‘I swear more than Auto Shankar does’
When speaking to the unassuming Sarath Kumar, you can’t help but be impressed by how the genial, soft-spoken actor transforms into characters like the volatile Appani Ravi from Angamaly Diaries or the menacing Auto Shankar from the recently released eponymous web series. Having made his debut in 2017 with the Lijo Jose Pellisery directorial, the actor has predominantly acted in negative roles. Does he worry about stereotyping? “The roles that have come my way are in that mould, and the audience seems to like it too. However, I have also said no to a lot of negative roles,” says the actor, who is famously known as Appani Sarath.
It is not every day that a film actor chooses to explore different mediums so early in their career. “I am basically a theatre person. Then, I did films, and now, I’ve taken the plunge into OTT platforms. I will act in whatever medium comes up next. I am a professional, and I only want to act, nothing else matters,” he says.
Playing a gangster in a period setting is no mean feat, and it only gets more difficult when you are not well-versed in the language. “I knew Tamil even before entering cinema. But for Auto Shankar, I had to master the local Madras slang. I put in a lot of effort to get the right pronunciation. Having said that, for an actor, acting is the primary language.
That is why I am raring to work in any language that I am offered,” says the actor, whose voice in the show was provided by Vada Chennai-fame Paval Navageethan. Sarath establishes that despite not dubbing for himself, he didn’t take any shortcuts while acting. “I made sure the lip-sync was perfect. I wanted to make the voice-artist’s job easier. I learned every dialogue and delivered it all with the intensity my director expected.”
The web series has been facing some criticism for the incessant swearing it contains and for its explicit content. Unfazed by these reactions, Sarath says, “It is not me who is saying it, but Shankar, the character. Auto Shankar is someone who used to behave in this way and rattle off profanities without rhyme or reason. So I believe this outrage is unfounded. To be honest, I swear a lot in real life, way more than Shankar does in the show,” he says.
In many interviews, Sarath has called the role of Auto Shankar his best since Angamaly Diaries. “I haven’t been working for more than a year now. It took Auto Shankar to bring me back. Though he is a gangster, Shankar had a lot of unexplored layers, Just like Appani, he too had a life outside crime. He was married, had children, and goes through a gamut of emotions. Shankar might be a murderer, but he was a romantic too,” says the actor, who adds he has been flooded with offers ever since he finished shooting for the series three months ago. “I am someone who puts quality over quantity. I am ready to wait for as long as it takes to get a memorable character.”
Since he is clearly in no hurry to add to his filmography, how does he pick his projects? “It is always the script that decides it for me. Whatever the medium, nothing will work without a solid script. It is also important for me to know what impact my role has in the story, and my equation with the director.”
Speaking of filmmakers, Sarath has already worked with experienced directors like Lal Jose in Velipadinte Pusthakam, Mani Ratnam in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, and Lingusamy in Sandakozhi 2. What was the equation he shared with a young filmmaker such as Ranga (director of Auto Shankar) like? “For an actor, the director should be a good friend. It is not enough to just have a relationship that starts with ‘Action’ and ends with ‘Cut’.
The director needs to know our strengths and weaknesses, and Ranga managed to bring out the best in me,” he says, extending his thanks to cinematographer and producer, Manoj Paramahamsa, Trident Arts Ravindran, and Zee5 for giving him a unique identity among the Tamil audience. “Establishing my name in the hearts of Tamil people was one of the major reasons I chose to be part of this show. An actor is only remembered by their characters, and I truly believe I will be known as Auto Shankar Sarath rather than Appani Sarath henceforth.”