Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar & Inian | Camera : Balaji | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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His baritone has always grabbed your attention and so do his performance and looks. Eschewing established patterns, he broke the syntax of Tamil cinema with his gay act in Goa that earned him a huge fan base. Touted to be the next Raghuvaran, he has essayed diverse characters in his career. Catch the versatile Sampath in conversation with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian.

Aaranya Kandam

I had talked to behindwoods a year back on Aaranya Kandam and continue to say the same now too. In the history of Tamil cinema, Aaranya Kandam will remain amongst the best hundred films. To testify that, in the New York Film Festival, for the first time, a Tamil film was screened which was Aaranya Kandam and it went on to bag the best film award in its category.

Aaranya Kandam will remain

amongst the best hundred films

What made you accept Aaranya Kandam?

Two reasons. First reason is Charan as he happens to be my dear friend. The second reason that inspired me to do this film is director Kumara Raja’s narration. Kumara Raja is a first time director who is an ad film maker. He has also penned dialogues for many films, the popular one being Oram Po. Kumara Raja’s conviction in the script appealed to me. I was more than convinced that if someone can narrate a script so well, he is sure to execute it with finesse when given an opportunity. That was one of the driving forces for me to accept Aaranya Kandam.

Jackie Shroff had a mind-

blowing diction of Tamil

Sharing screen space with Jackie Shroff

Dada is a very cool guy! I would not want to call him a cool man because he still feels and behaves like a guy. A lot of people across the world especially actors should learn certain things from Jackie Shroff. He makes you feel very comfortable and is fun to work with. One of the beauties about Jackie Shroff is that he had a mind-blowing diction of Tamil. He could literally speak the language very well. I can give you a small incite about him which will probably answer your question. We were doing a scene where Jackie has to give away money to young people. Charan gave Rs 2000 to him to use for the shot. However Jackie, instead of giving away this money in action, he would literally give the money away and ask “hey Charan, give some more money if there is another take”. He is that generous and genuinely like that.

Ravi Krishna

When I met Ravi Krishna at the puja of the film, I could not recognize him because he has lost oodles of weight and looked so young. He could have easily passed off as 15-17 year old. When we started shooting, there is just one place where we encounter each other. Yeah, we had a good time working together.

Director Kumara Raja

Kumara Raja is a perfectionist. That’s what I realized. He is one of the in-depth and into-the-script directors. I come from a theatre background and have worked with varied directors. He is one of the extremely focused directors. He did not waver a single second from the script to the extent that if he wants a particular line to be said after the foot has been kept down, he would insist that we speak our lines once our foot touches the ground. That’s the kind of perfection that Kumara Raja did. We would do umpteen numbers of rehearsals purely because the shot had to up to the mark and there are no re-takes.

Kumara Raja is a perfectionist

Aaranya Kandam is a gangster


What is different in Aaranya Kandam?

All that I can say is Aaranya Kandam is a gangster flick. It is a story that happens in the city between few people. The very making of Aaranya Kandam is different. It may sound clichéd but that is the truth. This I could feel from the time I started working in the film. I have told this to Charan many a times. The narration, the storyline and the premise of AK will be very different.

Preparation for Aaranya Kandam

Honestly nothing! Kumar did not want me to color my grey hair. The only make up we did was the wound that would happen in the film.

Kumar did not want me to color

my grey hair

I am an emotionally weak person

Your role in Magizhchi?

Magizhchi is a film done by Gauthaman from a novel. When I came to Chennai, I did my first film Neranja Manasu with Vijaykanth. Unfortunately, it was perhaps the biggest disaster in Vijaykanth’s career itself. I was standing outside AVM, not knowing what to do next. That’s when I got a call from Gauthaman introducing himself and saying that he would like to meet me
regarding his film with a role for me. He also mentioned that he had seen Neranja Manasu. I told that I am keen to meet him whether we are doing a film or not as I was happy he had seen Neranja Manasu and called. Later when he narrated the script, I was impressed with his way of story telling. When he came to interval mode, he asked me to put my phone in general mode and suggested a tea break. That was literally taking me into a visual trance of watching a movie. For some strange reasons, the film did not happen then but when it happened after 5 years, Gauthaman came back and gave me the same role. I was touched and as I am an emotionally weak person, I agreed to do the film. I don’t regret because the characterization of mind stood really quite a bit in the film. I did not have big scenes in it but whatever little existed were power packed. I am happy for Gautham and thanks Gautham!

On your special role in Goa

I don’t know how to start this but the original script of Goa did not have a gay character because the line which was mine which I gave it to Venkat Prabhu did not have a gay element at all. But when Prabhu came after a couple of months and gave me a narration with a gay character, I found it extremely funny and told that only he can pull such stuff off. Although I found the concept a new one, we were apprehensive about the response and feared we may get hammered by media or the audience. Luckily for us, there was a Supreme Court verdict which gave an official status to alternate sexuality. I asked Prabhu about the person who is going to do this role. He very sheepishly told that there is someone but is afraid that the person might bash him. I grew curious and wanted to know. Finally he said it was me. I was shocked as I would never have beaten any director for that reason because it’s an honor that somebody has thought that I can execute such a role. And Prabhu is one of my closest friends in cinema who I met when I did Neranja Manasu where he played my younger brother in the film. I told Prabhu I was moved but wondered if I could pull it off. He had the confidence in me. That’s how Goa happened.

Feedback you received for your role in Goa

I had fantastic response. The best of directors from Tamil cinema called and congratulated me. They were basically shocked that I was able to execute something like this. I think it is a huge compliment and I take it in my stride as these are the kind of thirsts that an actor actually looks forward for. That’s basically taken me to a different platform saying that Sampath is just not going to be a villain who takes aruval, runs around and shouts but can also perform something like this.

You seem to be treading on unchartered paths. How do you manage to do this?

I don’t know about this. If you ask my mother, probably she would agree with you. When I decided to become an actor, my whole family laughed at me. I don’t come from a cinema background at all. It was for strange reasons I still don’t know why I said what I said then but I was always cued towards wanting to become an actor. I would do crazy things and my mother would tell me, at least for a change try and do something that is more heroic. I don’t know but that never fascinated me. I would have always gone ahead and done things which I would not do in my normal life. I guess, as an actor, the biggest satisfaction is when you do things that you are not normally made for, like it could be my role in Goa or in Seval or Thamirabarani or Asal or Saroja for that matter. What excites me is when someone comes to me and says there is this 90 year old man’s role. I would like to see myself how I would be when I turn 90.

Would you take on the role of a hero if it comes your way?

After Saroja, I did get quite a bit of offers to work as hero. But honestly, I would like to do roles (hero) if it is of my age, my kind of look and more realistic. I personally have not gotten over the fact that we can actually break in to singing and dancing. Somewhere it has not convinced me. Even when I did Saroja, the first thing I told Prabhu was that I was not convinced (about the dancing) but he just asked me to shut up and do. But when the song became a huge hit, everybody turned around and said I should start looking for hero roles. However, the kind of roles that I have always got has always made me happy. I have never consciously thought of turning a hero. I recently heard a script where the gentleman is supposed to have two kids aged 14 and 10 and the story revolves around this man. I would do that kind of a film.

I have never consciously thought

of turning a hero

Are you in Mankatha?

Unfortunately I am not there in Mankatha. I go by what Prabhu says. When he said that he cannot find a suitable role in Mankatha for me, I have trust in what he says. I worked in three of his films and know what he means. Definitely, there is no question asked.

Your association with Venkat Prabhu

Prabhu is one of those friends who I don’t keep in touch on a daily basis. We don’t talk every day but we can always pick up where we left. I think that answers your question.

On your item number in Thriller

It is mainly because of the producer’s daughter who is in 9th standard as she was keen that I have a song in her father’s film. Hence he created a song and that’s how I ended up doing that. The girl is a huge fan of Saroja and thought that a song like this would make a big difference to the film.

What are the movies you are doing presently?

I am working on a Tamil project right now. I just heard few scripts and would choose one from it post Jan. I am also doing a Kannada film in Bangalore. I just did one Malayalam film and am doing one more film with Prithviraj.

It very clearly states that I am

worth it

Do you think your talents are underutilized in the industry?

Not really! We cannot say under utilized or over utilized because when there is an opportunity for a particular character and if a director feels that this particular person can fit into this role, that’s when he approaches you. I guess it is easy to say my potentials are not used but I would not say that. When I actually turn back and look at these 5 years, I am happy about the body of my work. And I am extremely proud that directors of good caliber have believed that I can accomplish projects. It very clearly states that I am worth it.

You are seen as Raghuvaran’s successor. How do you feel about this?

Raghuvaran was one of the trendsetting villains I have ever seen in the South Indian film industry. He broke the myth that villains should look ugly. I would always love to associate something like that with. We see around the world that we live in and say ‘thirudan maadirye illaye’. That’s the truth because rogues are not bad looking. I loved working with Raghuvaran in Beema and I can never forget what he told me then. He said, “Sampath, I worked with you for 12 days and I have watched you from day one. You seem to

There will only be one

Raghuvaran, one Prakash Raj

and one Sampath

have strong potential” . He also said something that is etched in me. He said there is going to be a huge vacuum that is going to come my way and I should know how to grab it. It is sad that he passed away a few months after this. He was one soul who was peaceful with his way of life. I guess we should never question that. Nobody takes anyone’s place and it is not possible. Never ever will I be able to do what Raghuvaran did. The only thing that is possible is to try and reach that level. There will only be one Raghuvaran, one Prakash Raj and one Sampath. That’s how it has to be.

Tags : Sampath, Aaranya Kandam, Goa, Mankatha, Venkat Prabhu, Raghuvaran
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