Camera: P. Ganesh Babu | Interviewer & Text: Jyothsna
As lyricist Snehan saunters into the room, the first thing that strikes you is his free flowing long mane that plays naughtily across his face. He could easily pass off as a member of a local gangster which is indeed a role that he is playing in Subramania Siva’s Yogi. However, the moment he starts talking, it is knowledge unlimited. On a pleasant November forenoon in Chennai, Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian caught up with this poet-turned-actor for a candid chat at his residence.

Over to Snehan

A brief introduction

Snehan: Normally, I am not in favor of talking about myself. It has nothing to do with modesty or humility. There is a profound universal philosophy behind this. It is not necessary to talk about oneself to known people because they know you already. For those who do not know me, I don’t have to tell about me as they would not need me. However, as I belong to film world, I need to talk about myself and my origin for a few promotional purposes. So here I go.

At the outset, I am an aficionado of good poetries, poets and creations. That’s why I chose Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram as my friend. I was inspired by his works. At a period when I was under the impression that Pattukottai’s verses were written especially for me and my folks, Kavi Perarasu Vairamuthu’s works came as a volte-face for me. While I appreciate Pattukottai’s works, Vairamuthu’s writing triggered me to take to pen. I remained an ardent fan of Vairamuthu and that’s the time I met him, thanks to circumstances. More than the affection that I had towards him, it was his fondness towards me that made me join him. He compelled me to work as his assistant.

" I am an aficionado of

good poetries, poets

and creations "

About your family?

I am born in an ordinary Indian farmer’s family belonging to Pudukariapatti of Tanjore district. Even now, my parents cannot fathom my work because they are not educated. They only know love and warmth which they shower on me abundantly. My village, my people, my work and my culture are completely different. So, in such a scenario, I left for Chennai to honor Vairamuthu’s calling, facing a lot of opposition from my family.

What prompted you to leave Vairamuthu?

I stayed as Vairamuthu’s assistant for four and a half years. I left him when I understood about the pseudo scenario and the bogus people which were stifling. Then I started on my own. Due to some incongruity and suppression by few people, I wanted to stand erect and prove my worth. I have a very nasty habit - whenever I am asked to refrain from doing some thing, I would transform myself to do what is being forbidden. This is my strength. This has helped me stand in front of you as a lyricist, as a writer and as a socially conscious being. I have earned this position in life after many struggles.

What made you take to acting in Yogi?

It was not my decision to act. Ameer is my very good friend. I have always seen him as a director and he has seen me as a poet. Our relationship is very different. We are like secret lovers, good friends and so on. We have fought with each other many times; we have had differences of opinions; we have argued with each other. But we have never let each other down. I have penned lyrics for his films. Once he told me he wanted me to act in his film. I took it light and said I know nothing about acting. But he insisted that he wanted someone who does not know acting. I cannot refuse a friend. Moreover, I am very confident that Ameer would only think and do good for Snehan. You might even question me if I would do anything for him with eyes closed. Yes, I would do anything for him as he has never done or thought

" We are like secret lovers "

bad for me. With this singular faith, I ventured into acting. To be very honest, till date, I have not even seen a single frame of Yogi. The first day when the shot involving me, which required me to walk, was completed, I ran to the monitor to see. But Ameer stopped me from seeing and said I should not see the film till it gets completed. Hence I am just waiting to see the film along with everyone on the first show first day. I did not plan to be a poet first and then be an actor. It was just a happenstance. My life is poetry and acting is my profession. I don’t want to lose my life. I convinced myself that I am after all in the cinema industry and acting is just an offshoot of it.

Experience working in Yogi?

Acting in Yogi is equal to acting in three movies. For a person like me who was used to sitting in an AC room, penning lyrics, interacting with directors and musicians, meeting technicians who slog it out in the hot sun, unkind weather and other such vagaries of nature was an eye-opener and a completely different understanding. Each day was an experience. There were days when I have fainted not able to withstand the slums because I have not seen such a thing. I have seen artistes staying in their caravans, resting between shots and people attending to them. But such was not the case with Yogi. There were days when we had to shoot amidst filth and trash and it took a while for me to acclimatize myself. Though Ameer sympathized with me, I am thankful to him for teaching me the other side of life and I was a transformed soul after three months. Even my language changed. I have no bad habits and I am even called a ‘samiyar’. But in Yogi, my character has all the vices and when I used to lament about this, Subramania Siva would placate me saying it is only acting. When there were many takes of mine, I was anxious that I was not doing my job. But cameraman would tell me that each shot is better than the previous one and they are only trying to select the best of the best.

How was Ameer during the shooting?

It was difficult to approach Ameer. Although he shouted at others, he used to be mild with me probably because of our friendship. When he was angry with me, he used to convey it through Subramania Siva. Even this indirect annoyance upset me and I was waiting get out of the film. Gradually I came to terms with everything as I am also a socially responsible person. I realized that when so many people are undergoing hell everyday, it was just acting for me and that too for a short duration. I slowly became the character that I was playing.

Did you have any regrets doing Yogi?

Not exactly! The unit members used to treat me with a lot of respect and at the same time as an outsider. I am very fond of smiling. People even wonder if I ever have worries. But in Ameer’s unit, laughter was a casualty. From morning 9 to 6 in the evening, nobody would smile and everyone would be stiff and morose. It would be like being trapped inside a jail. This really upset me and was difficult as I smile even at my enemy. But today, I have crossed all that and the film is ready for release.

" In Ameer’s unit,

laughter was a casualty "

" My special thanks to

Subramania Siva

for bearing the brunt

every time on my behalf "

Any special feature in Yogi?

I have penned a song, sung it myself and have even danced for it. When it was screened during audio release, my press friends appreciated it and gave it a standing ovation. And in that moment, all the struggles and difficulties I bore in those two years completely vanished and I realized that it is for THIS Ameer extracted so much from me.

What did you learn from Yogi?

The experience that I gained working in Yogi is equal to working in ten films. Now, even if I choose to act, nobody can cheat me. I know about camera angles, the lens used and all such things. My thanks to Ameer and Subramania Siva for this valuable experience! My special thanks to Subramania Siva for bearing the brunt every time on my behalf.

Do you have plans to continue acting?

This solely depends on the circumstances and my friends. After I started working in Yogi, at least forty people have approached me to act as hero. I don’t understand what is it that they see in me because I am after all a poet. Perhaps it is to do with my congenial nature. Even if I like a few scripts, I may accept a few friends’ films on the condition that acting should not come in the way of my writing.

You have met former TN CM Jayalalitha with a garland of poetries. Is it because you also want to lean on to some political party?

Nobody has asked me this question but it should be asked. And hence I would like to give a detailed reply. Knowingly or unknowingly we are all slaves of MGR and in that context I wanted to meet Amma. But I was made into a politician and a political color was given to my meeting. In fact a seat to contest the assembly election was offered to me. But a few well-wishers asked me not to take the plunge. As per police report, people report and caste report of my constituency, my name figured on top and it was Amma who called for me. I did not want to meet her empty handed and hence I took a garland of poetries. I am not concerned about her political standing or personal life. I admire her as a woman who has withstood many a troubled times and for her endurance. Her opponent DMK is replete with powerful and knowledgeable people. But it is not the case with AIADMK. Despite this, she has held her party in tight control which amazes me. This was the main reason I met her. She also suggested me to contest the election but felt I was too young for politics. I left the decision making to her and she asked me to hang on for a while.

However, media has painted a different picture of this visit and as a result I lost out on many film assignments. People in Arivalayam, to whom I was a favorite, feared to talk to me. I then approached Amma and stated that I am getting out of politics. She also understood my problem and the extent to which I was affected. She advised me to make a name for myself in the film industry. I continue to respect MGR and Amma. I like MGR’s politics and Kalaignar’s Tamil. I don’t nurture aspirations to become an MLA or an MP or a minister. Nevertheless, I do want to enter politics when the time is right as I want to improve the life of my people who do not have the basic facility of life. I want to bring in a positive change to their life. There is still time for it and I have to accomplish a lot. But then, I don’t know which party I will align myself to. I would decide later based on the credentials of a party. But, as of now, I am not in any political party. I like Jayalalitha a lot. As a Tamilian, I am fond of Kalaignar.

" I like MGR’s politics

and Kalignar’s Tamil "

You were recently involved in a controversy associated with ‘hugging’. Your comment?

You are referring to it in a very polite manner but the media had projected it crassly. I call this as an ‘affectionate bonding’. This is similar to the hug that a child runs and gives to his/her mother the moment she is spotted. This is an innate nature and is not an acquired one. It is an expression of love and affection of every human being. Even at an international level, leaders of countries hug each other to express camaraderie and friendship. Recently, AR Rahman composed music for International Hug Day. A similar act of ours was grossly misrepresented by media, which later apologized to me. Whatever be their motive, this fetched me enough publicity. People are aware that Snehan would not harm the society. I am not against culture or society. Because I want my generation and my society to rise in life, I have started an organization called Dynamic Self Awakening, which has around one and a half lakh members from various section of the society like doctors, teachers, police officials, IAS officers etc. If our act was on the wrong side, I am sure they would have raised their opinion. Hug is something that happens for a few minutes but we render training for this for

" Snehan would not

harm the society "

three days. Not even a single person from around 25,000 who has undergone such training has stated anything bad on this. Then, how do you arrive at a wrong conclusion? That’s when I challenged the media that I am ready to give a free training to them and if at the end of the training, they consider it bad, I am ready to give it all up. I am not afraid of criticisms. Revolutions set off uprisings. The bond of love would unite humanity, would bring in discipline, lead the society in the right direction and in no way it would be detrimental to the society, culture and people. There are many people who have been benefitted from my organization and I am satisfied with that. There are many colleges in Tamil Nadu who are inviting me to conduct such workshops but I am not able to honor their requests for paucity of time. That’s when I seek God to give me another 24 hours for a day. I like the word HUG. An act that was meant to improve the society, human emotions, human behavior and human advancement was slandered by a coup of sorts from the media.

What is your opinion on awards?

According to me, awards should be bestowed upon a person and not bought. Since awards appear to be purchased, I am not for it. There is also a disagreement on who is deciding the awards - state or central government. People, who are in no way competent enough to judge a work of art, meet in an AC room and undertake a discussion. They favor people who belong to a particular party or a community or a state. I am against this. Till now, I have received two Tamil Nadu state awards, Kannadasan Awards, Bharathi Dasan Awards and many more. All these awards have been conferred upon me for merit. My works in Pandavar Bhoomi, Ram, Paruthi Veeran and Pallikkoodam have been recommended for national awards but they have

" Awards should be

bestowed upon a person

and not bought "

been rejected due to the interference of politicians. If this is the criteria for awards, I don’t want to apply for it. Thangar Bachchan argued with me to submit my bio-data for awards but I refused to do so. My awards are given by my people. If my poetries are understood by a boy who is herding cattle in a remote village or an old woman who is trying to eke out a living by drying cow dung, that is the biggest award for me. I would rather prefer awards be given than purchased. That’s the reason I started Snehan Seyalagam, which honors best artistes, best social worker, best works and so on.

You recently stated that Vairamuthu does not appreciate the good works of his apprentices. What are the reasons for such a statement?

In Snehan’s book of life, the name Vairamuthu is a prominent feature. He was responsible for uprooting me from a remote village and showing me a different world. There are many qualities in him which amaze me and that was the reason I stayed with him for four and a half years. Although he has penned innumerable number of poetries, the one that made an impact on me is ‘Enai Thedum Megam’ which made me feel that after Bharathi, Tamil has got a pompous poet. I like arrogance because an artiste with pride only can create quality works. This is what lured me to Vairamuthu from whom I have learnt many things. I consider his Trustpuram house to be my Bodi tree where my enlightenment took place. Under such a circumstance, I feel sad that Vairamuthu neither has the tongue nor the heart to appreciate his disciples’ good work. This is what hurts me the most. That is why I recently told the media that our relationship is like dad-son’s. If he is unhappy with me, he has every right to pull me up and question. At the same time, if we do well, he should praise us. If he is not going to

" Vairamuthu

is our address,

our identity card "

appreciate, who else would? The Snehan who was openly declared as his favorite son by Vairamuthu is doing very well and is being lauded by the world. However, it upsets a lot when a single word of appreciation has not come from my guru, my mentor. Vairamuthu is like my mother and is it wrong to expect love and affection from a mother? If he feels this as incorrect, I will leave everything. I had invited him for my book release function many times. He did not turn up and I still don’t know the reason. Why is he refusing to appreciate? Even though we have such small fights, our world ceases to exist sans him. Vairamuthu is our address, our identity card. Our relationship is unique and special. I have even written a poetry about this. I am still waiting for some kind of response from Trustpuram.

What is your opinion on remixes?

I reject and abhor remix songs. At a time when many brilliant people are trying to find avenues to exhibit their talents, why harp on old ones? At least, if they churn out better ones out of the old songs, credit can be given. Or if they take up some not-so-famous song and popularize it, it is fine. When they are not able to do these two things, why remix? They are using remix tracks for their own benefit and in the process completely spoil everything.

" I reject and

abhor remix songs "

Which music director are you comfortable working with?

Don’t expect me to answer like any other cinema personality. I am comfortable with everyone. Be it a music director or a director, when I go, I go as a poet but come out as a friend. I have always given lyrics which stand out on their own and at the same time bring out the essence and beauty of music. I like everyone but my special thanks are due to two people. They are Bharadwaj and Yuvan Shankar Raja. Bharadwaj taught me how to write poetries for film music and has helped me gain recognition through ‘Avaravar Vazhkayil’. Secondly, I have always liked Yuvan who is like my secret paramour. He does not try to bend music for his taste but instead he inflects to music. I also like melody man Mani Sharma’s Sakkarai Nilave. I have sung the song around one thousand times. I like Vidya Sagar’s En Samayal Arayil. And the list goes on.

Compare current lyrics with that of old times

I always say a creation of a specific period should be compared only with its contemporaries. Would you hear Kannadasan’s songs now? In those days, in a story there were many events but today an event alone is being filmed. This is the truth. In such a scenario, tastes change and it is wrong to compare Kannadasan with Vairamuthu. I always tell openly that there are numerous Kannadasans and Vairamuthus in the world who did not get adequate publicity and they remain ordinary. There is an unwritten rule in Tamil Nadu according to which a known face is a genius while the unknowns are simpletons. If I were to live during Kannadasan’s period, I would have written like him and vice versa. This is the need for the hour. Times change and accordingly the requirements change. There was a time when we shouted loudly to be heard in a trunk call. Today, we talk through our cell phones in our bedroom in hushed tones. When we are able to accept this change why not we accept the change in literature? The current generation laps up such works. The times where people listened to messages and sermons have gone past. You don’t find failed films being copied; instead only the successful ones are being aped. The successful songs are the ones which are in tune with the current time period. Hence please do not compare the works of a current period with bygone eras. The fans, if they don’t like a film or a song, move on to the next one. However, it is only the reviews which are always clinging on to the ghosts of yore. That’s why I don’t take any assessments coming from Tamil Nadu because no review is correct. You are leaving away the roots but harp on leaves, branches and flowers. A review should be balanced and unbiased. But here, it is like a cat on the wall which can incline any side. In the same way, there is another dispute – tune for lyrics or lyrics for tunes. Song is for the film and for the story, that’s all! This argument has caused the biggest drift of our times between Ilayaraja and Vairamuthu. If only they had remained together for some more time, it would have resulted in some more brilliant creations.

What is the status on your work on poetries?

I am going to bring out four poetry collections soon. One will be like my biography which I had written for a Malaysian media for 100 weeks titled ‘Avaravar Vazhkaiyil’. The second one is a poetry compilation called ‘Naan’. Another one is written for men by women. The fourth one is tiled ‘Dinasari Nangu Kaatchigal’.

Your future film projects?

I have agreed for three films but have signed one. I will do these films provided they don’t hamper my writing pursuits.

Can you say something about social service activities that you are involved in?

I am doing this for my personal satisfaction. In my village, there are many who are finding it difficult to educate their wards. My parents have also not educated me on my favorite lines. It has nothing to do with financials but due to lack of awareness about culture and civilization. I wanted to study law or join Navy. I was not able to do these two things because nobody knew what this is all about. But I want to help people during my lifetime itself. That’s why I am into helping fellow humans. My social activities will continue during and even after my life time. That’s how I have worked for. I have not spoken about these things to media because I don’t want it to become an advertisement campaign. I am helping many children in their education. I am also running a few ashrams. When the time is right, I will announce it to the world.

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