Sometime in 2008, Sivakarthikeyan got an opportunity to perform a gig in Chennai at the launch of a cinema supplement. It was a mixed crowd, comprising journalists, Chennai’s glitterati, actors and stars. Some of his jokes had the audience cracking up, some fell flat, but he persisted.
Less than a decade later, he’s the toast of Kollywood, greenlighting projects that have gone on to do roaring business. But, even today, he’s grateful for that opportunity. “I still remember those days, and never knew I would come this far. That was a big stage, and it was the time when I was looking for chances to showcase what I was capable of.”
Over the course of a 30-minute conversation with the star, grateful is a word you come across often. His voice is laced with humility, and there’s not a false note when he speaks about why he never holds a grudge.
Excerpts from an interview just before the release of his Velaikkaran.
You always say you owe your success to the audience…
That’s true. If they had not accepted me, not corrected me when I made mistakes, and not patted me on the back when I did something right, I would have never developed the confidence.
Coming as you did from a non-film background, did the initial rejection upset you?
No, adhu eppovume irukkum (that will always be there). In fact, that’s the fuel that propels you to do better. There’s no point getting upset or angry. This is a business and someone invests money. He/she expects to recover it. Today, if the same people come to see me, I’m happy I got there. I don’t hold a grudge; it is a very negative feeling. That they now choose me is because I am doing well. I want to keep that faith, and ensure they make a profit.
It’s very easy to get carried away in this industry. What keeps you grounded?
Some wonder if my humility is a conscious decision. No. It has to come from within, and, in my case, my parents gave me the right values. My friends keep me grounded. They work for my welfare, and can be brutally frank with feedback. This is why I still look at my career as being in the growth stage. I’ve not yet seen success. This attitude is great as it does not hurt anyone, and you grow as a person.
How did you accept a film as misogynistic as Remo, especially in these troubling times?
Like I’ve told everyone, I did not realise there was anything wrong with the movie or its brand of humour till it was pointed out to me. Then, I understood why some were upset. Henceforth, I will be more careful in choosing roles. But, having said that, I also believe critics must appreciate good cinema with the same zeal they showcase when they are tearing into a film. That will encourage better films to be made.
You also speak about your deep desire to entertain. Do you consciously seek such scripts or do you intend experimenting with genres?
My first love is entertaining people, whatever the medium. Nothing else really matters. Yes, there’s a high when you read a good script; you know that you will be made to put in more than your best. Velaikkaran was that kind of film for me. Now, my next movie is set in a rural background. The one after that will move elsewhere. This is how you can bring about such change in routine. I’m very particular about not repeating genres without some gap in between.
If someone asked you to do mimicry again on the big stage, would you oblige?
I began by imitating the mannerisms of MGR and Rajinikanth. I kept honing my skills. As a child, my relatives would give me money if they were impressed. I would perform the entire Kaadhal Kandaen climax sequence, and punch dialogues from Baasha and Annamalai. Now, having moved away from live TV, I know that I love the live stage and anchoring. I love that there is no script-control. You can entertain so many people.
You’ve been speaking about the Velakkairan experience. What was it like?
There’s so much to learn on a set like this, because you see good actors everywhere. Director Raja was the embodiment of calm.
In the midst of all this frenzy, do you miss your old life in Chennai?
In a way, yes, but I’ve learnt to cope. I would borrow my friend’s bike and ride around till I bought a Splendor. I later sold it to a friend and still enquire about it. Now, I might drive a Range Rover Evoque, but I am still the same boy who headed to Usman Road in T Nagar to eat at the kaiendhi bhavan (roadside food stall), watched movies at Sathyam and headed to the Marina and Bessie when the weather was pleasant. Even today, I do most of these things, but from within my car. I do get tempted to speak to the person who fed me for so many years, but I know that that will create a commotion outside. This food is something I eat for time-pass; for others, it’s their only sustenance. It’not right to mar that joy.