One look at the towering Sathyaraj striding into the lobby of a hotel in Kochi is all it takes to understand the versatile actor’s phenomenal fan following. There is that confident body posture and bold stride, not to mention phenomenal acting chops that has endeared him to a million viewers across the world. That fan following has only skyrocketed with his turn as the brave and loyal Kattappa in the Baahubali franchise that has now made him a household name. Not one to rest on his past laurels Sathyaraj is continuing to do what he does best — play character roles that are as different as chalk and cheese.
Dressed in a grey shirt and jeans and beaming a disarming smile, he informs that he has always been conscious about selecting a mixed potpourri of roles right from his very first film, be it a villain or a hero or a character role.
Sathyaraj was in Kochi in connection with the promotion of his film Kanaa that has Aishwarya Rajesh play a young woman from a village, who aspires to become a cricketer. Talking about his role in the film, Sathyaraj answers, “It is about a father’s kanaa (dream). I play a farmer named Murugesan belonging to a very remote village, who is crazy about cricket. So, I want my daughter, played by Aishwarya, to become a cricket player and in a way she fulfills her father’s dreams. The hurdles — especially for a girl from a remote village — to get a place in the Indian cricket team have been beautifully portrayed. Intertwined are also the struggles of the agrarian community caused by drought and poor crops, a reality that farmers face every day.” Kanaa, he says, is a beautiful mix of cricket and agriculture — the reason why he decided to take it up.
Sathyaraj is happy about being a part of Kanaa for another reason — the woman-centric theme! He states that not only Tamil, but cinema as a whole is in a very good phase which reminds him of a similar phase 40 years back. “Remember films which had Savithri Amma or Sheelamma and Jayabharathi in Malayalam? Most of them were centered on women. Now, that golden phase is returning to Tamil with films like Aramm, Aruvi, Kolamavu Kokila, Imaikkaa Nodigal etc.” He also points out a major difference. “While the early films dealt with family problems, the recent films are more about women’s empowerment or liberation and the celebration of being a woman. That is a very encouraging phase,” he adds.
These are, indeed, very progressive words coming from an actor who has played the hero and villain and now, has made the successful transition to character roles. “Even when I was playing the hero, I made sure that I selected a variety of roles. I have acted as the lead in more than 20 prominent Malayalam remakes, but even then, I made sure they were each different from the other. I made the transition to lead roles after acting as a villain in more than 75 films. So, I am not the regular kind of a ‘duet’ hero,” he laughs. So, hero or villain? What did he enjoy playing? No hesitation there; pat comes the answer with a smile. “The hero! Normally in Indian cinema, the villain is suppressed to make the hero look good.” He also mentions that the character roles that he now chooses are varied. He admits to enjoying the current phase in his career, where he is able to experiment with character roles.
The question has to be asked. How’s his life after playing the cult character Kattappa? The broad smile on his face is half the answer. “Except the South film industry, everywhere I am known as Kattappa!” He reveals an incident. “I had gone to Fiji Islands for a shoot. The population of the place is not too much. Imagine my surprise when I was recognised. I, later, understood that Baahubali was a huge hit there!” As if on cue, a young mother and her four-year-old daughter approach him, calling out ‘Kattappa’ with a request for a selfie, which he obliges. He laughs and continues. “I get the same appreciation from all over the world and I am very humbled and happy about that.”
Sathyaraj’s cup of joy is no doubt brimming and adding to that is his son Sibi following in his own footsteps. “He has three upcoming films and what makes me proud as a father is that he is also accepting roles that are as different as night and day.” With his years of experience, what advice does Sathyaraj give his son? There follows a booming laugh. “In fact, I get advice from him! I do not like to say ‘in my time, it was like this or that’. I live in the present and like to get advice from the young stars, be it about mobile apps or my characters.” Asked if he harbours any political aspirations like much of his brethren, the actor denies any such intentions. “I am not interested in politics,” he states. On the career front, Sathyraj has three Tamil films and one Telugu film in hand....