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Interview with Actor Surya by Jeevi

: 10th November 2002 Venue: Yusufguda

Surya made his first screen appearance as one of Nagarjuna's buddies in Nag's debut film 'Vikram'. He did not get right break after that. Almost 10 years later he found good roles in films like Tammudu and Sindhooram. But SV Krishna Reddy's 'Premaku Velayara' changed the pace of his career and he was flooded with comedy-oriented roles He acted in 120 films so far. His performance in Award winning 'Show' not only won him rave reviews but also many accolades. met him at his residence in Yusufguda last year for chitchat. He spoke in chaste English for one and half hour. Here are the excerpts from that interview.

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Tell us about your background

My screen name is Surya. My real name is Surya Kumar Bhagawan Das. I was born on 27th July 1959 in Pune, Maharashtra. Shortly after that, my father - working in Indian army - was transferred to Bombay. That's where I grew. My father retired as Lieutenant Colonel from army. My mother was a lawyer. Since my father was asthmatic, he had to move down to Hyderabad, as the coastal climate was not conducive for his health. He was asked by the doctors to relocate to a dry place. So, we moved to Hyderabad in 1970. I am married. My wife's name is Anitha. I have a daughter who is 13 years old.

After moving to Hyderabad, my parents started a school called 'Trinity Public School'. Academically, I am a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. I joined Madhu Film Acting School in 1985. It was a wonderful institute and I learned a lot. That's where I picked up the regional language Telugu. I was honored with a Gold Medal for being the best student from my batch.

So far I acted in around 120 films. In 1990, I got my first Nandi award for best villain in TV performance. In 1997, I got another Nandi award for best supporting actor in TV category. In 1998, a Tamil film featuring me went to National Awards selection and got the best regional film award. In 2002, my film Show went for National Awards selection and it won two awards [best regional film and the best screenplay]. I was highly disappointed when I was nominated in the 'Best Actor' category in the last hour and missed it by decimal points to Atul Kulkarni. I was awarded a special jury Nandi award for my performance in Show for 2001.

During my career - spanning 16 years - I have done wide variety of roles some of which have given me a great satisfaction. I have never refused any offer that has come my way. I feel that if you are a good actor, you should not disappoint any producer and accept even one-minute role that comes your way. But it is my desire to venture out for acting at national level on Hindi screen. I don't want to be restricted as a regional actor as I would like to reach out to larger audiences.

It's my view that every actor should under go a formal training in acting before venturing in to films. Most of the accomplished actors in India are trained in institutes like National Schhhool of Drama, Pune Film Institute or Adayar Film Institute. These institutes tell you how to conduct yourself in front of the camera and what are the technical jargons you should know. And it is also my opinion that if you want to direct a film, you should go to a formal training institute and study the technicalities behind it in a systematic way. Lots of people are venturing into direction without understanding the film grammar. One should know why we should use certain kind of special effects for certain scenes. Unless, you study direction you would not be in a position to do justice to direction.

How did you get interested in films?

When I was in school, I used to bunk classes and visit cinema halls without the knowledge of may parents. I used to watch a lot of English films. I used to fantasize what I would do if I had to act in the roles of Clint Eastwood, Charles Dickens etc. My father wanted to become an actor. He looks like Guru Dutt. Since he did not become an actor, he wanted to see me as an actor. I have fulfilled his desire.

To become an actor, one should have an obsessive desire to entertain people. I did not have any Godfathers in this industry. I am not handsome. In the beginning the director used to get irritated at me and used to show his frustration on me. I used to take all that with a positive spirit and improved myself as an actor.

What is acting?

Acting is nothing but believing. You have to make an imaginary character come alive. In order to act, you need to recall all your personal experiences and emotions in life and try to relate them to the character you are playing. If you did not have any direct experience, you might have to recall the things you observed while studying other people in the society.

I always wanted to be an actor, but not a star. I want audiences. I don't want fans. I want the audience to come back again and again to see my performances.

What is your most satisfying role as an actor?

My most memorable performance so far is for the film 'Show'. I was the leading man, I held the center stage and I hogged the limelight. I loved my performances in 'Tammudu' and 'Sindhooram'. I also liked my role in 'Premaku Velayara' because that film made me very popular and successful actor.

Though you are versatile, you are still branded as a comedy artist. Do you have any complaints about it?

An average member of Indian audience likes comedy since he leads a very routine life without comedy. He might be leading 9-5 life. He comes home tired in the evening. He needs to take care of his wife and children. He is bogged down by so many responsibilities. So comedy is something that is missing in his life. Hence he needs comic relief and that's the reason why comedy jells with Indian audiences very well. I am telling you out of my experience that comedy actors are bigger stars than our heroes. When I attempted comedy in 'Premaku Velayara' it went very well with the audiences and they accepted me as a comedian. But I personally feel that I am not actually a talented comedy actor. I had to work very hard on my situations and on my lines.

You developed a peculiar comedy oriented accent in Telugu. You create humor with dialogue comedy.

Yeah. I have an accent. My Telugu does not sound like Telugu-speaking person's Telugu. It is not just my accent that clicked, but it was the comedy situations where I acted in that clicked in a big way. Its not the way you say lines, but how you react in certain situations. A comedy scene needs your facial expressions, your body language. I have unique body language.

Did you struggle financially at the beginning of your career?

I have never faced any financial difficulty as I come from a sound and good family. My parents worked hard and made a lot of money and acquired lot of properties. That's one reason why I never get frustrated in that aspect. Most of the people get frustrated when they cannot make their ends meet.

You worked as a teacher in tutorials. Did your experience as a teacher help to become a good actor?

I used to English to grown ups and my students used to tell me that I have an expressive face and they can understand more by my expressions than my explanations. They used to ask to get into acting since I had an expressive face. May be that remark triggered my imagination.

You can speak fluent Telugu now. How did you pick that up?

As a young kid, I was totally anglicized. My mother is Oriya and my father is Maharastrian. Since they belong to two different languages, they used a link language to communicate with each other and that link language happened to be English. I grew up in an English speaking atmosphere. My circle of friends were all English speaking. I used to listen to only English music and watch only English movies.

Later on I decided to become an actor in Telugu films. I had a tough time because Telugu is not an easy language to learn. I had to change my entire life style. I had to make friends with Telugu speaking people. I also tried reading from Telugu newspapers. Initially I was very slow. I was determined. I never gave up. Today, my folks at home also picked up Telugu and we speak Telugu in our house. I must thank all my Telugu-speaking friends for helping me pick up the language.

Were there any incidents when you got frustrated in sets because you could not deliver what director wanted?

Yes. I can't name the films. But, there were quite a few moments where I failed to say my lines with clarity and sometimes I forgot my lines. When I take more takes, I can see the frustration growing in the director's face. But today I have worked on all my failures and drawbacks. And now I have a better memory to memorize my lines. After all, experience is the best teacher.

With so much of experience, do you want to become a director?

Definitely, yes! Because, I felt that some of the directors I worked with are not properly educated. They do not know what they are making. They don't know any thing about film grammar. They came up to director level working as apprentice under somebody. It's a very sorry sight to see such a bunch of immature and uneducated directors. I want to put my education, knowledge of technicalities and experience into filmmaking and direct one film. I want to direct a film of my choice.

Did you gather any savings as an actor in your 16-year-old career?

As an actor, I am a survivor. I have not saved any money as an actor. The plight of film industry is bad. The payments are very less for character artists. We had to decrease our payments, as 80% of the films released were not doing well at the box office.

I have never played a leading actor in films. But Show gave me an opportunity to be one of the only two characters in the film. Madhav - the character I played in Show - is a character of an average Indian. He wanted to be an actor and makes attempts to be an actor. Because he studied law, he had to take up some kind of profession. He is married to a woman of his parent's choice. She starts nagging him, because he is not making good money. Because of that, he was forced to work as a junior lawyer by curbing his aim to become an actor. He then works out on his childhood fantasies with Ridhima. He tries all his acting skills on her. He gets so involved in the character that he is unable to come out of the character. At the end, he wants to commit suicide.

Don't you think actress Manjula has walked away with limelight in the promotions of 'Show'?

Coming to the publicity, I got a raw deal. But to promote the film, you need a big name. Being the daughter of Superstar Krishna, Manjula's name sells. That was a marketing strategy of the film. They can cut me off from the publicity. They can cut me off from promotions, but they cannot cut me off from the film. When people saw 'Show', they talked about the actor Surya. Today the Government of AP has recognized the power behind the performance and awarded me a special jury Nandi award for my performance. I missed the national award as the best actor. I will keep on trying for it as I would like to get nationwide recognition.

Some people mistake you for Hindi actor Manoj Bajpai. Does that annoy you?

Especially after the release of Satya, people thought that I was Manoj Bajpai. Even my wife says that if I shave off my beard, I resemble Manoj Bajpai. When people mistake me for Manoj Bajpai, I have mixed feelings. Sometimes, I am angry to be compared with somebody else. I want to be recognized as actor Surya. At times, it is also quite a nice feeling to be compared to Manoj Bajpai as he is a great actor of national reputation. Recently a journalist compared me to be of Nana Patekar calibre. Tell me how many actors in India were compared to Nana Patekar. Nana Patekar is one my favorite actors from India.

What are the compliments you got from other actors?

I have to tell you that we Telugu actors are not really open with our compliments. I have not heard very many good things being said about me. For a film to be released shortly (Dhanush), an actress from Mumbai was in full awe of my performance. She walked up to me and told me that I am a fantastic actor. She also said that she learnt so much by watching me perform on the sets. That was probably one of the best compliments I received.

After working in Sindhooram, Sanghvi said that she loved that film because of my performance.

Did you not feel jealous, when all the bigwigs of the industry showered praises on the performance of Manjula in Show film in all TV promos?

The truth is that, the same people also told good things about me. But those things were edited in trailers as Manjula is the selling point of the film, because she is the daughter of Superstar Krishna who commands very good loyal fan following.

For example, I have seen Sankarabharanam and I am in awe of the controlled performance given by the great actor JV Somayajulu. He made a statement on stage before large audience that Surya and Manjula has given a new definition for acting.

What is the difference between acting on big screen and small screen?

In the West, some of the biggest film actors also worked for television. When you come to south in India, it's a very pathetic picture. TV Artists are very popular because people in remotest areas in the country can watch television and their village might not have a cinema hall. I have realized that TV artists in Telugu are more popular than Telugu film actors. But the film actors - because they are larger than life - are more famous than TV artists. If TV and film actors are passing by, the common man recognizes the TV actor, but he is in awe of a film actor. There is an aura about the film actor. That is why big film actors like NTR and ANR are like Gods in our state.

Coming to the performances, you can give great performances on TV as well as on big screen. But when it comes to the money part for the work, TV actors are under paid and over worked. Can you imagine some of our leading TV artists getting thousand rupees or two thousand rupees a day? And there are no defined work hours, we have to go by 7 am in the morning and come back late in the night. No call sheet time is followed. I am sorry to say that TV artists are totally exploited. Therefore if you had a choice between working for films and working for Television, you would definitely choose films. Because you are better paid, there is lot of respectability; you are also given more time to work on your lines.

The performances in TV and silver screen are the same except that you are shooting on a tape for TV and on celluloid for silver screen. Hence you would have more choice of making experiments on television because if the scene did not come well, you can wipe up the tape and re-shoot on the same. But for films, you use very costly celluloid. Hence I always tell people that TV is your homework and Film is your classwork.

I feel the TV serials are drags. They keep dragging and prolonging the stories. That is the objective of a daily serial. I don't think too high of daily serials. I am a method actor.

You call yourself as a method actor? What exactly does it mean?

New heroes now a days are under an impression that acting is nothing but speaking a dialogue with emotion. But it is not so! When you bring a new face in front of the camera, he is nervous because he is new to the sound of camera, he is new to arc lights, he is new to 30-40 people surrounding him. Method acting teaches you how to behave yourself in front of the camera. It also includes learning lines at a short notice, reacting correctly without showing anticipation. You are given a line and your co-artist is given another line. You know what lines he is going to say and he knows what lines you are going to say. If you are showing that anticipation on your face that is not acting. Each time you perform, you have to act like you are picking those lines for the first time. All these things you have to learn through a method. It also includes how to improve your concentration skills, your imagination skills and your believability. You should know where to use your eyes and where you should not use your eyebrows. How much of gesticulation is needed when you do a certain character. You should also know how to make best use of your God-given-body to your advantage, no matter how ulgy or beautiful it is. You should know how to recall all your personal experiences and emotions to perform well in related scenes. All these things require training.

I sincerely feel that you need one full year's training (full time course) to make somebody an actor. I don't support part time or short-term courses, because they do more harm than good. And it is one of my future plans to establish such an institute that imparts world-class techniques in acting right here in the city of Hyderabad.

Did you get any character so far that exploited your acting potential?

Unfortunately no! I am not made to work to my fullest potential. I have done lots of substandard work just to survive in the industry. But good and meaningful character is still a distinct dream. I hope it would become a reality in the future.

What efforts you are making to realize your dreams?

I am not putting any efforts. If you ask to put efforts, I have to become a producer and make a film myself. Right now, there are lots of young and talented directors coming up Teja, Krishna Vamsi, Jayant and Ravi Babu. All these directors are well versed with filmmaking. I am sure that these people would change the way films are made in Telugu film industry.

Kith and kin of film industry big wigs are entering films as heroes. What is your opinion on this?

I am very much against industry people promoting sons and daughters. I would like to see the day where an actor should go for audition before signing up for the film. In Hollywood, even after reaching a certain stage, big actors go for auditons for getting selected for roles. Here the heroes are booked on their saleability more than their acting potential for that particular role. I feel that most of the sons who are entering film industry as heroes are not worth it. They neither have talent nor looks. But unfortunately that is the reality and it exists in Hindi film industry as well. Nobody complains if a hero like Hrithik Roshan is launched by his father because he worked hard and deserves to be a good hero. But looking at other guys being launched is so depressing. This is a monopoly that can't be broken. I wish I could change it. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride them.

Would you like to suggest a book on acting?

There is one excellent book on acting - An Actor Prepares by Constantine Stanislavski. This book should be thoroughly read by all actors.

Are you doing any challenging role now?

Let me explain how it works here. We are not given a storyline. We are not given scenes and dialogues in advance. I want to see a day when a bounded script is given to each and every actor and they were given enough time to understand the character and get under the skin of the role.

There are people like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, late Smita Patil who take their time off from work to observe and understand the character and to become the character. There is an English film called 'The Scent of a Woman' by Al Pacino in which he played a blind man. Al Pacino spent one year by going to blind school and observing blind people. He has done so much of homework.

Here in Telugu film industry, we are not given the background of character; we are not given enough time. If you are given your dialogue just two minutes before the shot, how can we perform? But I have leant to come to terms with this kind of approach.

Tell us about your personal favorite actors and actresses?

My personal favorite actors and actresses are all in Hollywood. If I mention some names, I would be doing injustice to all those people whose names I have not mentioned. I like all great performances. I like creative actors like Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert De Nero, Marlon Brando. I also like Clint Eastwood, who has given definition for western cowboy roles. Nobody can step into his shoes. I also like Nicolas Cage. I can't mention few names. I love them all. I love their natural performances. Among actresses, I like Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Zones. I would like to suggest you that of you don't join acting schools, just watch 100's of Hollywood films.

Coming to Hindi, my favorites are Naseeruddin Shah, Nana Patekar, Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan, used to make me cry each time I watch him in Deewar. There is not going be another Amitabh Bachchan. These days some of the Hindi films are being made in international quality. Our Hindi film industry is miles ahead of Telugu film industry in terms of standards and quality. We don't have actors of that caliber here. The best actors we have in Telugu cinema are all character actors. Look at Kota Srinivasa Rao, MS Narayana and Brahmanandam. I feel that Prakash Raj is the best actor in Telugu. If you cant join acting schools, if you cant watch 100's of Hollywood films, just see 10 films of Prakash Raj. He is much-hated guy in Telugu film industry because of his talent. He is 100 times better than all our Telugu heroes together.

Do you have any suggestions for aspiring actors?

First, one should obtain basic degree in studies. Do not quit your studies to become an actor. Then go for some formal training in acting. Don't go for any recommendations. There are lots of people out there to cheat you by asking you to pay money as brokerage to make a deal. People who take money to give you a role are not genuine. Genuine people are those who give you a role and pay you for it. Don't buy a role to see yourself on the screen.

Interviewed by Jeevi
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