) and a doting adopted father with emotional turmoil in En Bommukutty Ammavukku (1988). Was versatility a salient and empowering feature of the stars then, as compared to the present, where stardom comes from restrictive imagery?

“I think that is because the market and business of a few heroes have grown. So, when the projects they take on also get bigger, the films have to be dubbed so that audiences across the world can see them. It becomes a mandate, which restricts them from indulging in a variety of roles. For example, let’s take Vijay; he has done films like Love Today, Thulladha Manamum Thullum, and Kadhalukku Mariyadhai. They were so successful, too. But now that he is a big star and business has grown around him, he cannot come back to doing such films. Prabhas is another example where he has done a lot of romance films, but after Baahubali, you can only see him in larger-than-life roles. Today’s cinema has become such,” Sathyaraj explains.

The actor also says that producers and actors can't put the projects at risk through experimentation. However, giving the example of Kamal Haasan, Sathyaraj says that the Ulaganayagan has been able to maintain that equation between stardom and the artistry of his craft. “Kamal sir has been able to give us mass hits as well as some rare gems. For every Sakalakala Vallavan, there is a Gunaa and Moondram Pirai he does. It is something very unique for him,” he adds.

Playing supporting characters with a twist

So, has the power of versatility trickled down and been given to supporting characters?

“That is something that can happen only to a few—for those who have already shown some variety. I have already done an action Walter Vetrivel, a comedy in Nadigan, a helpless father in an emotional En Bommukutty Ammavukku, Amaidhipadai, and in fact, in Mani Ratnam’s first film Pagal Nilavu during my 30s, I acted as a grandfather. While I played father to Rajini sir in Mr Bharath (1986), I played father-in-law to Ambika, and I also romanced her in Rasigan Oru Rasigai (1986). Amala played my daughter-in-law in Vedham Pudhithu at the same time when we were paired up in Jeeva (1988). I think this was an exclusive licence that I got, and I am not sure if fans gave such a licence to any others,” he adds.

Did he anticipate such a welcome? Well, Sathyaraj shakes his head and says he never planned such a turn of events. The actor credits his filmmakers and their teams for bringing variety to his films.

Sathyaraj reveals that despite shooting for multiple projects, he remains cool-headed about his roles, with the ability to ease into the character at his beck and call rather than follow long, strenuous methods. “I shot Singapore Saloon and Weapon at the same time. My role in Singapore Saloon provided so much comic relief, and from there, when it comes to the sets of Weapon, we just have to change on the go. Cry when you are given glycerine and laugh when you wash it off (laughs),” he reveals. The actor also says that acting is something that comes off easily to him and denies doing any homework for his roles.


On the Modi biopic

When quizzed about the speculations about him doing a biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sathyaraj put them to rest while adding that if only late director Manivannan or filmmakers like Pa Ranjith, Vetrimaaran or Mari Selvaraj helmed, it would be good. "Firstly, no one had asked me to play Modi, and second of all, I expressed my opinion about these directors because I admire their political understanding. I only expressed that it would be good had these directors helmed the project, but apart from that, I don’t think I want to bring in my personal beliefs into cinema,” Sathyaraj says. 

Giving an example of how he does not believe in God, traditional customs and how cultural beliefs are not fixed but evolving in nature, the actor says, “All these are for men and the elite. Only now are women breaking it and it is the work of many rationalists, including Periyar, Jyotirao Phule and others. We should not squeeze these ideologies into cinema and only see the acting scope in such roles. A few films offer less, and we still may take it up because we may get paid more. It has been 46 years almost, and I think maybe out of 10 films I do, 2-3 of them might give me memorable characters.”

About being composed and yet detached from his roles, Sathyaraj says he “selfishly” wants Weapon to be a success. Why? “To show an aged action hero. Our work might be less but not for the others around us. From stunt directors to post-production work, they work with all their might to make us actors look good. The success of Weapon would mean a lot to the many people who have worked in this film,” says Sathyaraj, whose fame has now reached the pan-Indian level.

Sathyaraj, who says that he usually listens to scripts rather than reading them to get a better understanding, reminisced about the times when filmmakers like P Vasu and Manivannan used to narrate their scripts. “When they cried, we cried along with them as they narrated emotional scenes. When Guhan (Senniappan, the director of Weapon) came to me to narrate the script, I had already seen his film, Sawaari. I liked that movie and to top it off, we got a producer who had spent lavishly on Weapon.”

After 46 years in the film industry, Sathyaraj says that he has seen it all. “There are no roles that Sivaji sir has not played. He had wanted to play Periyar but couldn’t. However, I have done that! However, I won’t let that be a full stop and I will take whatever comes my way in the most jovial manner,” he concludes.

Get the latest updates in your inbox