Guru Somasundaram, whose Vanjagar Ulagam is hitting screens this Friday, tells us he learnt how to carry himself as an actor chiefly by observing the errors made by other artistes. He found that they smiled, talked and joked around a little more than necessary.
And that’s why,
Guru Somasundaram wants to be a serious man. But every time someone calls to wish him on his latest release Odu Raja Odu – in which he plays a beleaguered husband who gets entangled in madcap situations when trying to please his wife – he has a smile on his face. “An artiste can breathe only when there is adulation,” he says “appreciation is life’s breath for everyone – and for an artiste, even more so.”
Releasing this week is Vanjagar Ulagam, a romantic crime thriller in which Guru essays the “role of a man who exists in grey areas.” His character, Sampath, is said to be a gangster. “He thrives in the grey,” explains Guru, “there’s always a need to strike a balance – a delicate one – when playing such roles. I loved it.” Directed by Manoj Beedha, the film is already famous for incorporating both Carnatic and dubstep forms in one of its songs, composed by Sam CS. The other release that Guru is awaiting this year is that of Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai which also stars Ashwin Kakumanu, Aishwarya Rajesh and Greg Burridge in lead roles. Guru is the eponymous Vedhalam.
Need for an identity
When the film world was new and Guru Somasundaram was struggling to land roles, the actor would watch the promotional efforts of other established actors. “And, I would note down everything they would get wrong. The first thing I disliked was the way some of them spoke too much. Smiled too much. Joked around too much. That’s when I decided to be seriously serious for my own promotions.” But, it’s a decision that has proved to be his undoing, says Guru. “It’s just not working out. I am not a sober person at all. So, for me to keep my real personality under lock and key has become tough.”
More challenging is the effort it takes Guru to get angry these days. “I always say that God has given us a particular amount of sadness and anger. In rehearsals for a movie, you get angry. You get sad. There’s no off button. And so, you remain angry or sad for the entire day. Then, you shoot the scene. You are expected to maintain that emotional baseline for a few more days. So ultimately, after a decade or so of Tamil cinema and theatre, I have pretty much exhausted my reserve of anger and sadness. All I have now are smiles and laughs. What do the kids call it these days? LOL. I am that emoji.”
For Guru, restraint is a difficult thing to achieve. He likes to do things in a big way. And most importantly, in his own way. “I need time and space for my performance. I cannot just emote what the director wants me to. I need to feel what the character is feeling and then, I will show it on my face.” It is this need to get into the skin of his character that has given him a solid footing in the industry. In the years since his debut Aaranya Kaandam, the actor has built up a solid filmography, making small yet meaningful appearances in films such as Paandiyanadu, Jigarthanda, Kuttrame Thandanai. And then came Joker, a Raju Murugan directorial that fetched Guru widespread acclaim.
In the film, the actor plays the role of a man who loses all faith in the system and organised religion. Ultimately, he decides to change his fate and that of others. By this point, however, he is delusional. “That dichotomy in the character is what that grabbed me. On one hand, this man is making a lot of sense. And on the other, he is quite obviously not in possession of his mental faculties. Does the society deride him for thinking of himself as the President? Or does it listen to the man who is doing something to get justice?”
Society is not kind to Mannar Mannan, the protagonist in Joker. He fights for people who don’t respect him. Ultimately, he faces only failure. “Mannar Mannan has lost in all manner of things. His one true love is in a vegetative state. He has lost his mind. He gets zero respect. And yet, he soldiers ahead. That spirit was difficult to get as initially, I could not comprehend how someone could survive in such a situation. But I guess it takes all kinds to make a society.”
Guru reveals that he faced some personal issues after Joker‘s release. “Living like Mannar Mannan is difficult. Portraying Mannar Mannan when you’re a normal, vulnerable man is even more so. I strongly believe that all actors carry a piece of their characters with them forever. In my case, Mannar Mannan lived with me for a few months even after the film had released. It was a difficult phase for me, but to get into the skin of his character was more important. It always is.”
His films have taken a commercial turn since then. “What you call commercial, I call necessity,” he declares, “Dividing cinema into two based on the collection it makes is plain stupid. Granted, the milieu presented in the movies are different. But, it’s all fantasy ultimately.”
Vanjagar Ulagam releases this Friday.
The Guru Somasundaram interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.