Suriya: The Actor Who Inhabits Two Worlds
“Suriya’s rise to stardom has been steep, but so has his commitment to his roles, and the effort he put in to hone every aspect of his skill. It would do him and the audience a world of good, if the 43-year-old returns to his roots, unlearns a couple of mannerisms, and gives us another performance to remember.”
This is how I wrapped up the actor’s profile on his birthday last year (2018). With director Selvaraghavan’s NGK set to release this Friday, it looks like Suriya has finally heard his audience. For those who’ve been waiting for the actor in him to resurface, the trailer looks quite interesting.
It All Began With Nandha
Suriya’s films from 1997 to 2001 aren’t worth mentioning really. They were soft-launches where the actor in him was still floundering for a unique persona. He was no different from the equally stiff faced actor Vijay. The ‘clean romance’ genre was at its peak at the time. The films would have item numbers and innuendos galore, but the hero/heroine were chaste characters. The genre had its time under the sun.
And then came Nandha (November 2001), directed by Bala, who introduced Quentin Tarantino level gore into Tamil films, but with a lot more realism. The film proved to be cathartic for the actor, who changed not only his look and persona, but also his choice of films from then on.
Suriya had barely any dialogue in this film, but ample screen time. Other directors like Mysskin have tried and failed miserably in replicating the no-dialogue-just-staring style that Nandha became famous for. It was Suriya’s intensity that made it work.
Kaakha Kaakha (2003), Ayutha Ezhuthu (2003) and Ghajini (2004) sum up Suriya’s choice of stories, that flit between masala and non-masala. This was also the actor’s golden period, where he delivered a string of hits and critically acclaimed films, like Pithamagan (2003) and Raktha Charitra (2010).
A String of Duds
I’d peg Anjaan (2014) as the beginning of a string of duds, zombie-walks and wrong choices, in Surya’s surprisingly varied repertoire. Ayan and Aadhavan (both from 2009) too are right up there in his list of mindless entertainers, but they did pretty well. One obvious reason for this could be Suriya’s constant struggle to juggle his offscreen persona of a philanthropist and do-gooder, with his onscreen stardom. Pasanga 2 (2015) and Thaana Serndha Koottam (2018) are good examples of this confusion. It was hard to figure out which Suriya was on screen; the real or the reel.
Then there are films like 24 (2016), which are so out of the ordinary that despite poor performance at the box office, they are endeavours the actor in him can (and should) be proud of.
The Other Side
I did mention Nandha (2001) before, but it’s important to understand the level of personal transformation that Suriya underwent for the role. From a plain vanilla boy, who barely danced, never really fought, and mostly wept on screen, the boy wonder metamorphosed into an actor overnight.
He did the same in 2003, with Pithamagan, yet another Bala film. In what surprised the audience and critics alike, Suriya delivered a pitch perfect performance as a small time con artist. Brilliantly crafted dialogues delivered in perfect local slang and attitude, his character in the film will go down in the history of Tamil cinema. And this, despite Vikram playing a man who grew up amidst burning corpses, with no living soul for company.
By the time Raktha Charitra (2010) hit the screens, Suriya was already a huge star, with the first Singam (2010) under his belt. Nevertheless, his decision to pander to Ram Gopal Varma’s fetish for consummate actors with six packs paid off. He delivered a wonderfully nuanced performance, that stands out in a needlessly long film.
Why NGK is a Milestone
This is the first time director Selvaraghavan and actor Suriya have come together in their 17 and 22-year-long careers, respectively. Regardless of how the movie fares at the box office, this is one combination (with music director Yuvan Shankar Raja thrown in), that Tamil cinema will remember.