Air Deccan founder Capt Gopinath speaks to TNM about Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

‘Soorarai Pottru’, directed by Sudha Kongara and starring Suriya, is loosely based on Captain GR Gopinath and how he launched Air Deccan.
Captain Gopinath and Suriya
Captain Gopinath and Suriya
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Captain GR Gopinath, the person responsible for introducing ‘low-cost aviation’ in India, is back in the news. This time around, it is for an upcoming movie, which is inspired by his life and by extension his book ‘Simply Fly’. 

Soorarai Pottru, starring actor Suriya in the lead and directed by Sudha Kongara will premier on Amazon Prime on October 30. The teaser and the audio release so far have created great expectations among the actor’s fans across the world. The film is based on Captain Gopinath and how he founded Air Deccan.

In a freewheeling chat with TNM, GR Gopinath speaks about his book, the much-anticipated film and more.  

How did Soorarai Pottru happen? 

I wrote a book called 'Simply Fly', which became quite a best-seller and even during its launch, (actor) Suhasini and (actor-playwright) Girish Karnad told me to make a movie out of it or at least give the film rights. "This will become a hit because it has got all those elements -- a village life, army experience, farming, aviation etc. I would make a visually powerful film," they said. Unfortunately Girish passed away. 

Soon after film producer Guneet Monga contacted me. She is from a humble background and climbed up the ladders and founded Sikhya Entertainment, which has produced some good movies like Gangs of Wasseypur, The Lunchbox, Masaan etc. She approached me and said that she wanted to produce the film and she wanted global rights in all languages including in Hindi. She said that she wanted to first make it in Tamil and then in Hindi and she was the one who picked Sudha Kongara to be the director for this project. 

I got to know about Guneet's background and the work Sikhya has done and realised that she is a big go-getter. I thought well a woman who has come from a humble background and raced her way to the top might as well make the movie instead of traditional production houses. 

Yes, so after Guneet hired Sudha as the director, Sudha in turn hired Suriya to be the lead actor in the movie. He came and met me just to say a hello and said that he read the book and was inspired. 

How do you think the audience would react to Suriya as GR Gopinath in the film? Do you think somebody else could have portrayed Gopinath better on-screen?

I don't know. I don't know much about Tamil films. A lot of people told me that he is very good. They told me that he is a big star in Tamil Nadu. I have not watched any of his films. But whoever I spoke to about him gave very high marks for him. 

Generally I watch movies made by people like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal etc. I am somehow not watching too much of these song-dance mixes films. Modern Hindi films are not a realistic portrayal of the India of the day. Whereas films that came out 40-50 years ago, that would not be the case. They would be realistic to the society at that point in time. If a historian watched those films, they would say that that's how Indian society was, at that time. 

So I think you might have to tell me if he does a good job playing me in Soorarai Pottru

How do you think the movie has turned out? 

They have not strictly kept to the book actually. They had said that they will fictionalise my book and just draw inspiration from it. They have dramatised it here and there. The only thing I was particular about was that the movie should be done in a decent manner and not violating any ethics and guidelines. I just wanted the movie to be true to the spirit of the book. The spirit of the book is that 'Even a village boy can dream'. 

If you combine your dream with your hard work, they can become reality. It is a story of triumph of hard work over adversity. 

How involved were you during the scripting of the film? 

I wasn't involved during the scripting. The team had met me to understand more in person and to get a sense of the main characters in my book and see how it can fit in the film. They spent a lot of time talking to me to understand more about the book and some things that are not in the book too. After that she (Sudha) worked on it and did what she had to do. 

Have you watched the film already? 

No. We were supposed to watch it in a private premiere, but everything has gone haywire now due to the pandemic. 

How much light has been thrown on the Air Deccan story in Soorarai Pottru do you think? 

I actually don't know. The book was quite famous because Air Deccan is a household name. Then I translated the book into Kannada, where also it was well-received. The book is not a how-to kind of a management book. It is a story book. 

It traces my life in my village, it speaks about the issues in agriculture and all in a story format. People reading it can take whatever they want from it rather than taking some five/ten 'lessons' from it. The book talks about casteism in villages, army life and a lot other things. It also has a small portion about Vijay Mallya. So aviation is just one part of the book and not the entire book. I am sure they have taken a lot of creative liberty with the book when making it into a film. 

Speaking about Vijay Mallya, did you watch the episode on Kingfisher Airlines in Bad Boy Billionaires? Is he going to be mentioned in Soorarai Pottru

(Laughs) I am not sure why they didn't interview me. He (Mallya) was my business partner for quite some time. Anyway that's how it is. 

I told the team to just stick to the idea of the book. I have not gotten any defamation notice (from Mallya) for my book since the time it was written. I don't want it (defamation notice) moving forward either, so I was just a little apprehensive and told the film team about it. I will exercise some oversight over the Hindi version of the film to the extent of ensuring they don’t depart too much from the essence and remain true to narrative of the book while giving them creative liberty to dramatise it.

How is your political career shaping up? 

I contested a few elections a few years ago because I always felt one cannot stay outside and keep criticising the system. But I also realised that if one really wants to win in elections, they really have to make a career of politics. 

I gave it a thought and it was a choice between politics and aviation. I gave up politics and chose aviation. I now write a lot on various issues since I have experience in them -- agriculture, small businesses, economy, defense etc and also run the flight charter business. 

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