Interviewer: Annadurai | Camera: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu | Text: Arun
He is one of the most senior figures in the industry, one of the longest surviving heroes. Sathyaraj, starting out as a villain, featuring in some of the most powerful negative roles in Tamil cinema, he graduated to being a hero. Over the years he has created a place for himself, distinguishing himself with a unique brand of humor and sarcasm. But, there is more to Sathyaraj than just humor, as we discovered in Poovizhi Vaasalile, Bommukutti Ammavukku and more recently in movies like Onbadhu Roobai Notu and Periyaar. Talking to the veteran actor, still going strong, we touched upon various facets of his career and life. His future plans, unwillingness to return to negative roles, refusal of some high profile offers and his feelings on the burning Sri Lankan Tamils issue. Read ahead to know more…..

About your current projects

Sathyaraj: I am now doing a film titled Pettai Mudhal Kottai Varai, then there is Sanghamithra and an untitled film directed by Badri fame Arun Prasad that has completed its shooting. Finally, I have a Telugu project. It has been 27 years since I did a film in Telugu. It is the character that attracted me towards Telugu, something like what Amitabh Bachchan does.

"You could equate

my character to

Amitabh Bachchan’s

role in Sarkaar"

You refused the villain role in Sivaji, now you are being a villain in Telugu?

The news that I am doing a negative role in the Telugu film is an absolute fallacy. I no longer fancy villain roles, if I had no problems with doing villain roles then I would have accepted Sivaji. I have already been a villain on screen for a long time before changing over to positive roles. The role in the Telugu film is something like Sivaji Ganesan’s role in Thevar Magan. His character in the film dies before the interval, my character is similar and also has a full length presence in the film. You could equate my character to Amitabh Bachchan’s role in Sarkaar. That’s what made me opt for Telugu in spite of my discomfiture with the language.

About your refusal of roles in Sivaji and Dasavatharam

Yes, I was offered the villain’s role in Sivaji and I did not take it up. I was offered Napolean’s role in Dasavatharam. The thing is that I do not look at the film, the director, or anything else. I look at my character and only if I like it do I take up the role.

Poovizhi Vaasalile and Bommukutti Ammavukku were your best films, can you better them?

I feel that Periyaar and Onbadhu Roobai Notu were better films, so I have already bettered the two films you mentioned. The roles and films that I am considering now are on par with Poovizhi Vaasalile and Bommukutti Ammavikku.

"I was offered

Napolean’s role

in Dasavatharam"

About villains becoming heroes

Yes, the trend has definitely caught on. The first people to bring in this change were me and Rajni sir. If you look at films these days, Prakash Raj does villain characters consecutively and then takes up a soft and beautiful role like the one in Abhiyum Naanum or Subramaniapuram. Then, Sampath recently did the villain role in Polladhavan and now has done a positive role in Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu. In Hindi the trend is even more vibrant where you can see heroes and villain reversing their roles in consecutive movies, that is very healthy. That is catching on even in Tamil. There is no myth that becoming a villain is a one way path and that one cannot become a hero again. In Naanayam, Sibi is doing a negative role and Prasanna is the hero, but both roles are equally important. If you remember films like ’24 mani neram’, Mohan was the hero and I was the villain, but my role was on par with that of Mohan. In ‘Nooravathu Naal’ my role had better footage than Vijaykanth’s or Mohan’s. Naanayam is something similar with Sibi doing a villain character that has a lot of scope. The character will even have a song picturised around him which tells a lot about the character’s importance.

"Like MGR style,

Rajini style or the

M.R. Radha style,

there is a

Sathyaraj style"

About your specialization in ‘lollu’ characters

Cinema has seen many actors, but only very few of them create a distinct style of their own and I am very proud to be one of them. Like MGR style, Rajini style or the M.R. Radha style, there is a Sathyaraj style. That distinctive style came to being when I was doing lollu characters. Even if I have done movies like Onbadhu Roobai Notu and Periyar, it is my ‘lollu’ roles that are greeted with enthusiasm by my fans. Whatever be the character, Rajini is expected to give us some of his signature style, Vijayakanth movies will always give importance to fights because that’s what the fans expect the most.

What is easy for you- comedy or serious roles?

Both are easy for me. Comedy comes innately to me, I do not carry any weights or sorrows in my mind. But even serious roles come easily to me because I always look to satisfy my director, I try to deliver exactly what the director expects of me. I believe that once I am able to keep the creator of a movie happy, even the fans’ acceptance will follow. That keeps me comfortable.

Actors of your generation have graduated to doing senior roles, but you are still a hero!

I am open to all kinds of roles that are offered to me. I am not averse to acting as anybody’s father or something similar. Even 23 years back I acted as Rajinikanth’s father when he is in fact 4 years elder to me, so you should not doubt my courage as an actor. The important thing here is not about what the character is, it is about how much scope it offers to me as an actor, I can be someone’s father, a villain, a comedian or anybody for that matter. I can’t act as someone’s father just for the heck of it, it should have a significance in the story, like in Mr. Bharath, where the story was about the tiff between father and son. Similarly, if I am playing a villain, it should not be just a punching bag to get bashed by the hero. There must be at least a few scenes where my character is highlighted more than the hero, like Kakki Sattai or 24 Mani Neram, the audience must be able to appreciate my performance. That’s what I look for in a role

"23 years back

I acted as


father "

"I was

simply stunned

to observe

the growth of

that toddler,


amazed me"

You have always been profuse in your praise for Vijay!

Vijay’s films are enjoyable, that’s all, nothing more to it. When I go to a function that is associated with a particular hero’s film, I will talk about the strengths of that particular actor, that’s what everybody does. Incidentally, I have attended many functions of Vijay’s movies, maybe that’s why you are feeling this way. Every young hero of this generation is very talented and hard working. Take for instance Suriya. I have been seeing him since the time I entered cinema. I knew his father Sivakumar very well, Suriya was a tiny toddler at that time. Now, when I watched Vaaranam Aayiram, I was simply stunned to observe the growth of that toddler, Suriya amazed me. If I attend any victory function of Vaaranam Aayiram I will definitely speak about all the facets of Suriya. Even for Ajith. I have done a film with Ajith many years back, titled Pagaivan. Now, when I see how far Ajith has come from the days of Pagaivan, it is truly heartening. So, if I have to talk about Ajith, I will recall the Pagaivan days and how Ajith has evolved as an actor. Then, you must not ask me why I am extolling these actors. I feel honored and proud to be in a position to say good things about the new generation of actors.

You have talked highly of Rajni at some protest functions and criticised him at a few other protest functions!

This is proof of how honest and straightforward Sathyaraj is.

About demands for actors to take pay cuts

This has been happening for many years. No actor gets a fixed pay, it depends on the market value of the actor. These are issues that have to be negotiated and settled by the actor and producer concerned. If you take my case, my salary varies a bit from film to film. If the producer is my good friend, then I will definitely consider cutting down my pay, or if I know that the producer has put in a lot of money into the project, I will surely do as much as I can to ease the pressure on him by taking a pay cut. Every actor does the same thing, they take the pay that is offered to them by the producer.

About Nadigar Sangam heads having political ambitions

I don’t see any problems with that. Even in the past, MGR and Sivaji have headed the organizations when they were linked to political parties. No problems have risen because of that.

Do you think the growth of mass media has affected cinema?

I think that the growth of media has helped cinema and media has also benefited from the growth of cinema. But take my word for it, cinema can never be done away with. TV was invented around 100 years back, we now live in a world where every household has a TV with more than 100 channels. But cinema still exists, that is proof enough. My sister is in the USA in a town called Madison close to Chicago, something like Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. Recently a theater complex was opened in the vicinity of her house that has 20 theaters in a single complex. We can’t imagine a world without cinema.

About venturing into direction and production

No, I don’t have any such ideas at this point of time because I am getting enough opportunities to act. If I start direction or production, it will interfere with my acting assignments. So, I am staying away for the time being.

You have lately not been seen in as many functions as before

Maybe of late I have not been able to attend functions because I keep going to my house in Coonoor near Ooty whenever I get time off from shooting, I love spending time on hill stations. That maybe the reason for my absence from some functions.

Will you accept an offer to act with Rajini, Kamal or under KB

Well, if my character is good I will definitely take the chance. Otherwise, I will not think of it as a great opportunity or honor. I always look only at my role and its importance, I have never looked at my co stars or other such things.

About the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils

It is indeed sad, brings tears to one’s eyes. The people and governments of the world must take steps to bring relief to the suffering people. I don’t have any further goals in life, I have lived a full life, got more than what I ever dreamt about. The only thing that I want to do further in life is to be part of the Tamil eelam.

About the varying standpoints taken by political outfits on the Lanka issue

All politicians are equally concerned about the Lankan Tamils. But each of them is bound by circumstances. So, the methods that they adopt to make their protests felt are different. They have to abide by the law, be mindful of feelings and emotions, there are even people who have shown the courage to defy the law and stand up for the cause. Everyone wants to see the amelioration of the suffering of Lankan Tamils. Each person or political outfit adopts their own methods according to their circumstances to make sure that the collective goal is achieved.

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