Sasikumar talks inpirations, movies, life
Actor-director Sasikumar says he sees himself among the common people.
This Pongal season, the 'big stars' are taking a break from new theatrical releases. But audiences have more than enough reason to queue up at theatres as Tamil cinema sees four highly anticipated releases - Sivakarthikeyan's Rajni Murugan; Vishal's Kathakali; Udhayanidhi Stalin's Gethu and National Film Award winning director Bala's Tharai Thappattai. The last two are now playing at theatres in the UAE.
Thara Thappattai's hero M Sasikumar spoke exclusively to City Times, sharing at length his passion for cinema and how he sees himself as one among the common man.
When Sasikumar says of the common people, he is being brutally honest. After all, his repertoire of movies speaks for itself. Sasikumar shot to limelight with the path-breaking neo-classical movie Subrahmaniapuram. It has been a defining movie not just for Tamil cinema but even for neighbouring Malayalam.
Many a new generation director has referred to the film for inspiring them to think differently and approach movies with fresh eyes. That is no small feat given how star-engrossed Tamil cinema was during the time Subrahmaniapuram released. Only a few dared to experiment and Sasikumar was privileged to be under the tutelage of one such director, Bala.
"There is a lot to learn from him," says Sasikumar, who entered cinema as assistant to Bala for the super-hit Vikram-starrer Sethu, which won the National Film Award for Best Tamil Film. Vikram and Bala were both relative newcomers and both went on to earn huge acclaim. Sasikumar, who had been toying with the idea of an independent film, then worked with director Ameer before starting Subrahmaniapuram. "It was based on my real life experiences of watching people. I wanted to bring a real slice of life on screen, and I was not willing to make any compromises in its making."
His conviction shined through in the film, which became a cult hit. His second film as actor, Nadodigal, too was set in the semi-urban milieu; that too became a superhit. Over the past eight years since, Sasikumar had been busy acting and producing films, directing just one other film, Easan. "I really couldn't focus on directing more films because I had several acting commitments," says Sasikumar. "But I am directing a film soon."
He says that it will not be the much publicised film with superstar Vijay as hero. "We have discussed a project and have agreed on principle to make it. But it is a huge film and we will not do it immediately."
With his new film as actor, Thara Thappattai, Sasikumar is once again working with his mentor Bala. "I am extremely delighted to act in his film. It is hard to express my happiness. It is like going back to film school." Sasikumar says he went to the sets of Thara Thappattai with a blank mind. "I did everything that Bala asked me to do without a second thought - be it blinking my eye or turning my head in a certain way. It is when you watch it on screen you understand why he made you do so."
He says that contrary to perception of Bala being a very serious man, he is "extremely cool on the sets. I was totally comfortable and I was learning every moment from him." The story of street performers, the film is a trifle different from Sasikumar's usual semi-urban/rural movies. "We see these artists everywhere but never before has anyone stepped into their lives and brought out their trials, tribulations and moments of joy. We had known nothing about these people, who have been marginalised or taken for granted," says Sasikumar.
To do justice to the role, he had to take up dance lessons, as well as learn Nadaswaram and Thavil (musical instruments). "It was not easy at all; especially with Nadaswaram, the way you hold it and the other nuances were quite difficult to learn," says Sasikumar. Although he too observed the performers, he did not bring any of his observations to the film. "Everything about Thara Thappattai belongs in its entirety to Bala."
That is why he is not even thinking about the laurels he could fetch with the film. After all, most Bala films had their actors walk away with the top laurels. "My biggest award was the moment Bala chose to cast me in the film. Signing up for the movie was my award."
Having acted in one Malayalam film, Masters, Sasikumar says he will 'very definitely' direct a movie in Malayalam as well as act when the right offers come along. "But I will not repeat the mistake of not dubbing myself (as he did for Masters). Sasikumar says Tamil cinema has evolved dramatically over the past few years with a number of new talents coming forward. He side-steps a query on whether he feels Subrahmaniapuram might have played a role in enabling directors to think differently.
Instead he says, "We have a large number of films made in Tamil - both commercial and arthouse. But what happens is that every Friday at least five films are released. This would potentially impact the prospect of all. I think we need to streamline our releases so that every film gets its due share of recognition."
As for himself and his fondness for films in rural/semi-urban milieus, Sasikumar says he does not see himself as a star. "I am a common man. I am among common people and I will only make films for them."
So will politics be next? He laughs. "No, not at all. I am comfortable and happy in cinema."