When Sampath Ram traded in his credit card collection executive’s job after director S Shankar personally cast him for a role in Mudhalvan (1999), he thought his life’s wildest dream was about to come true.
“I was to play a sub-inspector. I thought that it was going to be my big break,” says the 48-year-old actor, who has made a name playing the bad guy in films.
But on the day of shoot, reality hit him hard. “I didn’t know what an atmosphere artiste was until that point,” the actor recalls.
If you’d look up the scene from the film, where the Chief Minister (played by the late Raghuvaran) visits the heroine’s village, you’d know that Sampath does gets drowned out in the atmosphere.
But setbacks were something he’d already been used to.
The actor, who, recently, won appreciation in film circles for his aghori act in Raghava Lawrence’s Kanchana 3, wanted to represent the country as a basketball player.
“I played the pivot (position). I’ve even represented the Madras University basketball team in 1990-91. I’d hoped to land a Government job under the sports quota,” he says.
Things took an about turn when his father, who was managing a stainless steel factory in Old Washermanpet, passed away, and he had to take over the reins. “But I was never into it. My heart was in basketball,” he adds.
Following a fallout with his family, he walked out and stayed in a mansion near Mount Road. “That’s when I took up the job as a credit card collection agent to survive,” he notes. Around this time, he came in contact with director Vasanthabalan, who was then an assistant to Shankar.
But films didn’t happen immediately. It was TV that initially put him in front of a camera. “My first role was as a street thug in the Doordarshan tele serial Ethanai Manithargal,” he says.
The big problem
Playing the baddie came to be the calling card for Sampath, whose menacing looks and six foot two inch frame, landed him plenty of roles as the goon.
Sampath Ram with Ajith Kumar
But it wasn’t until AR Murugadoss’ Dheena (2001), which starred Ajith Kumar, that he’d come into prominence. It was also then that he realised that it is not easy playing a thug.
“You had to know how to take a fall. I didn’t. I was never trained in stunts,” he says.
Problems cropped up during filming, when he took a sharp punch on the chest from Ajith. “I was supposed to fall down after the hit. When I did, my head hit the floor and I heard something crack like a coconut,” he says.
Though he escaped with a bruise, Ajith cautioned him. “He told me to get trained in stunts to protect myself from injury,” says Sampath. He eventually underwent stunt training.
But why did he not let the stunt master know that he couldn’t take a hit?
“No. You can’t ever say you don’t know or can’t do something, especially in cinema. They’ll never give you a chance again,” he says, adding that it is this thought that artistes like him can never grow out of.
A recent example was when he continued shooting for Prabhu Solomon’s Kaadan despite suffering an injury. “It was a rope sequence. The stunt actor kicked me hard in the chest during rehearsal, and I was winded. The injury happened despite the harness,” he says.
He continued shooting for five more days after the incident, because what if…”they replaced me? I was afraid”. He was alerted to the injury’s seriousness after a CT scan revealed a blood clot between the heart and the lungs.
“I still opted to finish the final day’s shoot for Kanchana 3 before getting admitted,” he says. “Because people still can’t see me as someone more than a fighter (stunt man),” he concludes.