From a television show host to one of the most bankable stars of Tamil cinema, actor Sivakarthikeyan has come a long way with four back-to-back hits. In a long conversation, he opens up on the dream run, being a true-blue entertainer and on comparisons with Rajinikanth, no less
In a short time, you’ve achieved so much with four back-to-back hits. What’s the secret to your success?
I think audiences gave me these hits and not the other way around. I never claim my films will be loved by viewers one hundred percent, but as the percentage increases, so does the success ratio of my films and it goes from a hit to a blockbuster. My last four films reached their target audience and that has worked in my favour. The teams I’ve worked with need to be credited for this. And when I refer to teams, it automatically includes a good script. When I team up with Anirudh or Imman, thanks to their tunes, audiences come to watch my films. Similarly, a good cinematographer ensures I look good on screen. I think success of any film boils down to a good team. Moreover, I do simple films of the kind audiences can sit back and enjoy.
Your films are high on comedy content. Do you consciously choose such films because they’re a safe bet?
I admit my films are high on comedy, but the percentage varies from film to film. If you take Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga, the last 15 minutes are highly emotional. In Ethir Neechal, the second half shifts gears and tries to inspire audiences, while Varutha Padatha Valibar Sangam is an out-and-out entertainer. After these three films, audiences expected me to something more colorful and stylish. They wanted to see me dance in exotic locations and that’s why I did Maan Karate. I came from television to cinema with the comedy tag, and therefore, I had to be conscious about the kind of films I chose to do. I wanted to check if audiences accept me as the guy who entertained them on television when I entered films. My next film Kaaki Sattai is more serious than all my previous films, but it’s laced with comedy too. I want my transition to other kind of roles to be very gradual.
But do you think you can do a film sans comedy?
I really need to think if I can do a film without comedy. But I think Kaaki Sattai will offer audiences a different experience, quite contrary to my previous films. Except Ethir Neechal, I’ve played an unemployed wastrel in all my other films, but all that has changed with Kaaki Sattai. I’ve attempted something new in my career. The elements audiences associate with my films, say songs, romance and comedy, has also been packed in it to make it a wholesome entertainer. The response to this film will decide the kind of films I can do next.
You had said earlier you never saw yourself as an action hero. Is that why you’re more comfortable doing comedy?
My initial perception about myself before I started acting was limited to comic roles and playing hero’s friend. I even did films such as Marina, 3 and Manam Kothi Paravai with that perception. I never wished to see myself in any particular role and assumed it’d be safe if I play a hero’s friend as I’d get to feature throughout a film. Incidentally, audiences, directors and producers gave me a different path to chose and entrusted me with the opportunity to play lead characters in Ethir Neechal and Maan Karate. The response to the trailer of Kaaki Sattai, which is high on action, has given me a lot of confidence. I think how you portray a hero in an action role makes a lot of difference. When we decided to do Kaaki Sattai, we tried to address two questions – whether this will be a satire on police story and as an action hero, how much of action I’m allowed to do because audiences have only seen me in comic roles. We tried to strike a balance and I think it has worked, going by the positive buzz the trailer has created.
You wanted to be a police officer in real life like your father. Were you emotional when you did Kaaki Sattai?
My folks always wished to see me in khaki. When the film was initially offered to me, I should agree I was little skeptical. I couldn’t accept the offer instantaneously and took my time to give the nod. 20 days into the film’s shooting, I had to don the khaki. And that moment was very emotional and it really seemed like I was taking charge as a cop. It brought back memories of my father and I wished he was there to see me play this role.
Do you agree police roles undeniably give heroes the kind of stardom not many other roles offer?
Unlike other roles, police characters provide respect to actors on screen. Right from the film’s title to wearing the uniform, there’s a sense of pride in playing a policeman. When we titled our film Kaaki Sattai, we were worried if audience will mistake it as a remake of Kamal Haasan’s classic. But given the story, we felt the title was relevant and it created some kind of force one can associate with. Police roles also create a sense of curiosity among the audience. If I’m going to be seen as a cop, audiences are curious to know how have I looked and performed in the role. And when cop stories become successful, the actor who played the titular role is celebrated. Look what Kaakha Kaakha did to Suriya and Saamy to Vikram.
With multiple hits in your kitty, have you reached a point where you suggest changes in the scripts you come across?
I strongly believe in the team I choose to work with. With Kaaki Sattai and my next film Rajini Murugan, I’ve teamed up with directors I’d already worked, so they’ve taken up the responsibility to raise the bar. They know very well what will work and what won’t for me. I let my directors know much in advance about things I’m uncomfortable with doing on screen, say smoking or lip-lock sequence. And directors who’ve already worked with me are aware and they’d never force me to do all this. When these things are taken care of and if I like the script, we go ahead and start shooting.
Let’s talk about your friendship with Dhanush and Anirudh. What makes you guys tick?
It was the film 3 that brought us together. On the sets, I always distanced myself from Dhanush sir, but he’d call and make me sit next to him. We’d talk for hours and eventually that strengthened our friendship. With Anirudh, I share a stronger bond because we kind of started our careers together. We both debuted in 3, and Ethir Neechal gave us our first major hit. The three of us are the kind of guys you can find in your neighborhood. We discuss about everything that happens around us like any group of friends. Our friendship goes beyond cinema and the industry. Both Anirudh and I have immense respect for Dhanush, because he gave us our first break. I still refer him as ‘sir’ because I consider him my senior. More than friendship, it’s the understanding that we have for each other brought us together. Dhanush sir is the producer of Kaaki Sattai, and he still doesn’t know the story of the film. We had decided to work together after Ethir Neechal, and it happened and he came on-board as the producer. Anirudh and I have a similar equation when we work together.
And you guys have maintained a relationship without ever feeling greedy about each other’s success…
Anirudh and I have always maintained some respect for Dhanush sir. Our success is always associated with our films. As an actor, I feel he’s much better and quite senior and I always place him above me. I’m crystal clear about this fact and it has allowed us to enjoy a very healthy relationship. He’s involved in my growth as an actor and I can never forget it. Despite being an actor, he launched me in a lead role in Ethir Neechal. Anirudh and I never discuss about who’s responsible for the success in each other’s lives. I believe one of the reasons of my films’ success is his tunes and he thinks otherwise. When we openly discuss like this, there’s no room for ego or greed in our friendship. Even when we came together for a song in Ethir Neechal, nothing was planned in advance. Dhanush sir felt it’d be nice if we danced together in a song. He brought Nayantara on board and everything else just fell in place.
Going back to your days in television, how did that experience help you grow as an actor?
I’m used to talking and sharing the screen with a lot of people in the shows I’ve hosted. This has made me very comfortable to work with other actors in my films and not worry about losing screen presence. For instance, I’ve never worried about working alongside Soori throughout a film because it all boils down to its success and doesn’t matter if the spotlight is not on me. I also need to credit the television experience for the spontaneity with which I act.
Too early days, people have started comparing you to Rajinikanth, no less.
I don’t even appreciate being compared with my contemporaries. I’ve chosen a path not many would choose to enter cinema. I started as a mimicry artist on television and then went on host shows, dance in competitions and finally started my career in films by playing the hero’s friend and eventually emerged successful as a solo lead. It’s unfair to compare me with legends like Rajini sir. I’ve heard comments that I resemble him in some posters and I can only feel happy about it. But I’ve never tried to take his position or consider myself his successor. It’s like comparing Virat Kohli with Sachin Tendulkar. No matter how well any player plays, nobody can replace Sachin, and we all know that. I also feel you can’t compare me with, say Ajith sir or Vijay sir, because they’ve been around for nearly two decades and I’m just three years old. I compete with myself and try to raise the bar with each film.
All eyes are now on Kaaki Sattai…
As we have already discussed, this role gave me the opportunity to change so much about myself. I’m used to playing comic roles but to suddenly play a cop came with a lot of challenges. The challenges were as simple as standing erect and making eye contact. This is the first time I’ve done action in my films and it was decided right in the beginning that it will be portrayed realistically. The most challenging part about doing action, especially as a cop, was delivering the required look. I struggled to carry the body language required for a policeman. Kaaki Sattai will be a tribute to all the cops who passed away while on duty and their families.