Sivakarthikeyan on ‘Doctor’, the lessons he learnt from ‘Hero’ and why Siva 2.0 is just starting

Actor Sivakarthikeyan discusses his new film, ‘Doctor’, whether he would take up morally-flawed characters, and how does he deals with criticism

Sivakarthikeyan is not weighed down by the load of the brand he has built over a period of nine years as an entertainer. It is another thing that he doesn’t see it as a ‘burden’, even if it is a staple of mindless entertainers with which he is often associated, despite notable exceptions.

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He gives a rather practical and measured response to the question of being stuck to the Sivakarthikeyan template.

“If I am able to produce Doctor in a budget that was required, and also be part of films such as Hero, it is only because of the success and money those entertainers have made. Before Hero, I don’t think I would have made such an attempt but after its release, I decided to make sure those attempts don’t go in vain,” says Sivakarthikeyan over a steamy cup of hot chocolate, when we meet at a cafe in the city.

Siva 2.0, if we were to call him that, is walking a tightrope to balance between regular entertainers and films that make a fresh attempt at storytelling or treatment. One such attempt was Hero (2019), which, Siva says, was his “lowest” in terms of box-office figures. During lockdowns, Siva took some time off to access his choices and look at his films with an objective lens.

With respect to Hero, Siva feels it became an info-tainment missing out on the entertainment value, even though critics gave it a thumbs-up.

A caped-crusader fighting for a cause, his character’s elevation point was delayed; it should have arrived at the interval point, he says. “It [Hero] was a lesson in how to present a subject for the audience in an entertaining way. Let us take Gentleman, which also dealt with a similar idea. But where both films differ is in the entertainment quotient. Maybe the director [PS Mithran], who is a friend, might have had reservations to make a full-fledged action film with me, I don’t know. But I have no regrets.”

Out of the comfort zone

Doctor, too, is a fresh attempt at presenting Siva in a new light. This time, however, he is working with someone all-too familiar: director Nelson Dilipkumar, a long-time friend with whom he has worked in television, and assisted in Simbu-starrer Vettai Mannan, a gangster film with dark humour which was eventually shelved.

Nelson became a talent to watch out for, in Tamil cinema, post his directorial debut, Kolamaavu Kokila, which was a box-office hit. But Siva was not too surprised about the reception for Kolamaavu…, having known Nelson and his comedic sensibilities.

What did surprise Siva, however, when he was handed over the script of Doctor was Nelson’s “meticulous” work. “I felt the script was a little quirky,” he says, “He [Nelson] is taking me out of my comfort zone, but also retaining certain elements for the hero image. None of which was demanded by me or Anirudh [composer].” Life seems to have come full circle for Siva on the professional front, having produced Doctor for Nelson and starred in it.

Lockdown memoir

  • Sivakarthikeyan became a father for the second time to a baby boy, Gugan Doss; he says the lockdown gave him time to think about his plan for the next few years.
  • Months into the gloom and doom of the first set of lockdowns, Siva and composer Anirudh Ravichander felt a need for a chirpy song that would put a smile on people’s faces. That is how, Siva says, the song ‘Chellama Chellama’, which has crossed over 130 million views on YouTube, came about. “Only after deciding the song did we [Anirudh and I] inform the director [Nelson]. And he simply asked where the song would be placed in the film,” he says with a laugh.
  • Siva isn’t too keen on remakes. He expresses disinterest when posed with a question of whether he would be part of a remake, although he admits that he has been approached a lot for remakes including a Tamil version of Telugu blockbuster Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. “First of all, who can even dance like [Allu Arjun]? And secondly, how do we even match the popularity of ‘Butta Bomma’ song? So, let us not even go there [remake].”

By his own admission, Doctor ventures into dark zone and has Siva playing a character employed in the business of organ and human trafficking — at least going by the impression of its trailer. He offhandedly mentions the film being his first with a U/A certificate.

Siva is tight-lipped about whether he plays an anti-hero, but admits that he would never essay an all-too negative character. “More than a question of whether it would suit my image, it is a question of whether I would be comfortable doing it. I don’t think I am comfortable getting into the mind of such characters,” he says.

Aiming for the stars

“There is an audience for everything and also a digital platform,” says Siva, to a question of whether the idea of a ‘hero’ is slowly changing. While admitting that the market has opened up to support diversity, he issues a clarification: “To what extent I would go to be part of such films is something I’m trying to learn with every film.”

Sivakarthikeyan on ‘Doctor’, the lessons he learnt from ‘Hero’ and why Siva 2.0 is just starting

Sivakarthikeyan has produced Doctor on a first-copy basis for KJR Studios, which is distributing the film in Tamil and Telugu.

There were whispers that the makers were exploring the possibility of a digital release, skipping theatre, at the height of the second wave. However, Siva says he was insistent on a theatrical release. Would the film have worked on OTT anyway? “It would have,” he continues, “But when you are laughing for a comedy, you laugh with 100 others inside a theatre. That would have been a miss.”

A hungry beast

  • A self-professed fan of Vijay, Nelson has landed the opportunity to direct the actor in his third directorial, Beast. When the announcement for Beast came out, Siva posted a tweet tagging Nelson that read: “My brother with big dreams joining big names.” About Nelson’s career progression, Siva says, “He spent a really long time on a project that didn’t take off. It has been a wait of 10 years and his patience is now getting paid off.”

Every year, on February 3, Sivakarthikeyan gets nostalgic and overwhelmed at the same time, looking at his career from afar. It was the date Marina (2012), his first on-screen appearance, released, and next year, Siva will complete 10 years in the industry. “Although two years vanished like naduvula konjam pakkatha kannom,” he laughs. Watching himself on the screen for the first time is among his most memorable moments; each time he thinks about it, he pauses to introspect what he has done so far.

“It has been a roller-coaster ride to be honest,” he says, “Although I will be completing 10 years, it feels like I have only started my innings — internally and mentally.”

There was a point, Siva says, he took his critics too seriously, something he realised only recently. He does, however, make it a point to read everything written about him but — “I have made sure I don’t bluntly follow what they say, unless it is extremely constructive.”

Doctor releases on Friday in theatres.

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