Comedian, entertainer, actor.
These are merely a few sobriquets that have come to be associated with Balaji Patturaj in the last 11 years. But ask him how he identifies himself and pat comes the reply, "I'm always RJ Balaji first."
"I was a nobody when I first entered the field of radio and today all the recognition I have received is through this medium," says Balaji.
2017 has been an extremely busy year for Balaji with three big films in which he starred. However, this 32-year-old is not done just yet.
"For the first time, Tamil audience here will be witnessing a two hour satire show which is planned like an awards ceremony. I will be hosting it and it will be a laughter racket," reveals Balaji excitedly.
The show which is named Ice House to White House will be doling out hilarious titles to the most 'comic' characters that the country has seen this year.
"Some of our prominent nominees include BJP Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP leader H Raja, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and even American President Donald Trump," laughs Balaji.
The show begins in Chennai on December 24 and tickets for the premiere are already sold out. The "winner" for each award will be chosen based on audience's votes and the programme is meant to be constantly interactive.
40 well-known faces from the fields of cinema and politics have been nominated for the show and when asked about the categories, the host chooses to keep us guessing.
"Well there is one called 'Likeable Man of the Year' and another called 'Veravay-Naaravay'," he reveals. "I have in fact nominated myself for the second one!"
It is no secret that the radio jockey has come in the way of criticism multiple times this year, merely by being candid about his thoughts on social media and live television.
In May, for instance, he faced backlash after stating on a Tamil news channel that he did not think Rajinikanth was currently cut out for a political career.
"I waited for 25 years for him to enter politics, but now, I have lost my patience. The fans need not get emotional about what I am saying. I, too, am a fan," he'd said in the interview.
When asked if he was asking Rajinikanth to refrain from entering politics as it would be tough for the actor to handle the pressure, Balaji retorted, "It's not about the difficulties he would face, but what schemes can he ideate or implement now. I don't think I can expect much from him now, can I?"
His comments drew the ire of hardcore fans of the superstar who believed that it was an insult aimed at the actor and political aspirations.
Reflecting on the controversy, Balaji says, "As a person, I have changed this year. I have realised that being a social crusader does not mean that you need to have an opinion about everything. And even if you do, it is not necessary to express it. It is important to choose your battles carefully."
But with this latest show, is he not inviting the wrath of the nominees? In a political climate where a critical Facebook post could land you in prison, is satire based on political leaders not inviting controversy?
"The show will not be hypocritical in any manner because I will be taking digs at myself through the show as well," says Balaji. "In the last 11 years, I have seen how people respond to various kinds of comedy and I know that this satire will be accepted as humourous. I am not going to say anything new. We have already seen comments about politicians and actors on various social media platforms, especially through memes," he adds.
And what about the nominees?
"They will get to know how the people really feel about them and maybe they will learn how to address the public better," he laughs. "Even if the nominees themselves were present, the content will be in such a manner that they merely laugh even when I talk about them," he explains.
Balaji has done over 1500 shows but this upcoming performance is a product close to his heart.
"This award show will also have an undercurrent of societal issues that need to be addressed. I have been working on various projects and realised that I want to create something by myself. I don't want to do standup pieces where I memorise jokes and recite them for two hours. Moreover, I want this show to highlight what society needs," he says.
"We've worked on this show for two and a half months and haven't really slept in the last week. But even then, we only have a skeleton to guide us through the programme, the jokes will remain spontaneous," says Balaji. "After this, we will also be taking the show to America and the United Kingdom next year," he adds.
2018 has some interesting projects which will see the light of day. Karu, a horror film starring Sai Pallavi, Naga Shourja and Balaji is set to hit the big screens in February. If one were to go by the trailer, Balaji plays a tough cop. But mention that to him and he breaks into laughter.
"My character is anything but serious," reveals Balaji. "He basically gets the job through recommendation and has no clue what to do. He is a misfit and is scared to do anything at all. But then he slowly evolves through the film," he explains.
When asked about his experience of working in the movie, the actor says, "Karu is a horror film but it talks about something quite debatable. I have known Sai Pallavi for a while now and we share mutual respect. She is level-headed and one of the most intelligent woman actors I have seen. She carries no airs about herself."
And what is on the cards for him next?
"I never thought I will do films but I now thoroughly enjoy the experience. As of now, I am content learning and unlearning with every passing film," he says. "But whatever I do, I will stay true to myself."