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Time for clean family entertainers

Playing villain and poking fun at politicians with dripping sarcasm were his forte. Actor Satyaraj in a chat before the release of his latest film "Maran" in which he takes on a completely different role.

SATYARAJ HAS been around the periphery of stardom for nearly 20 years. But somehow he has not been able to get the kind of accolades that his contemporaries like Rajnikanth, Kamalhassan and Vijaykanth received. The actor who started his career way back in the early 1980s as a small time baddie became the number one villain with films like "Nooravathu Naal", "Kakkichattai", "Mr Bharat", "Paayum Puli" and had the frontbenchers rooting for him. He was a stylised villain and his fans wanted to see the sparks flying between him and their hero. After doing 75 films as the arch villain he graduated to hero's role in the early 1990s with films like "PoovizhiVaasalile", "En Bommakutty Ammavukku", "Walter Vetrivel" and many other hits. Later, the critics savaged him for introducing glamour, lewd jokes and double entendre in his films like "Looty". Now Satyaraj wants to shake off that image and do clean family entertainers like "Maran" releasing this Friday. Excerpts from an interview with the soft-spoken actor.

After playing a villain, corrupt politician, angry police officer and lewd playboy, now you are trying to reinvent yourself by doing a mature role with your new film "Maran". Please comment.

It was bound to happen, like good wine. People mature over the years. I thought the time is right for me to play a mature man who is greying. I have also been influenced by an actor like Sean Connery, the former James Bond who has mellowed down and is playing his age with élan in films like "Entrapment". What about our own Amitabh Bachchan? He too is doing roles that suit his age like the one in "K3G" and "Aankhen".

So that means no more playing playboy or angry man roles?

Let us say that I will be looking out for more variety roles that will have little bit of comedy and action, purely for the sake of the box-office.

You were one of the best villains on screen. Why are you not doing such roles now?

Just playing villainy has its own limitations. Those days the audience used to love my `extra fitting' dialogues like the "Thagidu,Thagidu" in "Kakkichattai". Actors like Rajni and Kamal used to encourage me to improvise and come out with punch line dialogues. There was a sort of friendly competition among us on who would get the clap from the audience in the end. But later even after graduating to hero roles, you would find a streak of villainy in my characters. I could never be a conventional romantic hero, except for Bharathiraaja's "Kadalora Kavithaikal".

Have you been bitten by the super-star syndrome?

No. The audience never accepted me as a super star because my forte was always playing an ordinary man who had shades of grey. Films like "Palaivana Rojakkal", "Poovizhi Vaasalile", "Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupadu" and some others were all remakes of Malayalam films of Mammootty and Mohanlal. Both these actors are best in their business and the roles that they portrayed were ideal subjects for me as they had raw human emotions.

Your combination with Manivannan as director worked wonders, especially those films poking fun at politicians and dripping with sarcasms.

(Laughs) Yes, I loved doing those films and movies like "Amaithi Padai". You have to give credit to Manivannan, the way he caricatured Tamil politics. Manivannan is today a busy character artiste and has no time for direction. His son Raghuvannan is being introduced in my latest film "Maran" where he plays the role of my son.

Tell us something about "Maran" and how different is it from the rolesthat you have done in the past?

"Maran" is my 145th film and I play the role of a man in his late Forties with middle class values; who is a clerk in a government office and goes to work in an old lambretta scooter. Sita is making a comeback after 12 years through the film as my wife. The story revolves around how ragging in our son's college effects our life. The film has shaped out well and debutant director Jawahar has done a decent job. My next film "Ramachandra" is also a serious police story.

But in your earlier films like "Looty" there is a lot of double entendre and crude comedy by which you have lost your lady audience. Please comment.

M.N.Nambiar was once the most hated man among lady audience in Tamil Nadu as he was always the bad man in MGR films. Similarly, I too have become the object of hate among them as I did a large number of villain roles. And unknowingly a lot of crude language crept into my films to justify the characters. But I would like to tell the ladies to come and see "Maran" in which a dignified `all new' Satyaraj has evolved.

Has villainy affected your personal life?

No way. I am a happy person and whatever comes in life I take it. My lovely wife Maheswari and my children are my biggest source of strength. My daughter Divya is a brilliant student and is a double masters in Business And Human Resources and has just got admission into the prestigious London South bank University. My son Sibi Raj is also very good in his studies and he is making his debut in films. I am a very contended person and like late John Wayne used to say would love to "die with my boots on."

SREEDHAR PILLAI

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