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A chip off the old block?

A string of successes has enabled Surya to find a firm footing in Tamil tinseldom. His father, veteran actor Sivakumar, converses with him about his career...


SURYA IS popular among Tamil filmgoers. Successful performances all the way from "Naerukku Naer" to "Mounam Pesiyade" have earned him name, fame and quite a few roles in the bargain. Father, veteran actor Sivakumar and son Surya converse about the latter's career in films. Excerpts...

Sivakumar: In my days, getting permission to see a film itself was a difficult task, acting in one was next to impossible. Surya, what decided your entry into films?

Surya: Though television and films are integral to my life, films never influenced me because you never discussed your career at home. Nor was I brought up as an actor's son. Though I was active in the Loyola College Theatre Society, I preferred to remain in the wings. Even before director Vasanth approached me, R. V. Udayakumar asked me to act in films. One day, he brought a video camera and took shots of me, showed them to me and tried to talk me into an acting career. But, I was reluctant because I had not completed my college education. I was then in the textile business. Here, I must acknowledge the fact that you allowed me to take my own decisions.

Sivakumar: At times even famous actors are nervous while close-up shots are being taken. When I met Vasanth, he told me that you were very casual on such occasions.How did you feel when the first close-up was taken?

Surya: On the first day, there were no close-ups. In fact, I did not know where the camera was positioned. Only on the second day were close-ups taken. I had only a few lines of dialogue to deliver. Unaware that my face would be seen close-up on the screen, I complied with the instructions with alacrity.

Sivakumar: Since you did not know what the outcome would be, you were absolutely relaxed. But in our times, we were told that all facial flaws would be visible in a close-up. Director A. P. Nagarajan would, therefore, take close-ups only before 9 a.m. when the artistes would be fresh and full of energy.

Surya: Vasanth used to explain why I had to smile differently in a close-up. Sivakumar: Vasanth belongs to Balachander's school and knows what he is doing. Directors like him will not allow you to do anything that is not needed in a particular shot. "Naerukku Naer" happened to be a Mani Ratnam production. So I did not visit the location while shooting was in progress. Neither did I see the film till it was released. After Satyaraj had seen it, he remarked, "Your son has acted better than you did in "Uyarndha Manithan"." I reminded Satyaraj that in "Uyarndha Manithan", my co-stars were veterans Sivaji Ganesan, Sowcar Janaki, Nagaiya and others. Today, if you do a particular shot well in the first take itself, the director praises you. But, in the past, the only praise we ever got was from the public.When Vasanth and Mani Ratnam sought my permission to allow you to act in films, I told them, "If you think that my son is not capable I won't feel bad as he doesn't know a thing about acting." But they convinced me they were on the look-out for raw talent, someone who did not have preconceived notions about acting. This approach could not have been dreamt of in my days. By the way, when did you see your film, in a preview theatre or along with the public?

Surya: "Naerukku Naer" was screened more than 20 times in a number of preview theatres in Chennai. The director and producer attended the first screening, as all the top actors and technicians were to come that day. I was also invited. The show started but after the first 10 minutes, I was nervous and came out of the theatre without seeing the film or for that matter the other previews. I mustered enough courage to see the movie only at a public screening with my friends. In the intermission, I could hear people shouting "Surya Vazhga."

Sivakumar: How did you train for the dance, song and fight sequences?

Surya: After I was signed, I only 15 days before the shooting. So I learnt the dance steps from Jayanthi and silambam with master Shanker. But, the learning process is a continuous one. Sivakumar: In what ways are the conditions different with regard to the profession now?

Surya: Before coming into the field, I did not realise how hard you would have toiled to make it big. Only now I know what it is like to act in public places. I am also learning how to react to public comments, how to overcome difficulties.

Sivakumar: Those days, the dialogue would be ready at least a day before the shoot. How are things now?

Surya: It differs from company to company. Nearly all the films I am working in now have their script and dialogue ready for the scene a day in advance. We do not get lengthy dialogue now. A maximum of 15 lines. If there is a shot with a lengthy dialogue, the assistant director gives it in the morning for us to memoriseSivakumar: Can you say that you have improved as an actor between your first and second films?

Surya: My first film was "Naerukku Naer". The second was "Kadale Nimmadhi." In the first one, I was told what I should do for each and every shot. But in the second, my acting was natural.

Sivakumar: How do you manage your call-sheets?

Surya: In your days, you acted in at least half-a-dozen films a month. But now, the youngsters do not work like that. I have restricted myself to one film at a time. I have only accepted a few films such as "Kaakka Kaakka," and "Pithamagan".

Sivakumar: One's behaviour becomes one's character as days go by. I am a stickler for punctuality, practise yoga daily and believe in treating everyone equally.

Surya: I hope I follow in your footsteps.

S. R. ASHOK KUMAR

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