Interviewer: Inian & Annadurai | Camera: P. Ganesh Babu | Text: Jyothsna
Villainy in films is as equivalent and powerful as heroism. In Tamil film industry, Sathyaraj brought in a new dimension to villains by way of dialogue delivery and body language. He broke all the myths that villains held in the field. Since then antagonism is undergoing a dynamic metamorphosis in Kollywood and we have been swamped with many handsome villains these days. Sampath Raj is one such fine-looking gentleman (off screen) who has become a pet peeve especially with women. Starting his career in Neranja Manasu with Vijaykanth, this villain has come a long way and is creating a niche for himself in the field. Meet Sampath Raj, our guest for this week.

How did you begin your career in Tamil films?

Sampath Raj: My first film is Neranja Manasu with Captain Vijaykanth directed by Samudirakani of Nadodigal fame. The film was produced by GJ cinema. It was a big budget film with a big star cast and I have done a dual role of father and son. I had huge expectations as I was debuting as a villain in a big film. However, on the third show of the first day, it was declared a flop. That was my first experience. The reason why I am saying this is, though the film did not

" On the third show

of the first day,

it was declared a flop "

do well, I got a call from almost six to seven directors like Perarasu, Saran, Ravi and others who promised to use me in their films. After this, the first opportunity was given to me by Vijaykanth in his film Perarasu. He remembered me and sent word through someone to play a small role in the film. I appreciate the trust and faith he had on me and his encouraging spirit. Later, director Perarasu kept his promise and gave me a small role in Tirupathy with Ajith. If not a big break, this film for me can be termed as a decent break in my career. Later, Hari called me for Thamirabarani and that’s how my journey in Tamil films began.

What were you doing before entering film industry?

I am from a media background. I worked in the advertisement industry for 14 years. I was involved in the making of many ad films and jingles. My love for cinema has brought me to Chennai. Before doing Neranja Manasu, I had done two Kannada films. My second Kannada film got a national award in which I played the role of heroine’s father. After meeting me at the press meet, the media reported that I was after all young and not old as in the film. Naganna, a big director in Kannada who had given five super duper hits called me aside and was talking when I got a call from home. He heard me talk in Tamil and realized that I am a Tamilian settled in Bangalore. Through Naganna, I got to know Baba Venkat and Gnanavel who called me for a photo shoot in Chennai and that’s how I landed here.

Your experience of working with leading stars

My biggest unforgettable experience in the film world is that I was fortunate enough to work with the person who I have never even dreamt of seeing in real life. She is none other than Achi Manorama. My first day shoot was at Udumalpet and I saw Achi, Vijaykanth sir, Vinu Chakravarthy and many such stalwarts at the shooting spot. I was very nervous but at the same time had confidence in me. In spite of this, I was wondering what if I make a fool of myself in front of so many people. Captain and Vinu Chakravarthy shook hands with me and wished me luck. But Achi just smiled. Immediately, I went to her and fell at her feet. I was so moved and told her that it is only because of my mom’s good deeds that I am standing before her. She hugged me and gave her blessings. She said, “Something tells me that you would do well. Don’t ask me what makes me say this.” Her words were so encouraging that I felt buoyant and pumped up from inside. My chest became so enlarged and my first take itself was Okayed. Three hundred people applauded and I did not know what was going on. I could feel blood rushing to my head and thought I was going to burst open. I went directly to Achi and said that it was her words that made me deliver. Like this, I have met many people in the industry who have encouraged me.

Your friendship with Venkat Prabhu

I have met many people in the film world but I have one very special friend with whom I can discuss anything from my personal problem to professional issues. He is Venkat Prabhu. He has been my friend from the Neranja Manasu days and he played the role of my younger brother in the film. I had around 2000 scripts and he had 10000 scripts. We used to discuss about them and had lofty ideas in film making. Today, I am very happy and proud that he is leading in the race. He is on his way to make a hat trick victory and I am confident Goa would be successful.

Can you tell something about scenes where you have not used a body double?

" Kaadalil Vizhunden

had the riskiest shot "

Till date, I have done my own stunts. In Tirupathy, I have done a 40-feet jump into a furnace. Kaadalil Vizhunden had the riskiest shot where in the pre-climax we had a winch sequence at a height 1600 feet from the ground. The winch had been constructed by the British seventy years back. I have a vertigo problem and cannot look down from heights. I could not discuss about my fear with anyone. I just told Nakul in case something happens to me; he needs to take care of my ten-year-old daughter.

Don’t you think that your negative image may not go well with the audience?

No. Today’s audiences are very clear. They know what is real and what is reel. When I do a negative role, they know it is only my performance on screen. To mention an example, I met a family in City Centre. The wife came to me and said that she did not like me going behind a young girl in Seval and felt too embarrassed. When I asked the husband if he felt that way, he said that his wife is a big fan of mine but did not like my act in the film. This is a positive approach. Usually, villains will

" I will not hit a

pregnant woman "

have more of male fans but in my case I have more of women fans. Although they appreciate my negative performance, they still feel that I should not do certain things. Personally, there are two things that I tell all my producers and directors. I will not hit a pregnant woman and will not rape young girls in the age group of 10 to 14.

It is the usual norm to give more action sequences to hero than the villain. What is your take on this?

" Cinema is

hero oriented "

You are right in a way. Cinema is hero-oriented because he brings in money and it is he who carries the film on his shoulders. If a film fails, hero and the director only take the brickbats and not a villain or the supporting cast. As the hero takes on such a huge onus, he needs to be given that distinction. It is only natural and fair.

How do you deal with unrealistic stunt scenes?

I am currently working in Aranya Kandam with Jackie Shroff. The stunt choreographer had designed a particular action sequence which I felt will not be in tune with my age but would go well with someone younger. But he explained saying that a person when pushed to an extreme situation to save his life, would do anything. I liked this reasoning. The stunt master gave me a DVD of just a single shot in a Russian film to reiterate his analysis. I felt he was right and did the shot. If I am not convinced about a shot I will not do it.

You do films like Saroja and also Pidichirukku. Which ones you prefer?

" This is cinema and

I am just a character "

This is cinema and I am just a character. What gives me happiness is that director of Saroja wanted to cast me and so did Pidichirukku’s director. This only goes on to show the confidence and trust of the director that I can essay any role.

Aranya Kandam and working with Jackie Shroff?

I have enjoyed and appreciated Jackie Shroff since my college days. He was the first one who broke the Bollywood image of a clean shaven hero and appeared rugged, unkempt and stole many a hearts. Jackie Shroff is such a simple and a jolly man and has absolutely no airs about him. I am lucky to act with such a star.

" Jackie Shroff is

such a simple and a jolly man

and has absolutely no airs

about him"

" Story is the big hero

in Varnam "

What is Varnam all about?

It is the production of a software company. When they called me I thought it would be a stylish film and expected it to be shot in the US. I went to their office and met the director. He told me that he had run an office in the US and lived there for more than 18 years. This boosted my confidence that the film will certainly be

shot overseas. He slowly started saying that it is on the backdrop of Madurai. I was completely flabbergasted. That aside, the film is an intense one with no big star cast. Story is the big hero in Varnam. It is a bold subject which has not been touched upon hitherto in Tamil cinema. I have absolute confidence in Varnam.

What made you accept newcomer Saroj Pandit’s Porkkalam?

When you watch the film, you will understand my reasons for accepting it. It is not a regular genre film; it is not a regular hero film or for that matter it is not even a regular action film. Every frame in Porkkalam will be different. I liked Saroj’s way of narration. I started visualizing my character. I just asked for some time as I don’t accept films then and there. It is not because I am conceited but I need to think and re-think about different perspectives of my role and there would emerge numerous questions. I would then ask the director who needs to give me convincing replies. Instead of doing four wrong films, I can do a single good film. So Porkkalam is one such good film.

" Every frame in


will be different "

Hero or Villain acting - which one is difficult?

Both are difficult. The basic quality of an artiste, as KB sir says, lies with the creator. If a creator is strong, he can extract any type of performance. To cite an example, when (Venkat) Prabhu told me the script of Saroja, I refused to act in it as I felt when Jayaram sir is the villain; I would only come across as a sidekick. But Prabhu was so firm and asked me to trust him completely. He explained that certain things could only be shown visually. I was not confident and questioned about my reach. He said that all my questions will be answered visually and he was right.

It has been said you have many girl friends

Is it so? Please introduce me to them. Let me see. I am also feeling lonely. Jokes apart, I have an army background and have studied in co-educational institutions right through. Hence I don’t have any inhibitions with girls or women. All my friends come home and my mom has always welcomed all of them. I know my limitations very well.

If you get a chance to see Aranya Kandam and Endhiran, which one you would see first?

Aaranya Kandam very definitely as it is my film. The next show will be Endhiran.

What do you think about the talents of young directors in the industry?

" Cinema

is very healthy

these days "

Cinematic knowledge is more now. People study cinema and get into the industry. Education is very important. They educate themselves on cinema, gain practical experience and then take the plunge which I feel is the right thing. It is very rare to find directors like Mani Rathnam or Saroj Khan or Venkat Prabhu. The experience of working in various departments of film making under various capacities is sure to take someone to a different stage. Young directors are very clear and cinema is very healthy these days.

Do you want to try hero’s roles?

No, I don’t want to. Right from my childhood, even when I was practicing in front of mirror, I only used to emulate a villain. My folks used to wonder. After Saroja, I received 14 scripts for hero. I rejected every one of them.

In your real life, are you a hero or a villain?

Sometimes hero and sometimes villain depending upon the situation. I am after all a human being!

" After Saroja,

I received 14 scripts

for hero "

" Dhanush

is a fantastic actor "

Who is your role model?

I generally use my body language to depict villainy. But role model and adopting a body language of a particular person are totally two different things. I have many role models but my all time favorites are Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth. I have seen their films innumerable times. They are the personification of heroism. Besides them, I like Nana Patekar, Paresh Rawal, Raghuvaran, Prakash Raj. From the current breed of heroes, I like Dhanush. Dhanush is a fantastic actor. His body language, expressions and emotive skills are fabulous.

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