Suriya — A Disruptor Superstar Who Can Do No Wrong
Only in south India will one find an almost immolating urge of fans haring about to celebrate their film stars' birthdays with such anxious candour that it can put stars from Bollywood or celebrities from other walks of life to look askance.
Last year, as is the primeval ritual every year, fans scrambled over one another to save, tweet and share a common display picture of superstar Suriya that was unveiled by actor Karthik Sivakumar (Karthi) on social media a full week prior to his elder sibling's birthday.
A sign that opened the floodgates for his fans to pay their earnest homage to their Nadippin Nayagan or 'best hero in acting', the moniker Suriya has been pinned with by his legions of fans, as do an array of other popular film stars from Tamil Nadu.
Suriya fans and melfare associations and units spread across Tamil Nadu and Kerala organised special screenings of his blockbuster movies, went on a poster blitzkrieg announcing his birthday, conveying their advance wishes and organised mashups of all kinds; some even patronised by cinema-owners.
In Irinjalakuda town of Thrissur district in Kerala, the area committee of the All Kerala Singam Suriya Fans and Welfare Association distributed cooked food for the inmates of an elderly care home, while study and literary materials for children were handed over by their Oorakam village unit of Cherpu Gram Panchayat in the district.
He is all of 47 and for many years now is counted as one of the sure-fire safe bets at the Tamil Nadu film industry box office. The chaotic frenzy of a Vijay Joseph or an Ajith Kumar release may often elude his, but frivolous on-screen antics have never been his yardstick. He straddles all his cinematic essays with an ultimate chutzpah, lending them a profound genuineness that, if attempted by any one else, could meander on a facile pathway.
His filmography is testament to the oeuvre of roles he has taken on, never playing it safe, always ready for the ultimate test; in between also letting himself loose, offering his legions of fans their eye candy and gloss all neatly wrapped in glistening gift wraps.
Southern Temple of Desire
Start, scan… stop… result: most-trusted, most-identified with, most-attractive, most-respected and most-appealing. That's actor, producer, philanthropist Suriya (Saravanan Sivakumar) for you.
No surprises then that these results from a survey carried out by the Indian Institute of Human Brands that came out a few weeks ago had him leading over other male southern stars and celebrities.
The research study released by the IIHB covered 18 celebrities from southern India with a sample size of over 5,000 respondents, spread across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The study—going by the acronym TIARA or Trust, Identify, Attractive, Respect, Appeal—was conducted for the first time taking celebrities only from southern India.
The results show that Suriya breezed past other more known and popular names on most parameters, leaving them high and dry to be the No. 1 star, scoring 84 in the overall rankings, followed by Telugu star Allu Arjun who had 79.
Vijay Joseph followed Suriya from Tamil cinema, while from Kannada, it was Kiccha Sudeep, leaving Fahad Faasil and Dulquer Salmaan to share the No.1 spot for male actors from Malayalam cinema.
The State Of Suriya-ness
Suriya is unhurried, not willing to be sucked into the vortex of racing to target his films for pompous festive holiday releases, but rather investing his roles with hard work and sincerity, lending them a rare gravitas that is etched in memory of Tamil cinephiles.
Debuting with a Mani Ratnam production, Naerukku Ner (1997), Suriya has had a trailblazing career thus far, with most of his box office smash hits being remade in Bollywood with Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar to name a few.
Suriya can claim the hallowed credit of traversing, pitching into a Kamal Haasan-esque mould with his choice of films as his career broke out. During this patch, he strove to distinguish himself from other emerging stalwarts, like Ajith and Vijay, and even shook the edifice of the two colossuses of Tamil cinema—Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.
As Haasan rollercoasters through his massive 2022 hit Vikram, brandishing an arsenal of vintage firearms, rollicking on with a smattering of English one liners, the cameo by Suriya was kept all towards the end of the 170-minute massy marathoner.
Of course, his avid fans knew this was coming, but what threw them off the multiplex rails was the taut conclusion where their 'Rolex' Suriya smouldered as the blood soaked, machete wielding, unvanquished drug lord going on to stretch the story to another probable sequel with the protagonist Haasan ready for another go at him.
In fact, that last 15 minutes stretch of Suriya many believe rescued and roused the film from a predictable slumber that it was in danger of wandering into.
The actor with the National Award For Best Actor For Soorarai Pottru (Source: Suriya/Twitter)
Be Bold, Be Fearless, Love Truth
It was with Jai Bhim (2021) though that Suriya really came into his own. Produced by him under his own banner, it told a real life story of a couple from the Irula tribe in Tamil Nadu who were victims of police custodial torture and an overbearing state apathy as activist/advocate Chandru (Suriya) battled their case against the might of affluence and muscle power.
Taking on the subject of Jai Bhim and backing it ably, cast Suriya as a thinking actor who yearned to tell stories that mattered, showing that he was sport for whatever controversies the film could open up to and which unsurprisingly it did.
The star thought lightly about the repercussions on his so called 'popular star' tag as the film delved into the deep quagmire of caste and the statelessness of the oppressed in Tamil Nadu.
A direct OTT release, the film earned brilliant reviews with his turn labelled as one of his finest performances yet.
Film journalist Ashameera Aiyappan, while reviewing Jai Bhim, hailed the character of Suriya playing Chandru as one of the most-progressive protagonists seen and credits the actor for indulging in projects that are miles afar from the routine hero-centric routine embellishments that the Tamil film industry churns out so mechanically.
Talking about the real life Chandru he played, the actor described him as a "change-maker, a beautiful disruptor', qualities that can be effortlessly ascribed to Suriya himself.
Suriya took home the best actor trophy at the 68th National Awards for his home production Soorarai Pottru (2020), a biopic based on the life of Air Deccan founder GR Gopinath.
With his actor, co-star, friend, peer and life companion Jyothika, the couple are working on projects where the content and story take topmost priority amid the over-the-top, commercial-free for all milieu in Tamil films.
Suriya has Vetrimaaran's Vaadi Vaasal and an untitled project releasing this year that have his fans and cinephiles alike waiting with bated breath, while Jyothika is starring with mega star Mammootty himself in Kaathal: The Core in Malayalam.
When the lion goes out to hunt, the forests have to be lush and green, mouths Suriya's 'Rolex' character in Vikram.
In real life however, this lion of the south is ready to take on anything, come the greyest of rainclouds bearing torrents of rain or a blistering sun shining sunny and bright.
Anand Mathew is a social development consultant based in New Delhi.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.