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Happy birthday Suriya: The actor, the star and everything in between

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 23-07-2018 ashameera aiyappan
Suriya wearing a white shirt © Provided by Screen

As someone who writes about cinema, the best thing I get to do is to revisit some of the best work by my favourite artistes. And I say artistes, not stars, because at the root that is what any creative person is. Cinema is a collaborative art. What we see on screen is the actor fuelled by other forms of art such as writing, direction, cinematography etc. This piece is going to be about one such actor, an artiste I dearly miss on big screen.

The period from 2002-2005 was revelatory for Suriya and also for the Tamil audience as we had found an actor who seemed he could do anything. Kicking off with Mounam Pesiyadhe, Suriya’s choices and performances were exemplary as he set new standards for himself. From being the angry, loyal young man in Mounam Pesiyadhe, Suriya shifted to being the sophisticated cop in Kaakha Kaakha. And, then it was the easy-to-like con-man in Pithamagan, followed by a hunchback in Perazhagan and a revolutionary student leader in Aaytha Ezhuthu.

There are very few actors who can straddle the kind of roles I have just listed with consummate ease, over just a couple of years. Suriya’s body language in all of these films is beautiful — they shifted, changed and morphed with the character he was essaying. Pithamagan was the epitome of how effortlessly expressive Suriya can be. Suriya played the perfect anti-foil to Vikram’s bottled-up emotions. In contrast to Vikram whose movements happened in bursts, there is a languid ease, a flow in Suriya’s mannerisms. The actor is excellent, even in the microscopic moments; his face organically transcends from one reaction to the other. Suriya wasn’t acting, it didn’t seem like that at least. He had the looks (those gorgeous eyes can speak volumes) and tonnes of acting chops. It seemed like nothing could go amiss.

The streak continued even though he wasn’t showered with commercial success. And then something happened that changed Suriya as we knew him. The film was Vaaranam Aayiram, and since then it hasn’t been the same. Now, I love the film for what it is. Playing a dual role, there are various shades to Suriya’s performance that is quite enjoyable. But the film brought a tangible terseness to his body-language that knew no inhibitions earlier. The tautness became marginally stronger with films like Ayan, Aadhavan, becoming unshakeable with the Singam franchise. For the cinephile in me, it seemed like we have lost yet another convicted actor to the clutches of stardom. The audience could sense that he was acting, the effort, something that Suriya had never shown us before. Maybe, he was bearing the weight of commercial success, of being a mass hero.

Suriya’s latest Thaanaa Serndha Koottam was most memorable for me for one reason — it saw him loosen up a bit. Arguably, it was the most fun he has had in years. I was relieved to see Suriya get a break from the ‘one-eye scrunch’ that makes me lament. Suriya was one of the actors I immensely enjoyed watching on screen, and he is also, unarguably, a star with a market command of his own. Is it too much to hope for both avatars to co-exist? I hope Selvaraghavan brings us back the free, easy-going, uninhibited Suriya from his Pithamagan days. Maybe, we would find the answer in Selvaraghavan’s NGK.

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