Suriya is back where he belongs

Suriya is back where he belongs

Though 'Singham' was successful in increasing Suriya's fame in the 'B' and 'C' centres, its sequels turned out to be duds.

There is a lovely saying that ‘easy reading is damn hard writing’. Watching Suriya in his prime was an easy and pleasant ride. Just that, it didn’t feel like the actor worked hard to be convincing. Suriya’s effortless screen-presence was an innate quality.

The Tamil star’s latest ‘Soorarai Pottru’, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, reiterates the argument. The film is an important chapter in Suriya’s career as it remindes us why he was considered one of the best. The common reaction from the Suriya faithful was a sense of relief, marking the end of his decade-long lean phase.

Suriya, son of popular actor Sivakumar, began with ‘Nerrukku Ner’ (1997). In the action-comedy, he shared screen space with Vijay, who was an emerging star by then. An attractive face was a prerogative for romantic dramas in those times and the handsome-looking Suriya was inevitably cast in love stories.

After the initial struggles to find his footing, Suriya broke through with Bala’s ‘Nandha’ (2001). His raw performance of a young man who returns from juvenile prison only to face rejection from society was a big deviation from his boy-next-door acts. Post ‘Nandha’, he never let himself be repetitive, fuelling the golden age of his career.

His twin-collaboration with Gautam Vasudev Menon is celebrated even today. In ‘Kaakha Kaakha’ (2003), Gautam weaved in a classy love story in the world of an intense cop and Suriya gave his all as inspector Anbuselvan.  

Five years later, the duo delivered ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’, a dense, emotional romantic drama that was elevated by melodious numbers from Harris Jayaraj and the stellar cast of Simran, Sameera Reddy and Divya Spandana (Ramya). The film was needlessly long and the story pretentious in some places but Suriya’s sincere performance in the double role (father-son) has given ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’ a cult status today.  

In between, he worked with Bala again, this time as conman Sakthi in ‘Pithamagan’ (2003).  He played second fiddle to Vikram, who was terrific as a man who grows up in a graveyard with animal instincts. For cinephiles, the customary gore that accompanies a Bala film didn’t matter. They feasted on two fine performers at the peak of their abilities.   

Already a big hit with the youth, Suriya’s fame catapulted when he played Michael, a fearless student leader in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Aayutha Ezhuthu’ (2004). Though an unimaginative rip-off of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ (2000), AR Murgadoss’s ‘Ghajini’ (2005) was a runaway hit due to Suriya’s charm.

Despite his earnest acting and effort put behind physical transformations, Suriya’s following never reached the levels of Ajith’s and Vijay’s. The two stuck to the formula of commercial cinema and went on to become Tamil cinema’s biggest ‘superstars’ following the era famous for Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.   

In search of similar ‘mass’ admiration, Suriya attempted an image makeover, a decision that brought his downfall. Hari’s ‘Singham’ (2010) was the first step in that direction. It was great fun to watch Suriya as the over-the-top angry cop in a rural setting. ‘Singham’ adopted old-school ideas of a commercial potboiler to the right effect but very soon, the golden goose was killed with two mind-numbing, progressively worse sequels.   

Suriya went back to directors who made him a star but the films lacked their fingerprints. Murgadoss’ '7 AM Arivu' (2011), K V Anand’s 'Maattran' (2012), and Anjaan (2014) were dull affairs that would have bored even the 'C' centre audience. 

During this phase, Tamil cinema witnessed a revolution, with short-film makers smoothly graduating into fine directors with fresh content. Karthik Subbaraj began the paradigm shift with ‘Pizza’ (2012). Nalan Kumarasamy (‘Soodhu Kavvum’), Balaji Mohan (‘Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi’), and M Manikandan (‘Kaaka Muttai’) followed suit.

The change in the taste of the audience became a challenge for Suriya, who was aiming for a larger-than-life image. Vijay Sethupathi’s insatiable thirst for unique stories and the Dhanush-Vetrimaran combo delivering hard-hitting, gripping sagas (‘Aadukalam’ and ‘Vada Chennai’) were highlights of this period.

Suriya made time for experiments. His 'Maasu Engira Masilamanni', directed by Venkat Prabhu, was a horror-comedy. The film was a half-baked attempt with an unconvincing story. Venkat Prabhu's strength is humour and even that didn't work in the film. Suriya's time-travel drama '24' was his most decent film of that dull phase. 

Suriya’s off-screen persona had a direct effect on his choice of scripts. His philanthropic nature and political statements were in sync with the films he starred in. In Selvaraghavan’s ‘NGK’, he is the local do-gooder who turns into a politician because he is mad about his country. Even for an auteur like Selvaraghavan, who wrote flawed yet interesting male leads in 'Pudhupettai' and '7G Rainbow Colony', it was difficult to stick to his original style while working with a 'star' like Suriya.  

In K V Anand’s ‘Kaappaan’, he is an intelligence officer who delivers lectures on organic farming. The film suffered from a curse of too much.  

Noble intentions don’t make good films. His acting never suffered in these films. But it was painful to watch him dance, deliver long dialogues, and kick-ass because the screenplays couldn’t think beyond these Jaded ideas.

Under the meticulous Sudha Kongara in ‘Soorarai Pottru’, Suriya has turned the clock back. His next is 'Vaadi Vaasal' with Vetrimaran. Perhaps it’s the start of an interesting phase for the versatile actor.