There’s something innately likable about Sundeep Kishan’s personality, even when he plays someone with a low threshold for anger. You can’t pin it down to any particular thing — is it his voice, his demeanour or his boy-next-door look? Sundeep has a word for it, though. “Blessed. I think I’m just blessed that people see me that way.”
Over the nine years, he’s been in the film industry, working in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil, Sundeep has made a name for himself as the dependable, endearing actor. “I think playing the common man was a conscious decision, because when you’re starting in an industry you want people to relate to you. But, that is also me playing to my strengths.”
Sundeep thinks the effortlessness that shines through in all his screen outings have their roots in his school days. “Be it dramatics or debating, spontaneity has been my greatest strength. I’ve never majorly prepared for a role or gone out of the way. I’m very unaware of what happens between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. It’s a natural process and I like to keep it that way. All I do is understand the character, and figure out how he would behave. But yes, I work hard on the dance and action sequences,” he smiles.
Speaking of action, he will be doing a lot of that in CV Kumar’s directorial debut Maayavan, which released today. The four-minute introduction sequence released on YouTube shows two facets of a chase. “Even in Maayavan, where I play Kumaran – a cop, the attempt has been to keep it real. We are dealing with something out of the ordinary, and it is important that the character is rooted. He has to have shades of heroism, but it has to be natural too.”
And then, Sundeep delineates how he went about understanding the role. “If you see the chase, in the first half, till he witnesses a murder, there’s a swag in him. He’s a young cop, after all. But, after that, it’s Kumaran the person you see running. I felt it was important to show that variation because that has to come through in the film, as to where Sundeep is Kumaran, and where he is the cop.”
For someone who is casual about the fact that he’s an in-demand hero, Sundeep admits he gets overwhelmed seeing himself on the big screen. “I love seeing myself on a 70 mm screen. Of course, I think I could have done something better or differently, but I am living this dream.”
Sundeep says he still believes in getting a narration from a director. “That way, you listen to his/her vision. When you read a script, it’s your understanding, not the director’s.” Once he takes a call, “based on what my heart says, never the head”, he sits down with the director to understand the backstory of the character. “It might not appear in the film, but it’s important for me to get into the skin of the character. I ask where was he born, who were his childhood friends, what kind of games did he play? Did he play with friends on the street, watch cartoons or play video games? The character’s growth is dependent on all these things.”
It helps that the actor has always studied people. “People’s quirks seep into you, and when you need to tap into your memory for a role, they come to the fore. I did the same for Maayavan too. I added an element of style, but without going out of character.” And, while he does all this for the joy of performance, Sundeep says he is delighted when people notice.
When choosing scripts, the actor always sees the arc of his character and the scope for his performance. That’s why he’s been seen in many multi-starrers, sharing screen space. “It does not matter how good an actor you are if a film does not work. It means no one watched it. It is as important to do a good job as it is to be part of a film that will do well.”
Sundeep shares a great rapport with most of his directors. Be it Lokesh Kanagaraj of Maanagaram, Suseendran, who directed him in Nenjil Thunivirundhaal or Kumar. “I surrender to the script or to the director. I’ve felt most characters are derived from the writer’s personality, and it’s a privilege to be a part of that vision. I loved my character in Maanagaram. In a way, it represented Chennai, the city. It could look rude and arrogant, but it ultimately welcomes you and loves you. With Suseendran, I surrendered to his vision. I wanted a film with him to be part of my body of work. And, Kumar is one of the most confident people you can meet. He’s so real. You can either like him or not, but you can never ignore him. In many ways, Kumaran is like Kumar. He’s an acquired taste. Karthick Naren has brought out another facet of me in Naragasooran.”
Sundeep and Kumar go back a long way, and the story of Maayavan was narrated to him about two-and-a-half years ago at a party in Hyderabad. “He’s an amazing director. He did all he could, financially and creatively, to get the best output for the film. There are some films that amaze you. Maayavan is that kind of a film.”
But, now, Sundeep has decided to cut down on ensemble projects and focus on solo subjects. “I think it is time to look at my career graph as well. I have to build my market so that I can be a part of stories I want to tell.” His next Telugu film, Manasuku Nachindi by Manjula Ghattamaneni falls in the pure romance category, and is a coming-of-age love story. “In fact, it’s the first love story I’ve done,” he laughs. Next up is Kunal Kohli’s rom-com with Tamannaah. “It’s a very Woody Allenesque genre, and I’m excited to see how it will pan out.”
As for his next Tamil film, Sundeep wants it to be a fun, happy film. “After a spate of intense roles, I’ve lost track of who I really am. I wonder what attracts me to such roles. So, I’m now in the mood to do some fun films. Say, something like Naanun Rowdy Thaan that I loved.”
But, yes, there’s just one condition. The film has to be in contrast to what he’s working on. “So far, I’ve been very unpredictable in my choice of films. They’ve either done very well, or been absolute duds. I want to change that about myself.”
What he also looks forward to being part of is cinema that leaves you with a smile, and a positive message that you can take back home. “I have an affinity for such films. Venkatadri Express, one of my biggest hits so far, fell in that genre. So did Maanagaram, Tiger and Shor In The City. I’ve grown up watching Rajinikanth Sir’s films. And, beyond the style, what you took home was that his was a character with a good soul. I’d like to do that too.”
This idealism too traces its roots to when he was growing up in Chennai, after his parents moved from Andhra Pradesh. “I think, in many ways, I’m more Tamil than many others. I grew up on a steady diet of Arjun Sir’s Jai Hind series. I truly believe it is very important to be a good person.”
And banking on that, a boy who was born and brought up in Madras but moved to Andhra Pradesh to make a living, returned to his city to make movies in a language that’s as much as his own as his mother tongue, Telugu. “Chennai is where my house is, my memories are…”
The interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.