In this interview, Suriya discusses the rough patch he went through recently, with not-so-unsuccessful films in a row. In particular, the Kaappaan actor is kicked about Sudha Kongara’s Soorarai Pottru, for which he is currently shooting.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Kaappaan was in the making for a long time.
We started working on Kaappaan two years after KV Anand narrated the script. I like stories of human triumph. If I am given a chance to explore issues prevalent in society through cinema, I will take them up—irrespective of whether they send a ‘message’ or not. Even though I am open to working on other kinds of films, stories close to my heart are the ones that introduce a new environment or exciting backdrop to the audience—because not everyone is exposed to them. It’s interesting to know how the unsung heroes (be it a sportsman or cop) lead their lives, overcoming hardships. When KV Anand told me the Kaappaan story, we wanted to show the lives of these unsung heroes and choices they make. The life of a policeman involves a lot of risks and the same goes for those in the army. We shot the film in 60-70 locations all over India. Besides, we visited London and Java Islands, too.
Rajini sir, casually, asked how many movies I have done so far. I told Kaappaan was my 37th film. He jokingly said, “Avlodhana!” Superstar has done more than 160 films and, once, in fact, he had 12 releases around the early 80s. But, that’s not the case anymore. I don’t remember the last time I did two films parallelly (NGK and Kaappaan). The reason is Mohanlal sir. Since he was starting a period drama Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, with Priyadarshan in December, we had to finish Kaappaan shooting fast.
What did you like the most about Kaappaan?
In Kaappaan, we have shown the life of a Special Protection Group (SPG) officer. In India, we have 3000 SPG officers who are human shields for the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, etc. They are around important leaders all the time. SPG guys come from the Home Ministry, not Defence Ministry. I had an opportunity to go to Manesar, which was the first NSG camp, and stayed for three days. These cadets are trained in a way that when a leader is being shot at, their first protocol is not to shoot back in retaliation but save the leader.
Normally, the protocols of other units in the army are to save others and strike the enemy. But for the SPG, their first protocol is to save their leader, even if it means sacrificing their own lives. The next step is to take the leader to the safe-zone and the third one is to attack. For this purpose, the SPG cadet has to be with their assigned leader 24×7 and tend to share an emotional relationship with them. The leader spends more time with their SPG bodyguards than they do with anyone else. This is the backdrop of Kaappaan. It’s an inspiring script.
But the film isn’t just about the SPG officer.
Exactly. KV Anand said I was not the only hero in Kaappaan and I was okay with it. Since the story gave us the scope to highlight a lot of issues, as a team, we were satisfied. There are important characters, besides Kathir (the protagonist). Through Kaappaan, we got a chance to see how the PMO works up-close. All decisions are taken in Delhi where the bills are passed. It’s amazing how 2-3 people make decisions that will impact lakhs of people in the country. I am sure Kaappaan is more than a dramatic action film. We had a lot of loosely-based real-life incidents in the film.
I always believe that reality is more powerful than imagination and Kaappaan essentially attempts to ask the questions – What if an SPG cadet, who is privy to a lot of things happening in the country, rebels? What happens when he breaks protocols? How do you control him? What does he do with the information he has in hand? What are the consequences? Since KV Anand is a photojournalist, he put in intense research work around this project. We got truckloads of information from officers who shared their experiences.
So, you knew Kaappaan was going to be an experimental venture?
Not really, but we did try something new. In Ayan, we showed the lives of small-town smugglers interestingly. KV Anand is a master director when it comes to articulating these ideas and he is my favourite. He meticulously works on his films and doesn’t approach his plot in a cinematic way. At the same time, he knows how to entertain everyone in the movie hall. Ayan is a special film in my career. So is Maattrraan for which we went to doctors to understand how Siamese twins work. We saw surgery footage, among other fascinating things. I always admire filmmakers who go the extra mile to tell their stories.
How was it working with the Malayalam superstar Mohanlal?
Lal sir never makes us feel like he is a big star. We were extremely comfortable in his presence. He says, “I am your anytime friend. I am just a phone call away.” With him, you can discuss anything; not just movies. Lalettan can cook, dance, sing, and even do magic. He is inspiring and a bundle of positive energy.
How did you feel when the plagiarism charges came to light?
It made me angry. How can someone claim rights over something just like that? I am apprehensive to even listen to stories now.
You mentioned that your character in Kaappaan can’t be called a hero or villain.
We come across many bureaucrats. They could be IAS officers, collectors who rebel against the system, state or superiors. Likewise, Kaappaan tells the story of this SPG officer, but the question is if he is a rebel or a rogue.
In an interview, you had admitted you like MGR as a Chief Minister. Do you have a favourite Prime Minister?
Politics is multi-layered and it’s hard to point a favourite. It depends on how leaders rise to different situations and voice their opinions. For me, there is no definite favourite.
KV Anand seems to have a lot of roles for you in a film, be it action or drama.
(Laughs) The kind of work I do in 2-3 films, KV Anand makes me do in one. I like how he pushes me to do my best. KV Anand saw that he could make me do the jovial guy in Ayan. I know he pays special attention to my roles.
KV Anand believes you have become socially-conscious. He said you also insist that you sound politically-correct in films.
I see myself as a responsible actor and I am in a position to do so.
Your recent comments on the Central government’s draft National Educational Policy (NEP) made heads turn.
I know what has been happening around me. People may have different opinions. However, through my NGO, I get to see close to 8000-10000 children, their lives and what they go through. I want to help them. How can I stay silent? I will fight for what I feel is right.
They say there is always a woman behind a man’s success.
When Jyotika and I decided to marry, most celebrity couples were divorced. My father voiced his concern but I knew we would be together. Even though we got married after 5-6 years of courtship, it took us two years to understand each other. (Smiles)