Second chances in the film industry are hard. Yet, something about Silambarasan makes fans and even producers root for him despite box office failures and the constant controversies that surround him. He has been in the eye of several disputes from being accused of unprofessionalism to insubordination. However, the child artist-turned-star, who has been facing the camera for the past 38 years, always finds a way to bounce back. After a prolonged period of lull, he delivered a blockbuster, Maanaadu. He went through an incredible physical transformation losing oodles of weight for the film. From the interaction ahead of the release of his upcoming film Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaaduone can sense that the transformation is not just external.
Excerpts from the interaction:
A lot of hype has been created around Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu, especially with the grand audio launch in contrast to the low-key promotions of your previous film.
After Osthi (2011), this is my first film to have such a huge audio launch event. We had to do it on such a big scale because this is not a film with many stars nor is it a commercial entertainer. The film is realistic. Creating a buzz around it was necessary, and we have been successful with it. I am happy.
Tell us about the story of Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu. What is it about?
It is based on the story of a real person. Writer Jeyamohan had written the script based on a guy. After finishing half of the story, he met the person to get more inputs to finish. This film is for all critics like you, who keep asking ‘stars’ to make quality films instead of masala entertainers. The movie needs encouragement from you all. This is not a film where the hero sends goons flying in the air. It doesn’t have an invincible hero. You all question how the hero is not getting hurt or shot at in the movies, right? This film is not that kind of a movie.
What’s the difference between other gangster films and Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu?
We have seen films about immigrant workers in countries like Dubai, but they are mostly typical commercial entertainers. This movie is about one such immigrant labor who goes to Mumbai. It will have fights, but it will be like how normal people fight. We haven’t included a fight or romance, they are already in the story. I think this is a new commercial film. Sarpatta Parambarai had fights but they were in line with the theme of the film, which is boxing. That’s what I am talking about when I say realism. If the film succeeds, big stars might come forward to make more such realistic films. Imagine Subramaniyapuram with Ajith sir and me playing the roles of Sasikumar and Jai. I am hoping for such a change in the cinema.
There are certain expectations when you and director Gautham Menon team up. Will the film live up to them?
Initially, Gautham and I were supposed to team up for a romantic film of sorts called Nadhigalil Neeraadum Sooriyan, but I wanted to do something different from the typical Gautham-Silambarasan movie. Also, instead of doing a remake or a reboot, which seems to be the trend, I wanted to do something unique. The success of Maanaadu, which is an experimental sci-fi film, gave me courage. If it hadn’t worked, things would have been different. Yet, people got the film. Also, since the pandemic, people’s taste in cinema has changed.
Will you call this your toughest collaboration with Gautham Menon?
I wouldn’t say I had a hard time acting in the film. The real struggle was to make sure that Silambarasan, the star, was not seen anywhere. We had to work on that a lot. I had to fight like a normal guy. We had a long, single-take action sequence. When you see the film, you will not be able to say when the fight started or what’s happening. It will be messy like reality. While shooting it, I completely lost it.
How did you prepare for the role of Muthu? Did you have anyone as a reference?
Sivaji Ganesan sir once said he used to observe everyone he meets and whenever he met someone with a peculiar demeanour, he would memorise the body language for later use. I started doing the same. I didn’t have one person as a model for the role, I took inspiration from many workers I have met over the years. Also, working with Gautham is easy. He is not hellbent on getting the dialogues exactly the way it was written. He perceives small mistakes or slips in the dialogues as realism and lets them be.
You have undergone an immense physical transformation. Tell us about the journey
It is not something I am doing for the first time. For Silambattam, I beefed up for the dad’s role, and I have been doing similar things for my other films also. But a few years ago, I was in a different headspace where I didn’t want any of this, and that’s when I put on weight and couldn’t take care of myself. Now, for Maanaadu, I lost a lot of pounds, and people asked me to put on weight because I looked so thin. But Gautham wanted me to look like a 19-year-old guy. So, I had to lose weight again. Now, for my next film Pathu Thala, I have to get more rugged. So, it is a constant evolution.
Why put yourself through such a risky transformation?
When Gautham told Jeyamohan that I am playing the lead, the latter asked not to rope me in the film. The movie was about a small-time labourer and he didn’t want a star to play the role. His point was that the audience should only see Muthu, not Simbu. I told Gautham that I will change myself and asked them to take a call after the transformation. And when Jeyamohan saw me at the photo shoot, he told me I looked like one starving person. See, I didn’t lose just fat, I lost my muscles too. A great opportunity has come my way. I didn’t think about the commercial aspects of the film. Even well-made masala movies are failing these days. I wanted to do something original. That’s why the effort.
Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu part 2 was in pipeline all along or is it something being done to keep up with the trend?
The plan was there all along, but we chose not to talk about the sequel. We thought we will talk about it if the film becomes a hit. Later, we thought it would be a nice move to leave the audience with the hope that the story will continue and decided to give a lead to the second part.
Will there be a Maanaadu 2 too?
Like I said, a sequel to any film depends on the success of the first part. So, given the success of Maanaadu, there is a high chance for a sequel. The time, good script, and other factors should coincide for that to happen. Let’s see.
We are seeing an immense change not just in the external appearance but with your choice of films and words.
It is just the natural process of ageing, I think. I would have been a different guy when I was young, but over the years, the things that I experienced have made me the person I am.
You have been acting since childhood and have seen an equal amount of successes and failures. What is the driving force now?
I am not in a place where I do things chasing a place or a certain position in the industry. I have learnt a lot from cinema. Now, I want to do what naturally comes to me with sincere effort. If that takes me to places, I will be grateful for that.