'It makes me very nervous to be compared to Rajini Sir'
'I can never define what kind of an actor I am; all I know is I have to remain focused and imbibe whatever role is offered to me,' Bobby Simha tells Praveen Sundaram.
Ever since Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda released on August 1, Bobby Simha has become the talk of the town for his stunning performance as Sethu.
Bobby Simha is from Kodaikanal and began acting in short films first. He then acted in Balaji Mohan’s Kadhalil Sothapuvathu Eppadi, Alphonse Putheren’s Neram and Nalan Kumaraswamy’s Soothu Kavvum.
Neram and Soothu Kavvum brought recognition, but it was Jigarthanda that established him as a bankable actor in Tamil cinema.
He spoke to Praveen Sundaram about his acting career and Jigarthanda.
You have come a long way as an actor since your short films days in Chennai.
Acting has been a childhood dream. I came to Chennai in 2005 to become an actor and joined this theatre group called Koothu Pattarai.
I was trained as an actor by Mr Soma Sundaram who, incidentally, plays my acting coach in Jigarthanda.
I would work for a few months, make some money and get my portfolio done, and save up a little to sustain myself. I tried to meet directors to get a break.
There was a time in my life when everything seemed empty. I was low in confidence and the future seemed blank.
How did short films happen?
Ability Foundation wanted a one-minute film and Manikandan, the director of the yet to release Kaaka Muttai was associated with it.
I requested him to take me along as an assistant. I wanted to be involved in the process of filmmaking and be in touch with people in the industry.
I met Karthik Subbaraj through Manikandan. My network grew and I met Nalan Kumaraswamy and then Vijay Sethupathi. My first short film was Raavanam.
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Image: Bobby Simha
'The producer of Jigarthanda was not keen that I play Sethu'
How did you end up playing Sethu in Jigarthanda?
When Karthik Subbaraj narrated the script of Jigarthanda to me a couple of years ago, I had expressed an interest in playing Sethu. But he told me that it required a certain amount of maturity.
Then Karthik made Pizza. When he decided to direct Jigarthanda next, he was looking for somebody to play Sethu.
After Neram released last year, I won rave reviews for my performance as Vaddi Raja and the film’s director Alphonse Putheren told Karthik Subbaraj that I was capable of playing stronger roles.
The producer of Jigarthanda was not keen that I play Sethu, but Karthik was convinced I could pull it off.
He told me that if Jigarthanda fails, I might be able to find more roles to play and continue my acting career, but his career as a filmmaker would be finished.
He trusted me a lot and I am glad I did not let him down.
There were a couple of screen tests, make-up tests and lots of practice before they were convinced that I could play Sethu with elan.
Was it a difficult role?
It was a very tough role to play. It has several variations. I kept telling myself, I am Sethu. He is brutal and ruthless, immune to blood and gore. He cannot tolerate people laughing at him. When a cop tells him that he has been listed to be shot down in an encounter, he does not react. He is calm.
One scene that was difficult was when Siddharth’s character convinces Sethu that he is a filmmaker and the interaction that follows.
The producer was visiting the sets then and Karthik Subbaraj told me that he could not afford to go for many takes. My legs were trembling but I got it right.
I just imbibed Sethu within me. Even when walking on the road, I would look and walk like Sethu would.
I can never define what kind of an actor I am; all I know is I have to remain focused and imbibe whatever role is offered to me.
Image: Bobby Simha
'Rajini Sir was not even remotely in my mind when I was playing Sethu'
Did you expect Jigarthanda to be the film that it has turned out to be?
It has surpassed my expectations.
Karthik understands the language of cinema very well. His translation of the script to celluloid is beyond brilliant.
We have broken the popular clichéd image of a Madurai gangster. He also broke the myth that cinema within cinema won’t work.
Social media is abuzz with comments on how much you resemble a young Rajini. Veteran actor, S Ve Shekar posted on Facebook that Sethu in Jigarthanda resembles the Rajinikanth of the late 70s.
It is flattering and it makes me very nervous too. Director R K Selvamani also told me that my looks and performance in Jigarthanda reminded him of Rajinikanth in Bhairavi.
Rajini Sir was not even remotely in my mind when I was playing Sethu.
Have you shown the film to Rajinikanth yet?
Not yet. Hopefully he will get to watch it some time.
When you were shooting, did you imagine that the scene set in the cinema theatre’s toilet would become so popular?
It was a challenge to film that scene.
It was a single shot and we had several rehearsals. It was shot in a cramped space and I had to walk from the canteen to the kitchen, make small talk with the cook, without looking into the camera, then walk into the rain and have a small talk with the cleaner again.
Gavemic had to hold the cam and also maintain the distance.
I would like to credit the sound designers Vishnu Govind and Sreesankar for creating the necessary ambiance with the rain effect and all. They have done a brilliant job.
One criticism about your character is that while you are a menacing villain in the first half, in the second half Sethu is very different.
He is a brutal and ruthless man. But like many other human beings, Sethu desires fame and respect.
He wants to be recognised and respected and he grabs the opportunity when he discovers that Siddharth’s character wants to make a film on his life.
I am doing Urumeen now, directed by Shaktivel, another short-film maker turned feature film director.
Image: Bobby Simha