The return of a star

Last Updated 28 September 2013, 15:45 IST

It is never easy to grab eyeballs in a film starring someone like Shah Rukh Khan, that too when you are making a debut in Bollywood.

But that is exactly what the towering six-footer Sathyaraj did in the all-time grosser Chennai Express, where he essayed the role of a Tamil don and father of heroine Deepika Padukone. Compliments followed and even King Khan Shah Rukh showered generous praise on his co-star. But for a confirmed scene stealer like Sathyaraj, who has over 200 films to his credit, this was no big deal.

In nearly three decades that he has been around, Sathyaraj has been mesmerising audiences with his body language and ‘punch’ dialogues. Starting out as a junior artiste, this gentle giant swiftly made the transition from villain to hero in no time. Two of the most outstanding performances in his career have come in films where he donned the role of a tough cop, the first in the Kamal Haasan-produced Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu, and in the hard-hitting crime thriller Walter Vetrivel. Sathyaraj has always had a fine comic timing, and this came to the fore in his role as a sleuth in the fun riot Malabar Police.

Funny bone

Perhaps it was this humorous streak in him that prompted ace director Shankar to cast him in Nanban, the Tamil remake of the all-time hit 3 Idiots. Reprising a role that had been immortalised by Boman Irani in the original was no cake walk, but Sathyaraj took the bull by its horns and turned in a meticulous performance. The actor who has also been penciled in for a major role in a comedy Varuthapadaatha Valibar Sangham is certain to strike again in a tailor made role.

Sathyaraj has had some of his finest roles in films that were directed by his classmate from college, actor-director Manivannan, and incidentally, the latter’s last film as a director before he succumbed to a heart attack, Nagaraja Cholan MLA, a sequel to the duo’s runaway hit Amaidhi Padai, had Sathyaraj in the lead. The credit goes to Manivannan for casting Sathyaraj as an arch villain in films like Nooravathu Naal and 24 Mani Neram, both of which catapulted him to the big league. Yet the actor’s finest performances came in offbeat roles in the Bharathiraja-directed Kadalora Kavithaigal, Vedham Pudhithu and in films like Periyar, directed by Gnanarajasekharan and Thangar Bachan’s Onbathu Roopai Notu.

A long-time follower of the Dravidian leader E V Ramaswamy Naicker aka Periyar, Sathyaraj realised his lifetime ambition when he was cast in the title role of the reformist icon. Eschewing his usual exuberance, Sathyaraj literally transformed himself into the character and won critical acclaim. While discerning directors like Fazil too have utilised Sathyaraj’s talent in family entertainers like En Bommukutty Ammavuku and Poovizhi Vasalile, his flair for comedy has been exploited by filmmakers like Shakti Chidambaram in hits like Ennamma Kannu, Maha Nadigan and Englishkaran. The actor, however, came a cropper when he produced and directed the film Villathi Villain, where he played a triple role.

While he has not been as prolific in other South Indian films as he has been in Tamil, Sathyaraj has done one Malayalam film Agathan, and two films in Telugu — Sankham and Mirchi. The star, however, will be seen in a tonsured appearance in the Rajamouli-directed action extravaganza Bahubali, now on the floors. The film, which has a star cast that includes Telugu superstar Prabhas and Kannada hero Sudeep, is certain to rock the box office. Sathyaraj, however, considers these films and his Bollywood offers as one-off occurrences and is keen on continuing his tenure in Tamil cinema where he has a faithful audience backing him.

(Published 28 September 2013, 15:45 IST)

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