Friday, 15 August 2014

|| The hero in Jigarthanda --> Bobby Simha ||

Bobby Simha walked into a Chennai theatre recently to gauge the audience’s reaction to his performance as Madurai gangster ‘Assault’ Sethu in Jigarthanda. He was stunned to find himself greeted by raptures of applause and laughter. He confesses to shedding a tear or two, overwhelmed by the praise. “Interestingly, there’s a similar scene in the movie where Sethu cries in a theatre,” says Simha.

While it’s popular news that Jigarthanda was director Karthik Subbaraj’s first script, not many know that Bobby approached Karthik four years ago for a chance to play the role of ‘Assault’ Sethu. “He had felt then that the role was too heavy for me. Perhaps I lacked the maturity necessary to play a 40-year-old gangster,” he recalls. Taking the refusal in his stride, Simha went on to act in films such as Pizza (2012), Karthik’s debut film Soodhu Kavvum (2013) and Neram (2013). His negative role as Vatti Raja in Neram showed his versatility, and the film’s success added to his growing reputation. “The film’s director, Alphonse Putharen, trusted me with the role and gave me the confidence to pull it off,” says Bobby.

A year ago, Simha met Karthik again, this time as a more experienced actor, and repeated his request to play ‘Assault’ Sethu in Jigarthanda. And this time, the director didn’t turn him down. Unbeknown to him, Alphonse had already recommended him strongly to Karthik. On his obsession with playing ‘Assault’ Sethu, Simha says, “The character brims with dynamism. I could see how much scope the role had for an actor. It’s a rare role, the like of which I may never get in my life again.”

The actor had to make several changes to his body language to play the role. “A veteran gangster who has seen a lot of blood, he is not one to faze easily. I had to ooze confidence, and act with a certain assured lethargy,” he says. Simha also had to remember to slow down his walking pace. “I met gangsters in Madurai who have turned over a new leaf; I noticed that they all lead normal lives now. It was important that I depict this without over-dramatising the character."

The typical Tamil villain is much taller and more muscular than Simha. “It doesn’t matter at all,” he says. “How tall was Hitler? Wasn’t he menacing? It is all about your gaze. Regardless of one’s physical appearance, a simple shift in gaze can transform a hapless victim into a cruel psychopath.” In the 60 days of shooting that Simha played Sethu, he refused to talk much on the sets. “I tried to remain Sethu even when we were not shooting,” he explains. “It’s hard to switch on and off otherwise.” He also reveals his decision not to sign any films until Jigarthanda’s release. “A film I turned down released to great response, and many people criticised me for rejecting the role of hero,” he says. “My only response was, ‘Wait for Jigarthanda’.”

Simha is effusive in his appreciation for Karthik Subbaraj and cinematographer Gavemic U Ary. “What you saw on screen was Karthik’s writing. I did the far easier job of acting. As for Gavemic, I saw the effort he put in. ”

The applause is yet to die down, but Simha has already decided that he won’t play a similar role again. “It is time to move on,” he says. In fact, in the upcoming action-thriller Urumeen, he plays the hero. So, will he too move from villain to hero for good? “No, no,” he says. “I don’t mind playing really small roles, as long as I like the script. Hero, villain, character roles… I want to do them all.”

-  By Sudhir Srinivasan for The Hindu.