Arya, with an acting career spanning over a decade and dozens of films in several languages, feels that the upcoming Pa Ranjith directorial Sarpatta Parambarai is the “biggest” role he has landed yet.
The Tamil boxing drama, co-produced by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions banner, premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday (July 22). Ahead of the film’s release, Arya sat down with Silverscreen India for an exclusive conversation on bringing the boxing culture in Vada Chennai (North Chennai) alive on screen and why he hopes Sarpatta Parambarai will be a breakthrough film for him.
“There is a lot of expectation from Pa Ranjith’s fans,” says Arya. “To be honest, I think this film is the biggest that I’ve done in terms of the scale and director value.”
Over time, Arya reveals, he has changed the way he chooses scripts. “I’ve changed the way that I think and I’ve changed the way I choose films. As you grow, you become more serious,” he says. “You want to do films with a little more substance.”
“I am hoping that Sarpatta Parambarai gives me the lift which a film like this can offer,” he adds.
Physically, the last two years spent working on Sarpatta Parambarai, were very challenging for the actor. “We shot half the film before the first lockdown, before Covid. Then, I had to maintain the physique, the diet, not knowing when we could restart the shoot. When we finally did, shooting with Covid restrictions was very difficult. So, physically, it was very demanding for me, the whole film, for the last two years.”
But Arya is proud of the result. “Even during these difficult times, we went well over the budget just to achieve what we wanted. We never wanted to compromise, the director did not want to compromise on anything. Ranjith made a film that he really believed in and really wanted to make. Sarpatta Parambarai is one of the biggest films that I have done,” he says.
About Kabilan, his character in the film, Arya says he is an “underdog” whose family’s troubled past prevents him from becoming a boxer.
“His father was a boxer but got into rowdyism and was killed. Since his mother doesn’t like him boxing, he is completely kept away from it. He isn’t accepted in the boxing clan either. What boxing means to him, what it means to his family, and how people see him, they’re three different things. How he overcomes all that and how his relationship with the other people in the community, and with the other clan, evolves forms one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Sarpatta Parambarai is not just about boxing.”
Having watched pugilist dramas such as Rocky, Cinderella Man and Million Dollar Baby, Arya is familiar with the typical storyline. “In a story about the underdog becoming the champion, there is a lot of motivation,” he says. “There are many scenes which make you feel like you can push harder in life. Those kind of emotions come through in every sports film.”
What makes Sarpatta Parambarai unique, says Arya, is the way the culture of North Madras in the 70s has been portrayed.
“Boxing is a part of Sarpatta Parambarai but the film isn’t just about boxing. It is about the life in North Madras, which we call Vada Chennai, during 1975.”
“How the entire lives of people in these clans revolved around boxing matches, how winning these matches was one of the most prestigious things in their clan — these emotions and lifestyles are what we have tried to represent in this film,” he adds.
In fact, the scene he is most proud of, says Arya, is not one featuring an adrenaline-fuelled boxing bout, but one in which Kabilan breaks down emotionally in front of his mother (played by Anupama Kumar).
“That was really challenging and I felt really good performing that scene,” he says.
“There are three phases in Kabilan’s life. In these three phases, the character evolves as a boxer, as a person and as a leader,” Arya says.
The actor adds that in preparation for the film, he had to undergo a 45-day workshop during which he learnt the North Madras slang and how to portray the body language of a person from the 70s.
“People have to really connect with you and believe that you represent that era,” he says.
As for boxing, Arya, an avid cyclist and fitness enthusiast, was already familiar with the sport. “I have been practising boxing as a sport for the past five years. I love the sport. It’s an adrenaline-pumping exercise and a difficult sport. That’s how I connected with it and started practicing.”
Having worked on another period drama set in Madras, Madrasapattinam, Arya says that the director and technicians of such films do most of the heavy-lifting.
“It is more challenging for the director than it is for the actor. They need to get the settings right, they need to get the look and feel right, they need to get the set properties right. As an actor, when you reach the set, you feel like you have been transported in a time to that era.”
“Most of Sarpatta Parambarai is drawn from reality,” says Arya. “While we have added a lot of fiction to it, the look and feel, the characters, everything is close to reality. The political scenario and the entire social situation, all that is very well represented and is taken from reality.”