Sarath Kumar’s father wanted him to become a cop. “My father got me enrolled in the IPS and IAS coaching centre. But just a few days in, my brother-in-law, who is a minister, told me how transfers are inevitable and of uncertainty in this career. Hence, I got into business. That’s why in my first Tamil film, Kan Simittum Neram (1988), I played a police officer,” says Sarath.
After a slew of supporting roles in titles like Varisu and the Ponniyin Selvanfilms, the actor is back to his forte — playing lead roles and donning khaki — in this week’s release, Por Thozil, co-starring Ashok Selvan and Nikhila Vimal.
Excerpts from a conversation:
You’ve played a cop in more than 30 films. How different is ‘Por Thozhil’?
My role in Por Thozhil feels closer to reality. It actually gave me the feeling of investigating a real crime. I wouldn’t call the character arrogant. He’s a seasoned cop with a rigid outlook who, looking at newbies, wonders if they’ll make the cut in the force. That’s when he comes across Ashok Selvan’s character. As someone who knows the nuances of investigation, he’s apprehensive about working with a newbie but the journey softens him.
Given that you’ve played many cop roles, how challenging is it to bring in a difference to your character? Does the genre — in this case, an investigative thriller — come in handy?
Usually, in a cop film, there will be a villain because of whom, directly or indirectly, I would’ve been affected and there will be both a revenge angle and the motive to nab the guy. I don’t think I’ve done many films where my character gets involved in the investigation. The method of uncovering the truth, in Por Thozhil, is unique as it gets into the psyche of the killer. The film takes a deep dive into why he’s on a killing spree and what sort of a person he is. Studying these aspects was an interesting process and it felt like accessing a new style of investigation that I haven’t had the chance to portray earlier.
‘Por Thozhil’ is a dual-hero subject, which Tamil cinema has shied away from. But you’ve always been up for it, either playing dual roles or sharing screen space with another actor like in the case of ‘Thenkasi Pattanam’ and ‘Samasthanam’. What do you look for in such films?
If the subject requires two leads, I don’t look for whether the other character overpowers mine. I listen to the entire script and if I’m agreeing to do that film, I only expect them to stick to it and keep me in the loop if any changes arise. I don’t interfere in the making as I believe actors should have a certain level of confidence in the director. What’s left for me is to do a good job with the acting.
We recently saw you in supporting (the two ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ films) and negative roles (‘Rudhran’ and ‘Custody’). Interestingly, you started your career playing such roles. Does it feel like your professional life has come a full circle?
I don’t think so, because I took a sabbatical from cinema for a few years in between for politics. Thanks to technological developments, we don’t have to be present physically to be in politics. Social media and several other channels are getting out our views to many. Everyone with a mobile is a reporter today (laughs). I am able to do that too but my profession has always been cinema and I realised how I should still be in the industry while being active in politics.
I also have to consider my market and what sells. I’ve always been a producer’s actor and I have to do films making sure that they aren’t incurring any losses. If I want to launch myself as a pan-Indian actor, I have to refresh the audience of the memory. An entire generation might not have seen my films and the theatre-going audience is new now. We have to understand that only a sector of people is watching films in theatres. That sector might consist of people we might have not catered to and that’s why I believe working with new-gen actors and directors will aid in once again launching me.
Many of your counterparts have faded away and very few have reinvented themselves over the years. Where does this sense of a need to evolve come from?
I think it differs from one person to another. After playing the lead for years, I think some of them might develop an inferiority complex to do other roles. I beg to differ as I want to be the hero of a subject. If I get appreciated for doing a good role in a film, I become the hero of that film. When you do a good job with the character given to you, you will be watched. It’s better to be the cycle’s axle rather than the pedal; you keep on revolving. The pedal might go up and down but the axle will remain in place.
You directed your 100th film, ‘Thalaimagan’ (2006). Your 150th film, ‘The Smile Man’, is coming up. What are your future plans?
Thalaimagan was supposed to have been directed by Balaji. Suddenly, I had to take over. I tried to salvage it but it didn’t do well. The Smile Man is also about investigating a murder but the character I play is a cop with short-term memory loss. I might see the criminal in front of me and the audience know that he’s the bad guy, but my character won’t. It’s an interesting premise. I actually prefer editing as it gives me the space to think about where a scene can be placed to make the film better. It’s like solving a puzzle and that’s a lot of fun.
Por Thozhil is scheduled to hit theatres on June 9