He was the most sought-after comedian a couple of years ago and still receives many offers to play one, but Santhanam says he wants to move to the next level. For him, that is being a hero. While his first two films as a leading man were decent outings, the jury is still out on whether he can pull it off as a hero. Currently, he has finished work on Dhilluku Dhuddu, a horror comedy, which has him teaming up with his guru Rambala, and is also acting in Server Sundaram, in which he plays a chef. The actor talks to Chennai Times on his upcoming films, his transition from comedian to hero, the criticisms that have followed suit, and life as a hero. Excerpts:
You, too, have joined the horror comedy bandwagon. Is this because the genre has become a fail-safe one today?
Not really. The production house behind this film is synonymous with horror films. But clichéd as it might seem, this is a horror comedy with a difference. It is a love story with horror elements. As the title implies, the hero, Kumar, is someone who does anything to show off his bravery. He is one guy whom even the ghosts are scared of. He constantly pulls their legs.
You are teaming up with Rambala, with whom you had worked on Lollu Sabha…
He is my guru as he introduced me in Lollu Sabha and we worked on many episodes on that show and on Sagalai Ragalai. Counter comedy is his main plus and he knows what my strengths are. And he doesn’t compromise when it comes to comedy. Right from the beginning, he wanted this to be a horror comedy with a difference. We are releasing the teaser today and planning to release the film in mid-June.
You have once again gone for a north Indian heroine…
Not just the heroine, even the villain is a north Indian this time. But this is only because the story demanded it. It is about a local boy who falls in love with a fair-skinned settu ponnu. We felt Shanaya, who has acted in a few ads and a Bollywood film, will be right for the heroine’s role.The villain character, again, is a Marwari Seth. I admired Saurabh Shukla in PK, where he played the villainous role of a godman with a funny strain. So, we approached him, and he, too, was interested after listening to the story and his role, which is that of a shrew. He said, `Usually , only Kamal Haasan calls me from the south, but I’m excited by this role.
‘ Your next film (Server Sundaram) has the title of a Nagesh film. Aren’t you apprehensive there might be comparisons with the actor and the film?
I don’t think so. The times are different. The plots are different. And today’s audiences understand these things. I don’t think we have given any chance for comparisons.
Do you miss being a comedian?
Not really , and that’s mainly because the roles that I’ve chosen as a hero are also comic ones. I’ve not tried to play an action hero or a mass hero. I’m doing these happy-go-lucky types who are fun to be around. At the same time, I’m also dancing and fighting to ensure that there are other flavours to this comic persona.
There are quite a few who feel that you should have stuck to being a comedian and that you are too conscious while acting as a hero. What is your take on this opinion?
As a comedian, I can be casual and act as I please.I can take potshots at everyone, including the hero, and people like such things. But when I play a hero, other than the scenes when I need to be funny , I have to underplay and act normal. But, to some audiences, it appears as if something is missing in my acting or that I’m being too conscious. I think, given time, people will begin to understand and appreciate what I’m doing.
There is also this criticism that your style of comedy has become predictable…
It has been a while since I played a comedian. And I don’t think I have followed the same style of comedy in my films of a hero. So, I don’t know what people have found predictable. There are comedians who are trying to do comedy like me. Perhaps people might have meant those scenes after watching them on TV . My days of doing comedy using rhyming and timing are over. Even while working on Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga, I told the director that we should avoid that style. Still, only when you try it out will you realize how difficult that style of comedy (with rhyming, timing and reactions) is. When it comes to work, I will not compromise. I don’t believe in repeating or recycling what I had done earlier. I have to like the counters, dialogues and jokes and won’t proceed further until that happens.
Don’t you regret missing out on films with top stars?
We hear you were recently offered the comedian’s role in Ajith’s next film.
With Ajith’s film, that is not likely to happen, though I do not want to say for sure that I will not be acting. Everybody wants to go to the next level.That is a natural instinct. Even today , I can choose to be a comedian and earn a lot of money . I still get a lot of offers to play a comedian. But I’m no longer interested in being one. That’s mainly because I want to satisfy my creative urges. I’m not cheating anyone or doing something wrong in pursuing my ambition. And I’m putting in effort to make sure that audiences accept me as a hero. I was the first to make the jump from TV to cinema; then, with Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya, I became a producer while acting as a comedian; now, from a comedian, I’ve turned hero. In some ways, I hope this can serve as an inspiration to others who just need to believe in themselves and go for what they hope to achieve.
But the industry seems to recognise someone as a top star only when they collaborate with top heroines and top directors. And yet, you seem to be working only with newcomers…
Initially, I wanted to make people who have been with me for long and who worked on my comedy tracks. There were plans of acting in films of wellknown directors like Sundar C and Rajesh, but then, when Rambala approached me, I couldn’t say no. He is, after all, the man who gave me my name. I still want to help out people who depend on me and have stood by me all through these years. Combinations with top heroines and directors will happen, though not immediately .
There were reports of you marrying Ashna Zaveri in Tirupati, which you then clarified on social media.How did your family take to these rumours?
Well, I had informed people at home that I was going to Tirupati and that Ashna would be coming there with her family . So, they knew what was actually going on and so did not take them seriously .
You were constantly shooting when you were a comedian. Has life become different as a hero?
Of course. My life as a comedian was hectic. Now, I’m able to spend more time with my family . I’m the same, jolly person even when I’m with my family. Comedy is not a job. One cannot just go up to the shooting spot and then start acting funny . You have to be funny in real life as well.