Sivakarthikeyan’s journey as an actor has been characterised by carefully thought-out decisions. But he says there is no such thing. “I ensure that every character I essay is relatable. I don’t think much about the future. I am simply focused on the present and want to keep improving every day. That is what I am looking to achieve. Every day when I get on to the sets, I learn from everyone,” he smiles.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q. Namma Veettu Pillai is your third film with Pandiraj after Marina and Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga.
In Marina, I was one of the many characters. In Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga, there were two heroes. Only in Namma Veettu Pillai, I am the ‘hero’. (Laughs) I auditioned for a role in Marina and the same director has scripted a movie having me in mind. What more do I need? I respect Pandiraj sir so much and life has come full circle.
Q. Were you tense on the release day?
Not really. We knew we made a pucca entertaining film and Pandiraj sir stayed true to the genre. Ask him to make ten family dramas, he can. He comes from a huge joint family. We knew Namma Veettu Pillai would work. There are lots of emotional moments, especially in the last 15 minutes. ‘Sentiments’ always win in movies. Kanaa was a father-daughter story. Viswasam, too. If you YouTube some of the brother-sister videos, you will see the brothers crying inconsolably at their sisters’ wedding. Idhey cinema-la kaamichom-na, drama-va? (If we show the same thing in a movie, you call it drama?) (Laughs)
Aishwarya Rajesh and I played the role of student-coach in Kanaa. Namma Veettu Pillai lies in the same zone as well. Barring two or three scenes, we have not kept anything overtly emotional. Brothers and sisters don’t express their affection openly in most places. This movie helped me relate to my own experience as a brother. Plus, Aishwarya is a fantastic artiste.
Q. Who exactly is Arumpon?
In some places, he was Sivakarthikeyan. In the rest, it was Pandiraj sir. Namma Veettu Pillai revolves around this guy who grew up without a father. The story is about the extent he is ready to go for his little sister. A lot of dialogues resonated with me.
Namma Veettu Pillai has a huge star cast, including the likes of veteran director Bharathiraja, Samutharakani, Vela Ramamoorthy, Natty, Yogi Babu and others.
It was a wholesome experience. I spoke to Bharathiraja sir in his voice. (Laughs) His energy levels are amazing. He had good things to say about my performance. It was a proud moment.
Q. You started as an anchor on television, then ventured into films. After four to five movies, the audience gradually accepted you as a ‘mass hero’. What made you achieve this breakthrough?
During my stint on television, I had several female audience members and followers. That helmed immensely. Further, I pick family-friendly scripts.
Q. When you do such movies, don’t you think you play it safe?
Of course, I do. When you drive on the road, you want to be safe, right? There is nothing wrong about it. You know you have a family waiting at home. The same applies to films. A producer trusts me and invests in me. He should neither be disappointed nor suffer losses.
Q. What about the ‘predictably factor’?
It is okay to expect something and watch a film in a theater. What drew me towards the Namma Veettu Pillai script was the climax.
Q. How do you see your rise as a hero?
To be honest, I was very uncomfortable, as an actor, in my first film, Marina. I knew my timing was correct, the dialogues were good, but felt inferior. Slowly, I started taking ‘calculated’ risks. I am aware that the audience expects certain kinds of films from me, and I want to entertain them. I got an opportunity that I never dreamed of, and I never take anything for granted. I fear the present, and I am working hard to retain things I have got. I focus only on how my films perform. Nothing has changed in me much; just that I feel more responsible with every film. (Smiles) Also, I am not an insecure person. I only compete with myself.
Q. You seem to alternate your films between A, B and C centres. For instance, Mr Local was for the urban-centric crowd. Namma Veettu Pillai is for the rural lot. Your next, Hero is again, an urban-based outing.
(Laughs) Hero was supposed to release before Namma Veettu Pillai. I used to approach my work that way, but not anymore. First, I decide on my target audience. For every film, it keeps changing though.
Q. Do these demarcations matter?
Undoubtedly, yes. The difference will be translated into numbers. Even if it’s not significant, the difference is there. Hero, I feel, will be an all-centre film and I want to do more such projects. Because the intention is to reach everybody—not just B and C audiences.
Q. Your movies fall into a specific pattern. For every three films, there’s a noticeable shift—in terms of the scale and how it gets promoted.
Nobody has asked me this question and it’s something I thought only I noticed. (Laughs) I agreed to do 3, because Dhanush sir called and there were no second thoughts about it. The same happened with Manam Kothi Paravai. Director Ezhil, who has worked with Ajith and Vijay, wanted to make a full-fledged movie with me. I agreed without even reading the script. That was an experimental phase because I was working on three different films and wanted to see which one worked with the audience. Thankfully, it put things into motion and my films became a success.
Then, I did Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga, Ethir Neechal and Varuthapadadha Valibar Sangam. These three were proper solo-hero outings in my second phase; followed by Maan Karate, Kaaki Sattai and Rajini Murugan. It was crucial because it taught me things that I didn’t know about myself. Maan Karate is the reason why kids love me. Kaaki Sattai was an above-average film. I played a cop and touched upon action, but the film proved that even ‘weak ones’ make money. Rajini Murugan was an important film, again, because we thought it wouldn’t be such a big hit, but the audiences loved it. Remo, Velaikkaran and Seema Raja were instrumental in understanding the business of cinema.
I keep evolving with every film. I tried a get-up change in Remo because I felt I looked the same in every film. I tried doing a big commercial film like Seema Raja, which gave me enough confidence.
Q. You are a darling among the family crowd and kids. Despite that, you do films like Mr Local.
I don’t want to call it a bad film. (Smiles) I enjoyed working with Rajesh. He is a wonderful person.
Q. Earlier, you were never able to act subtly. Now, you seem adept at it.
Thank you! Translating emotions from the script to the screen has always been challenging. Since I was doing films back-to-back, I never had time to learn how to be subtle with expressions. I improvised myself only looking at my performances on screen. Previously, I had to check every emotion on the monitor. Now, it’s not the case. (Laughs) To a certain extent, I can gauge how I have emoted. Otherwise, I am my worst critic.
Q. With each interview, you have become more self-aware.
I do it consciously because I realise I am responsible for things I say. Five years ago, I was a different person. I have developed a certain level of maturity over these years. Now, I take a minute to think before answering questions. But that doesn’t mean I am not fun and playful on the sets. (Laughs)
Q. Do you have any superstitions before the release of a film?
I made a point to always catch the first show of my movies in Sathyam Cinemas. Rajini Murugan didn’t even release in Sathyam main screen but went on to become a blockbuster. I don’t break these sentiments myself but it happens on its own.
Additionally, I wake up to my daughter’s photo every morning. That’s my phone wallpaper. I pray to my father’s photo before every time I step out of my house. These two things will never change. It’s a habit and helps me feel positive.
Q. In an interview, you had mentioned a good film doesn’t have to necessarily send out messages.
Absolutely. I stand by it. Namma Veettu Pillai has no message. Yet, it’s a good film and achieves what it sets out to. Hero, on the other hand, has a strong message.
Q. Are you more comfortable working on one film at a time?
I used to be like that but I worked on Hero and Namma Veettu Pillai simultaneously. I didn’t have any problems, per se. I was a little apprehensive, but once I got my hair and make-up done, I was able to switch. Both the directors have written the characters so beautifully and I didn’t have a problem confusing the two.
Q. Do you take your characters home?
I mentioned that Arumpon has a bit of me. Since I am doing a lot of positive characters, it’s not a problem at all.
Q. Has your judgement of listening to scripts gotten better over time?
I don’t listen to a lot of stories because it confuses me. I want the basic idea and the genre of the film first. I know what kind of films I want to work on. I see if the synopsis fits into that zone and proceed.
Also, I have my college friends around me who are brutally honest about what they like and don’t. Their judgements have always been right. We have a healthy discussion, in general. Glad I am surrounded by such people.
Q. How easy or difficult is it for you to say ‘no’ to a film?
Usually, I don’t hurt anybody. I give a reason why I reject a film. I will never say the story wasn’t good. In particular, if a debut director approaches me, I will be extra careful because I don’t want to destroy someone’s confidence.
Q. Don’t you think you lift even an average film to another level?
I believe that is what a star should do. But, I don’t work on a film thinking it’s ‘average’.
Q. Can we see you do any film without a Rajinikanth reference? Namma Veettu Pillai also had one.
(Laughs) I think that has reduced a lot. More than a hardcore fan, I have mimicked Rajini sir so much during my television days. But I have never planned it to happen in films. When people tell my mannerisms are similar to Rajini sir, I take it as a compliment.
Q. How interested are you in the business of cinema?
The only tool to measure a hit film is a collection report. For any movie to even reach a theater, it has to cross the business part. I know how my films are doing in terms of collection. I don’t have a standard remuneration and I change it according to the budget. Also, I don’t understand how people get box-office collection reports on the same day of a film’s release. It’s not possible. Enake rendu naal apram dhaan theriya varum! (I get to know it only after two days!) (Laughs)
Q. You sing, you write lyrics, you have stepped into production, you are an actor. What about moving into script-writing and directing?
I am open to doing it, but not immediately. I have ‘story ideas’, but none of them are full-fledged scripts.