Monday, May 20, 2024

Soori on ‘Viduthalai’, the story behind its making, and his takeaway from a 25-year journey

In both of Vetri Maaran’s Viduthalai films (parts 1 and 2), comedian Soori is playing the kadhayin naayagan (the plot’s hero) marking his first as the lead star. For those unversed, it might finally look like Soori’s jump to the top, after his parotta comedy sequence in Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (2009) made him a household name. But the actor has been part of the film industry for more than 25 years now.

“I started acting in 1996 and it was Sundar C anna’s Kannan Varuvaan (2000), starring Karthik sir, in which I spoke my first on-screen dialogue; and it was with Goundamani sir! I even posted that scene’s clip on my Instagram,” says Soori who is visibly excited about his new stint in Viduthalai: Part 1 releasing this Friday.

Excerpts from an interview:

The story of how you got on board Viduthalai deserves a film of its own…

Yes, I’ve always been keen on working with Vetri Maaran sir, although people around me would say his films won’t have my style of comedy. Somehow I managed to meet him at his office when he narrated a story set in Karaikudi. The short narration had about five characters, and in all the ones I eyed, he said he had someone else in mind. When he finished, he told me that I would play the main role. It took all of my might to not show how ecstatic I was when I left his office. But I never got an update for a year during which he was busy with Vada Chennai.

He later called me and said he was going to do Asuran with Dhanush sir. Given the success of Asuran, there was a lot of speculation on which star Vetri sir would next team up with and I was starting to get worried.

Thankfully, he called me later, but then told me that the earlier project wasn’t possible anymore; he narrated a new story which was based on a novel and was set in Dubai (Meeran Mitheen’s Ajnabi). Pre-production work started and location scouting was also done…. but during my photo shoot, the pandemic hit us, rendering it impossible to shoot abroad. Then that got dropped too! Finally Vetri sir narrated one more new story again, and this time, it happened… and is ready to release in the form of Viduthalai.

What does Viduthalai talk about?

Viduthalai is about an ordinary man who is put in an extraordinary situation. He would consider a certain path to be the right one, but is unable to as those above him think otherwise. Even for our voices to be heard, we have to be at a certain level and that’s something I’ve noticed in a lot of scenarios.

Soori in a still from ‘Viduthalai’

Soori in a still from ‘Viduthalai’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

In Viduthalai, you play Kumaresan, a constable. You’ve played cop roles before, but this is the first time you’re doing it in a serious setup. How did you get into the skin of the character?

Kumaresan is a man from a difficult background stuffed with unfulfilled dreams. I have seen many people like that on a daily basis — they’re either providing security to political leaders, managing crowds at events that attract large gatherings, or just policing our roads. Their bodies are fit, but it is their faces that tell us the stories. They are redolent of ambitions and proud of the uniform they’re wearing.

I believe that a comedy actor can pull off any role. But at the end of the day, it’s a Vetri Maaran sir film. On my very first day at the shoot, the usual Soori popped up with his over-the-top emotions. The director, after noticing it, called me and told me the sort of person Kumaresan is, and asked me to just take all that info in. It took me a while to suppress the old me which kept intruding like a ghostentering the hero’s body in horror films! But the same afternoon, I got into the groove. I think I have decently enacted what he expected from me, and now I can say that this film has given me the confidence to do any role.

Vetri sir was also keen to ensure that I didn’t miss any of my films as a comedian during the shoot of Viduthalai. When I told him I had got the chance to act in Rajini sir’s Annaatthe, he said it was every actor’s dream to work with Rajinikanth and asked me to go ahead. Similarly, he allowed me to work in Don, Viruman and Etharkkum Thunindhavan. After a while, I started rejecting films without bringing them to his notice; he would have arranged everything for our shoot, and I couldn’t see those efforts go in vain!

And your first film as a lead actor also has music by Ilaiyaraaja; how exciting is that?

I met him for the first time at the film’s pooja. Vetri sir tried to introduce me to Ilaiyaraaja sir, but I just wanted to hide. When we finally spoke, he wished me for playing the lead. On the first day, he wanted to compose a tune which became the Kaattumalli track. Midway, he stopped, stared at me and said that in his entire career, there have only been a handful of instances where he had composed tunes in front of an actor. I was flabbergasted when he looked at me and said, “Enna sir? Compose pannidalama?” Seeing my reaction, he told me it was all God’s doing. It is now a core memory.

Team ‘Viduthalai’ from the shooting spot

Team ‘Viduthalai’ from the shooting spot
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

You’ve been vocal about the fact that it was Vijay Sethupathi who asked you to take up any role given to you, and not wait for the comedic ones…

I knew I could do more than just humour, like an emotional character. I was looking forward to such roles even though I wasn’t lobbying for them. Thankfully, even within the comedy space, some films like Kadaikutty Singam and Marudhu gave me the space to showcase a spectrum of emotions. But I really long to do films like Neerkumizhi, Maadi Veettu Mappilai and Ethir Neechal. I want to be like Nagesh sir. It was Sethu mama (Vijay Sethupathi) who told me to ask for such roles even if I don’t get them on my own.

Vetri Maaran’s films are known for making strong statements. As an actor, how important is it for you to be on the same page as the film when it comes to ideology?

I believe I must understand what the film says and that’s integral in actually understanding my own character. As far as the ideologies are concerned, it all comes down to supporting the side where morality, fairness and justice prevail. Audience point of view la edhu nyayama irruko, adhu dhaan namma paakanum.

Your next film Kottukkaali is with PS Vinothraj whose Koozhangal (Pebbles) was selected as the Indian entry for the Oscars in 2022. How different will Kottukkaali be?

Just like how Viduthalai will show me in a different light, Kottukkaali will showcase me in a never-before-seen role. It will do its rounds of film festivals, and will make a mark on the international film circuit. Similarly, Ram sir’s Yezhu Kadal Yezhu Malai will be a unique project as well.

Soori in ‘Viduthalai’

Soori in ‘Viduthalai’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Comedians opting for lead roles have seldom worked in our industry, but you have now stated that you want to keep doing humorous roles too. How do you plan on balancing this?

I was offered hero roles earlier, but they were in comedy films; the comedian Soori would have just had more screen space in these films. It didn’t feel like a risk worth taking. I think rejecting those films gave me Kumaresan.

I would still love to do films like Kadaikutty Singam and Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam, and I get those types of stories too. What I’m clear about is not doing every single role I’m offered. Apart from whether they’re successful or not, the role should be interesting for me. Given that people are ready to spend money on me and do films starring me as the lead, I cannot afford to do random roles as a comedian anymore.

The best part about playing a comedian is, the number of days I spend on a film is less and there are breaks between schedules, so I can accommodate multiple films irrespective of what role I play in them.

So how would you sum up this 25-year journey?

I think I owe it to my thirst for something new as I always wanted to push the envelope, given I’m never satisfied with my output. The way I approach work, and the respect I have for the craft has brought me here.

I get calls sharing how much they loved some of my comedy sequences. But I have a certain close circle of friends who are very critical of my work and every call from them after a film releases gives me the shivers! I’ve listened to their advice and even visited theatres alone to gauge the reaction of the audience. These reality checks are the ones I crave.

Viduthalai: Part 1 releases in theatres on March 31

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