Ace Tamil comedian Santhanam on the transition from a comedian to the hero, the overwhelming support he gets from industry and how spirituality keeps him going
You’re finally donning the hat of a hero. Does it feel good to be called a hero?
It feels good to be accepted as a hero. It doesn’t matter what you’re called, but what’s important is whether people accept you as a hero and come watch your films. As long as they do, I don’t have anything to worry about. In my opinion, bringing audiences to cinemas matters the most for the success of any film. My last attempt as a hero in Vallavanuku Pullum Aayudham paid off because people came to cinemas and enjoyed it. The film didn’t succeed because I played the hero; it did because of the good content. The story is the hero.
You’ve brought more people to theatres as a comedian, earned the loudest cheers and applause. You think you can repeat that as hero?
As a hero, you’re expected to do certain things, like look fit, woo a girl, sing duets, fight and wear trendy clothes. In Innimey Ippadithan, my next release, I’ve taken care of all that. Although a hero, I’m still an entertainer at heart and I think even audiences like to see me that way. Even as a hero, all my films are going to be highly entertaining. I’ll avoid taking up any serious subject as I don’t like sending audiences home with a heavy heart. They come to get entertained, at least the masses, and my job is to not disappoint them. The good response to Vallavanuku Pullum Aayudham has given me the confidence to try my luck as hero again. I think people will come to see comedian Santhanam in a new avatar.
Was the transformation from a comedian to a hero tough?
As a hero, the biggest challenge was to dance. Dancing and dancing like a hero are two different things and this I learnt on the sets of Innimey Appadithan. A hero should get the moves right, the body language right. When he dances, audiences should get up from their seats and dance, too. Take the song Dangamaari (from Anegan), audiences loved it and danced along with Dhanush in theatres. As a hero, it’s very important what you wear on screen. I had to hire a stylist to design my look in the movie. I didn’t have to worry about what I wore when I was a comedian, and most of the times ended up wearing anything available on the sets. Now, I need to pick clothes, decide which colour goes well with the scene. Another challenge was fighting the baddies. It was taxing, doing the action scenes with precautionary gear. But this is the price one has to pay to become a hero, especially a commercial one.
If Vallavanuku Pullum Aayudham was your debut as a hero, why’s there so much hype around Innimey Ippadithan?
Show me one film starring an established actor that doesn’t release without hype. Creating buzz around a release is good to draw audiences, but people shouldn’t overdo it. Vallavanuku… was a remake and a much smaller film in terms of budget. Innimey…, on the other hand, is a bigger film with a bigger cast. This is something we created as a team without any reference. Vallavanuku…, though was received well, had the remake stamp on it. People felt it worked because it was tried and tested in Telugu and Hindi. I’ve taken a leap as a hero in Innimey… and I’d like to know if I’ve succeeded in the attempt.
You’re also producing this film. Isn’t it a risky gamble?
It was not because I didn’t find a producer that I decided to produce it on my own. I didn’t want to risk someone else’s money on my film. Also, it was time to take a calculated risk, which paid off the last time. I hope it will again. I’m also introducing my friends, Murugan and Anand as directors. They’ve been my associates, my writing partners for many years. I had promised that I would launch them in one of my films.
What’s more fun – comedian or a hero?
As long as you’re doing something different, it’s fun to be both hero and comedian. It’s been over a decade since I started my career as a comedian and when I realised the need to experiment, I decided to become a hero. When I feel I need to experiment again, I may become a director. But what most people don’t know is that it’s easier to be a hero than a comedian, whose job includes writing better jokes. Comedy can’t be repetitive, it gets boring otherwise. Audiences will lose interest and the jokes won’t be funny anymore. As a hero, if you’re doing action in one film, then you could do comedy in the next. You have the freedom to choose different films. As a comedian, irrespective of the film one’s in, all he’s got to do is make people laugh.
Are you saying a comedian’s job is boring?
No, I would never say such a thing. It’s a gift to make people laugh. Anybody can be an actor but not everybody can become a successful comedian. There are acting schools that can train you to be an actor. Do comedians have such options? Also, most comedians write their own jokes, so you need to know the pulse of the public to write something that’ll make them laugh. As a comedian, my life was getting extremely hectic, barely any time for sleep. I was doing too many films and I needed a breather, slow down and achieve work-life balance. I wanted to spend more time with my family whom I usually meet once or twice a year. By reducing the number of films, it helped me to come with better ideas and jokes. I also wanted to experiment and experience what it’s like to be a hero. When I signed my first film as a hero, I had a few films to bank on. I was prepared to go back to being a comedian if I failed as a hero. Luckily, it worked and everything fell in place. I’ll continue signing up films as a comedian, but mostly opposite actors and directors who are very close, say like Arya, Simbu, Sundar C and Gautham Menon.
Didn’t it upset directors/actors when you turned down offers as a comedian after you decided to become a hero?
Luckily, most people respected my decision and wished me luck. People like Arya suggested things I should keep in mind while working as a hero. It was Arya who recommended that I take up cycling to stay fit, and I’m glad his advice did wonders to me. I don’t think anybody was upset with my decision and even if they were, I couldn’t do much because I had made up my mind about what I want to do for the next few years. And I’m not the only comedian in the industry. I think Karunakaran is excellent, and so are a few others like Soori and Premgi.
It means you’re going to continue playing a hero in your films henceforth…
A lot depends on the kind of reception Innimey Ippadithan will get. I’ve already finalized my next script as a hero. We start shooting soon. Now, I can do one film at a time and wait till its release to decide the next course of action. As I said before, I’m also open to working as a comedian for a few friends. If an interesting project comes along, I won’t mind taking it up.
We hear that you will soon direct a film…
It’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve been discussing it with friends and well-wishers. I’ve already started working on a script, but it’s too early to even talk about it. I don’t want to hurry the process because then it may not come out well. For now, all my focus is on acting. When the time is right, I’ll take up direction. The hands-on experience I’ve had about writing, cinematography and direction over the years is helping me now.
You’re said to be the exact opposite of your screen avatar in real life, calm, composed and spiritual…
I’m an actor, producer and a comedian. I don many hats and each role comes with a lot of pressure. What’s the fun in being the same person in real life as well? Life gets chaotic and that doesn’t do any good. In spirituality, I find inner peace, which is very important in my profession. I find peace in my trips to temples and some special places. I read Osho, it keeps me refreshed.