Sivakarthikeyan is a phenomenon.
There is no parallel to the dizzying heights this erstwhile compère has scaled in seven short years, after beginning his career as a scrawny mimicry artist on television.
His quick wit (colloquially: “nose cuts”) make those grainy YouTube videos of his time from Star Vijay a compelling watch for fans even today.
The actor, 34, also admits to occasionally re-watching his old videos from time-to-time, partially because “it is a nice feeling”, and mostly because “I’m surprised that I’ve said all those things”.
That, then, explains why he consciously keeps his guard up throughout the interview.
“It is just that certain things I may say for fun aren’t always perceived the same way when someone reads them in print. So, I don’t think I can speak casually like I did earlier. Everything I say now is introspected…‘Why did he say this?’ There is always a question,” he remarks.
The self-made actor meticulously strategises his every career step. This has helped him build his own brand that we’ve all come to know by his initials — SK.
Enroute to becoming one of the highest paid lead actors in Tamil cinema, Sivakarthikeyan, who also has a production house to his name, has picked up a few quirks.
For instance, his office in Alwarpet is strikingly all white. The walls are painted white, the couches are white, the interiors are predominantly white, and the floor… you guessed it.
Playing it right
- For the first time in his career, Sivakarthikeyan is shooting simultaneously for his films.
- “I have reduced the number of days I give to a film. It is a learning process for me. I have seen how so much of what I shot, or worked hard on, didn’t end up on screen. I thought, why do I need to waste my effort, and money? I prefer to give those days for pre-production now,” the actor says.
The man has also teamed his jeans with a white printed shirt.
“I even ask for white caravans when I’m at a shoot,” he says.
“I love white. My father did too. He had a white Ambassador when I was a child. It felt regal. When there is white around, it feels fresh and positive. The spaces will appear big. I keep my office space white because when people walk in, they will drop any inhibitions they may have when they see this bright space,” the actor adds, with a pointed smile at me.
Sivakarthikeyan’s 13th film, Mr Local, is set to hit the screens on May 17. He considers his film’s titles an important aspect of brand building.
“These days, a film’s reach depends on its title, the first look, teaser and the trailer etc. I do fun films. So, the title should be simple and catchy with commercial value, in order to reach a wider audience,” he explains.
Maan Karate, Rajini Murugan, Remo, Velaikkaran, Seema Raja, and now Mr Local, are all examples of this.
One has to go back to 2012 to find an SK film with more than two words in the title, for instance, Manam Kothi Paravai or Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga. “I can’t have such titles for my films anymore,” he admits.
Mr Local sees him collaborate with director M Rajesh, known for comedy-entertainers such as Siva Manasula Sakthi, Boss Engira Baskaran and Oru Kal Oru Kannadi.
Rajesh had co-written Sivakarthikeyan’s blockbuster Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam (2013), a film that marked the actor out as a dependable, mass market hero. “It will be my first full-fledged comedy since Remo,” he says.
The big miss, however, will be actor Santhanam, who has bid goodbye to a comedy sidekick career, and is now focussed on building his brand as a lead actor.
Ergo, the film’s success rides heavily on Sivakarthikeyan’s wit, as well as actors Yogi Babu, Sathish and Robo Shankar, who have been drafted in to fill the vacuum.
“We have ensured that Santhanam anna’s comedy won’t be missed. [Sathish, Yogi Babu and Robo Shankar] are real talents, who have worked hard to earn their audience appeal. Plus enakkum konjam humour irukkumrathunaala (Since I too have a little humour in me), Rajesh sir has paired me up with them in most scenes,” says Sivakarthikeyan.
- Sivakarthikeyan is filming an untitled sci-fi film with Rakul Preet Singh, directed by R Ravikumar of Indru Netru Naalai fame.
- “The idea is something new to Tamil cinema. It is not a space film. But at least 80% of it will have CGI. If this film is a hit, it will give me, and my team a huge confidence boost to experiment with more new subjects,” he says.
- His next will be P S Mithran’s Hero, where he is paired with Kalyani Priyadarshan. He is also joining hands with Pandiraj for a “rural family drama”, and with Vignesh Shivan for a “youthful subject”.
The film will also not have Rajesh’s signature “bar scene”, or an act of drunken stupidity by one of its leads, a major selling point in his previous films.
“The story didn’t need that. Also, Rajesh sir didn’t think of adding it because he was making the film with me. We expect a family audience for the film, and we want to cater to them,” he says.
Unlike his previous films, Rajesh’s hero in Mr Local is not irresponsible — “He is a very responsible boy, who goes to work, and is pucca middle class” — and there will be no cameos by big name actors.
The only similarity you may find is that there is no villain track; all the “fights” happen between the hero and the heroine (played by Nayanthara).
If you’re wondering about the choreographed stunt sequences from the teaser, they’ve been added for “entertainment”.
Back to basics
Even though he’d prefer to downplay his comedic qualities, Sivakarthikeyan knows what the audience expects of him in his films.
He read their minds after a deliberate attempt to build himself as an action hero, through films like Kaaki Sattai and Seema Raja, had left moviegoers alienated. Now, the actor has opted to play his trump card.
“I will be doing full-fledged comedies every two or three films. It is my strength, and it feels nice to do one. I intend to follow this pattern for now,” he says.
The actor also feels he has upped his comedy quotient considerably. “I’m more confident delivering lines. The modulations and reactions have improved as well. More importantly, I don’t think I need to speak a counter dialogue anymore to make a situation funny. I feel that if I use my [face] reactions appropriately, the audience will laugh,” he adds.
Playing to the gallery
Are too many commercial films good for his career? What if the audience develop fatigue?
“There is no outright rejection of commercial films, though there is increased viewership for content-driven films now. A well-made commercial film still gets a huge reception. The best example is Viswasam, which is one of the biggest hits in the industry,” he asserts.
Though he doesn’t consider himself a mass hero, Sivakarthikeyan’s films often feature songs, or dialogues, which references his climb up the ladder, or his personality traits.
Is that a bit Rajini-esque? “For the many who like me, these references will feel positive. For the ones that don’t, it will be a negative experience. I don’t know what is right or wrong here because in the end it is just a song, and we must only look at it in a jolly way,” he says.
As with everybody else, the industry isn’t always a bed of roses for Sivakarthikeyan, who admits that “several bitter incidents” have eroded his naivety and changed his approach to life.
“After shoots, I now restrict myself to friends and family,” says the actor, who credits his five-year-old daughter, Aaradhana, as his escape from the madness.
A helping hand
As a producer, Sivakarthikeyan intends to help friends gain a foothold in the industry.
“I’m better off now, and I want [my friends] to do well in their lives,” he says, adding, “They’ve always been there for me, since those days when 10 of us shared a 600 sq.ft. home in Virugambakkam.”
There were other reasons to help Arunraja Kamaraj, his close friend, and once-upon-a-time mimicry act partner, make Kanaa. “I want to make films that showcase ideas which I cannot present in my own films,” he says.
SK’s second production is Nenjam Undu Nermai Undu Odu Raja, starring VJ Rio Raj. “I wanted to introduce someone from television into films. It is my way of giving back to TV,” he concludes.