Silambarasan TR: GVM brings out the real actor in me

Ahead of the release of Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu, actor Silambarasan talks about stardom, the importance of experimentation, and seeking validation.
Actor Simbu (aka) STR (File | EPS)
Actor Simbu (aka) STR (File | EPS)

Nicolas Cage once said, “As I got older, with my work, I became aware of the responsibility of film, and I feel one of the best ways I can apply myself as an actor, is to go beyond movie stardom and celebrity.” In some ways, actor-filmmaker Silambarasan TR seems to be in a similar phase. The usual swag you would associate with him is replaced with a lot of sensible talk, as he discusses his upcoming film, Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu (VTK), his third collaboration with filmmaker Gautham Vasudev Menon.

“VTK is an answer to the need for quality films. Appreciation for such attempts will give me more confidence to take up such scripts. In fact, it was the success of Maanaadu that spurred me on to do VTK.”

Inspired by a real-life story, VTK, written by noted writer Jeyamohan, talks about the life and times of a migrant labourer, who gets forced into the underworld. “It is a raw and realistic film. A lot of people migrate to cities for work, and there hasn’t been enough documentation about their lives. Here, one such person is pushed into the underworld, and it shows his struggle accepting his new reality. He has no option but to fight back, and only this fight pushes him forward,” says Silambarasan, who asserts that through VTK, Gautham and he have consciously moved away from the template story of a hero powering past adversities in mass masala style.

“The hero gets hurt. He is conquerable. He gets hit by bullets. He loses his finger in a fight. We haven’t opted for cheap thrills to elevate the central character simply because the protagonist Muthu is being played by me. Right from the walk, talk, and behaviour of the character, we have done a lot to ensure people should only see Muthu, not Silambarasan.”

After dealing with pure romance in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and an awkward blend of action and romance in Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, Gautham and Silambarasan were all set to do a different film before the idea for a gangster film took off. “We wanted to make a different GVM-Simbu film. This is an attempt to change the path of Tamil cinema. Also, I am a huge believer in the concept of actor-director duos in cinema.

We had SP Muthuraman sir do multiple films with both Rajini sir and Kamal sir. Such combos create hype and belief among the audience. It is also comforting that with a filmmaker like Gautham, I don’t really have to be cinematic in front of the camera. Remember Rajini sir’s explanation on how Mani sir broke his stock expressions in Thalapathy? It is the same with Gautham. In every film with him, I get to bring out the real actor in me.”

In order to bring out the actor in him for VTK, Silambarasan observed the behavioural traits of migrant labourers. “Sivaji Ganesan sir once said that he often observed the idiosyncrasies of people he met in daily life and stored them in memory to use for characters he played. I did something similar. There is a particular walk I have incorporated for Muthu; there is a certain way in which I wipe my sweat off. It all comes from my observations,” says Silambarasan, who feels this film has been his biggest test as an actor.

“To keep the star away and bring forth raw and real emotion was a challenging task. There are a lot of single-shot sequences, including action blocks, which were mentally and physically exhausting.” Despite the exhaustion and the challenges, Silambarasan is upbeat about the prospects of a sequel to VTK. “It all depends on the success of the first part. The innocent Muthu of the first film becomes almost devilish in the second.”

While Silambarasan is truly on the duology trend bandwagon, it is interesting to see him stay away from the other major trend in Indian cinema — Pan-Indian cinema. “Yes, there are no language barriers now. We are ready to watch good Kannada or Malayalam films in Tamil Nadu. This is what should happen with Tamil films across various parts of the country.

A good film will be seen everywhere,” says the actor whose choice of films has undergone a tectonic shift. In fact, he admits as much when he promises to steer clear from some of his older choices. “I haven’t smoked in recent films. Even with violence and gore, I will stay away from such scenes if the script doesn’t demand it. They should not be done just for hero elevation. I also want to avoid vulgarity or scenes that make audiences squirm. What I did in my 20s need not be done again during my 30s.”

Crediting the ups and downs in his life for this mature turn, Silambarasan says, “All I want now is to bring out the talent in me and showcase my potential. I have immense hunger as an actor, and I want to go where work takes me. I want to take it slow, and like Vijay sir, properly plan and do one film at a time.”

This vision is not just restricted to his own career, but for Tamil cinema as well, with Silambarasan hoping that alternate paths can be created for mainstream Tamil cinema. “If VTK works, other stars too will gravitate to such attempts within the mainstream space. If a film like Subramaniapuram had been made with Ajith sir and me, that might have created a bigger trend. Stars must experiment, and more importantly, these experiments must get validated.”

How does a star like Silambarasan keep his reality in check? “People think I’m arrogant. They believe I say the things I say because I am a star. Honestly, I have no such airs. I grew up without an iota of stardom. From a young age, I have never been away from normalcy. I always want to be with people. I keep tabs on what is being written by people.

Stars aren’t conjured out of thin air. What I have is an image, which comes from the talents of Silambarasan, the actor and filmmaker. That Silambarasan is not the real Silambarasan. In fact, even Silambarasan, the person I think I am, is not who I truly am,” he says, laughing. “I am too deep into my spiritual and philosophical journey to get swayed by ideas like stardom.”

For an actor thrust in front of the camera as a one-year-old, and one who went on to play starring roles as a precocious pre-teen, Silambarasan’s journey in cinema is the stuff of Tamil cinema legend. Today, what we have is an adult who seems to have undergone a physical, mental, and spiritual transformation. Amid all the philosophy, self-awareness, and poignancy, there are times when he occasionally lets his guard down, he says.

An example comes when he is asked about his present look—for his role in Pathu Thala, a remake of the Kannada film, Mufti (2017). Silambarasan says, “I am reprising the role played by Shivanna in the original. As I’m not old enough to play that role, I have greyed my beard, but I do think I have the ‘mass’ to pull it off.” Amen to that. He might be trying to move past his stardom and celebrity status, but that adds to the aura too.

(This story originally appeared on Cinema Express)

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