Having done over 400 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, Suman Talwar is a known name down South with a career spanning more than three decades. One of the turning points of his career was Rajnikanth’s Sivaji The Boss where he played the negative lead and till date the film runs successfully on television in its dubbed version. He plays the main negative role in Gabbar Is Back. He was recommended for the part by none other than lead actor Akshay Kumar. In conversation with Soumita Sengupta, Suman talks about his long journey and the possibilities of doing more films in Bollywood.
You have completed 37 years in films. How would you describe your journey?
I have done around 400 films in 37 years. I started my career in 1977 with a Tamil film called Neechal Kulam, but I came into spotlight with the super-hit Telugu film Tharangini. There was no looking back after that as I kept doing more Telugu films. I have worked in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam films over the years.
There must have been some ups and downs in all these years.
Yes, there have been lots of ups and downs but every downfall made me learn more about life. I feel the way I started was not bad in spite of me not having any film background. Yet, I managed to get my first break. Once I accepted the offer, the challenge started. I didn’t know anything about acting. Above all I had to learn dancing too. So I used to shoot during the day and in the evening I used to learn dancing from Chinni Prakash. In three months, I learnt dancing and did various roles. Also what worked in my favour was I did not get typecast by filmmakers. I have a black belt in Karate. So action became my forte and I was also referred as Karate Suman by the industry people. From there onwards, I did many action films. But, as they say, every time is not the same. Suddenly personal crisis hit me very badly and my work suffered because of that. But, then the biggest stars including Amitabh Bachchan have gone through a bad phase. Everybody goes through bad phases and good phases. Things keep changing, nothing is static.
Then I was offered a Telugu film called Jai Balaji, where I played devotional character in a film called Annamayya which once again brought back the religious genre in our industry. I played Lord Balaji and then onwards my career took a new shape and I essayed many devotional characters thereafter. Makers have this way of typecasting you if you become a hit in any film. It’s just not in Tamil or Telugu. It’s a universal mindset.
Certainly you must have received offers from Bollywood. Didn’t you ever think of trying your luck in Hindi films?
To be honest, everyone wants to do a Hindi film and have a nationwide fan following. I was also interested but that time I had too many projects in South. We used to work on four films a month, seven to eight days were given to each producer. I had few offers from Bollywood but couldn’t take them up because of my busy schedule with my films in South, where I was doing well. But now that I have done so many films, I want to try a new brand of cinema in a new language. For the past five to seven years I was waiting for a good production house or a director to approach me. I didn’t want to do any random Hindi film just to make an entry in Bollywood.
So how did Gabbar Is Back happen?
I got a call from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s office saying they are remaking a Tamil film Ramanaa and want to meet me. So when I met Shabinaa Khan, the co-producer, she told me about the script and instantly I had to say yes, because this was the kind of team I was looking
to work with. Akshay Kumar as hero, Sanjay Leela Bhansali as producer, it is kind of a dream team for me. And also I had seen Ramanaa which was a blockbuster in Telugu. But above all it was the role which was offered to me that made me say yes, it demanded a certain body language and action. Also the character was as strong as the lead hero. I know Krish who is the director of the film. Producers are good; the hero is great so everything about this movie worked for me.
How was it working with Akshay Kumar?
While shooting the film I came to know that it was Akshay who had recommended my name for this role. He is a brilliant actor and a wonderful human being. He had no airs about himself. He is very punctual and co-operative and I realised he is very producer friendly. Maybe that’s why he is the only actor doing four films a year and all becoming super-hits.
After doing so many films which film will you call the turning point of your career?
It was Sivaji which changed things for me. Sivaji released in 2007 and till date the film has a nationwide telecast in many dubbed languages. So when I used to travel to Mumbai, people at the airport used to tell me how much they loved me in Sivaji. The film changed my career graph, when it released suddenly people saw me in a villainous character and since then I have played many negative roles. I did Sivaji only because of the team – Shankar, Rajinikanth and AR Rahman.
Do you watch Hindi films?
Not regularly, because I don’t get time and while I was doing good in my South career I stopped looking at any opportunities here so I was not very regular on watching Hindi films. But I do watch good Hindi action films of Akshay Kumar and Rohit Shetty.
How would you compare Bollywood with the film industries down South?
I can compare Telugu and Tamil but to compare South and Bollywood will be difficult for me because I have only done one film in Hindi. For me the experience was outstanding because I was working with Akshay Kumar. He is exceptional when it comes to punctuality. We were shooting in far-away places where it used to take time to reach but he was always on time. We finished our film as per the schedule.
But if you ask me to compare Telugu and Tamil I can. Tamil is today at par with Bollywood even in technical terms. Tamil cinema is more natural whereas Telugu is growing day by day. Here everything is exaggerate and, more colourful. Even acting wise Telugu is more exaggerate as a result they demand loud acting. Both the industries have their own charm and in both the industries everyone is very punctual. Today we have reached a level where from all over India people are remaking both Tamil and Telugu films.
Will you be more open to Hindi films?
Yes I am looking for all kinds of scripts. Hindi cinema is today experimenting with stories and they are widely accepted by the audience from around the world. A film like The Lunchbox is praised by people from around the world. Whereas in south we are stuck to the masala, hero-villain and joint family films which needs to be changed. We also have very good directors and good filmmakers. It’s not that we don’t have stories, if in Mumbai so many different stories are generated, imagine the capability of India as a united industry. I believe such films should be made in Tamil and Telugu where people get emotionally connected to the characters. What I love about Bollywood today is that it has the capability to co-exist with diverse kind of films. If you have a Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar starrer film, you also have a Queen or The Lunchbox. Both of which give impressive ROIs. So I am open to doing various kind of roles. I don’t want to get stuck with south remakes where I will be offered only negative leads.
Any plans to turn producer?
Actually I have produced films and realised that one should not put his feet in both the boats at a time. Then both the jobs suffer, if you produce concentrate on production and if you act concentrate on acting. Production is not an easy task. You need to take care of everything and you can’t, leave everything on somebody else because they might take advantage of you. After burning my hands I have decided to concentrate on acting only.
Not even direction?
That might happen. I am very attracted to action, I love watching action films. And I want to make a film on martial arts and tell the audience that it’s not used only for self-defense, it’s a great exercise and everyone should learn martial arts. So the only film I want to direct as of now is a film on martial arts, because if I write the story and give it to someone else that person might not understand my vision of what I want to say about martial art so I would love to direct it and only direct it.