'Joker' took a huge toll on my mental health: Actor Guru Somasundaram to TNM

The 'Joker' actor speaks to TNM about choosing unique scripts and the experience of working with Rajinikanth in the upcoming film 'Petta'.
'Joker' took a huge toll on my mental health: Actor Guru Somasundaram to TNM
'Joker' took a huge toll on my mental health: Actor Guru Somasundaram to TNM
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There’s a sense of maturity and contentment in Guru Somasundaram. You realise it when you listen to him speak. He says he doesn’t act for money. “Kalai mukkiyam; kaasu illa (art is important, not money),” he smiles. The actor stays in Tiruvannamalai, travels back and forth to the city. Also, he conducts theatre workshops for kids in Corporation and Government schools.

“I am not all that ambitious. In fact, I didn’t expect to be in films, though I was into theatre and acting. I do cinema for art’s sake. I don’t think too much about success-failure, what works and what doesn’t,” he adds. Excerpts from a conversation follow:

You seem comfortable doing ‘dark films’. That has been the case since Aaranya Kaandam (2011), Jigarthanda (2014), Kuttrame Thandanai (2016) to your latest release, Vanjagar Ulagam.

I don’t know if I'm attracted to only such films. But I get what you’re saying. They’re not your usual kind. Joker (2016), again for instance. It was a difficult subject to handle, and I was hesitant about how it would translate on screen. Finally, I decided the key was to stay honest and went ahead.

What can you tell us about Petta?

It’s a Rajinikanth film. And, that says it all. I got to shoot with him, and the second schedule will start by October. Everyone kept asking me if I took a selfie with Thalaivar. I told them, nadikkave nadichaachu, apram enna photo? (I have acted with him, then what photo?) (Laughs) But, it didn’t strike me to ask him for a picture. For his age, he’s super fit and energetic. He grasps dialogues quickly, and does on spot improvisations. It's simply magical. I thoroughly enjoyed his company. I think so did he. (Winks) 

You’ve done only a handful of films in the past seven years.

Why should I do too many films? And what if I don’t? Who said if I don’t do films now and then, the audience is going to forget me? I am not an insecure actor. The industry has space for many artistes, and I’ve mine. (Smiles) To be honest, I don’t find the need to be constantly seen. Projects that need you will definitely find their way, and that’s how it has been all these years.

I was in Koothu-p-pattarai for 11 years and then ventured into films. My heart still lies in theatre. I’ve been travelling all over schools in Tamil Nadu, conducting theatre workshops. It’s fantastic to teach the craft to students and understand them. I ride, find schools, stay there for four to five days. At the end of the exercise, we do a show together. No, I don’t get much out of this. But, I am satisfied. Half the kids know me as an actor. And the rest know me as a teacher. The process is quite gratifying.

I am sure it is. Moving on, let’s discuss your life after Joker.

It has changed a lot. Previously, I was just a character actor, and now, they see me as an artiste. That scares me. Especially, when you’re being treated with love and respect wherever you go. I see art more like my conscience.

That sounds deep.

Of course... Vandhom, naalu padam pannitu ponom (We came, did four films and left). That’s not life. Cinema isn’t my priority. I want to use films as a platform, and do better things for the welfare of artistes. When an actor does something, the reach is naturally more.

We live in the world that’s moving to Netflix, Amazon Prime and the Internet. There’s a different parallel world that exists without knowing nothing. I want arts to cater to them.

You’ve done two films in Malayalam -- 5 Sundarikal and Kohinoor. Have you been getting offers from other languages -- Telugu or Kannada?

I finished shooting for Shailaja Padindala’s film, and that’s my Kannada debut. I don’t play a lead in the film, but a crucial role. It’s a female-oriented subject. I am open to doing films in any language. Acting, after all, knows no barrier.

Absolutely. Is that why even today, you continue to act in short films?

I can’t say ‘no’ to someone who believes in me. In particular, those newbies. (Smiles). After Joker, I did four short films, yes. Even otherwise, say, I don’t like a script, I can’t be rude and say ‘no’ to directors. I suggest changes here and there and ask them to rework on the script. If need be, I put them on to someone else, who I think can pull off that role better. I travel with them, get to understand them. It’s my way of working. Hit films venum-nu dhaan varaanga cinema-ku. Flop kuduka illa. (People come to cinema to make hit films, not flops) So, I am nice to everyone.

From theatre to cinema, you’ve traversed several paths. As for films, what been challenging to you?

The theatre influence does help in films; but not completely. Let me explain. One scene will be taken in February, and the continuation of the same will happen in December. As an actor, you’re required to get your character arc, looks, emotions, expressions, continuity, and the other-related aspects right.

Also, sometimes, climax portions will be shot first, and the introduction scenes will be shot months later. I prefer to take down notes always.

Do you take your characters home? (Laughs)

That actually happened with Joker. It had a huge toll on my mental well-being. I developed stress and anxiety. Director Raju Murugan is also aware of this. In fact, others suggested that I consult a psychiatrist. To that extent, I used to lament about the society to random people. I think Kumararaja Thiagarajan was the most affected. Naan polambaren, kettukonga-nu avar-a torture pannirken (I've tortured him by making him listen to my rants). (Laughs) I am all right now.

Do you think you can do another film like Joker?

I am not sure. But hey, why not? It was worth all the pain and effort. First of all, will I get a script like that again? I don’t know. But society maarinaa, Joker maadhiri edhukku innoru padam? (But if society changes, why make another film like Joker?)

What made you choose Vanjagar Ulagam?

I liked director Manoj Beedha’s approach, and the way he narrated the script. Despite being a gangster film, I believed there was something unusual about the storyline.

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