"I want to be a Formula 1 car racer like Michael Schumacher. It is very sad he is losing these days. It may be his car. Or I want to be a businessman like Bill Gates. If not for him, computers would not have been so popular. Or I will be the one who designs computer games. That will be fun. I enjoy acting in films, but I do not want to be an actor. Acting is very difficult."
That is 10-year-old Suraj Balajee, the hero of Jose Punnoose's 3-D film Magic, Magic (Chhota Jadugar in Hindi), for you.
The huge hoardings for his film all over Chennai do not excite him. Nor does the adulation and glamour that is part of the filmi package. The things that do excite him are a game of cricket with friends, watching Formula 1 races on television and go-karting.
Suraj also has another ambition: to enroll at Cambridge, England. "I like English, but I want to study French. My sister says French is very interesting."
He says he enjoyed shooting for Magic, Magic in the US. "I had not seen America before. I liked the airports. They are very big. We had a lot of fun there."
Shooting in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, though, was definitely not fun: "We had to act with a lot of light on us. It was hot and tiring."
He did not like his outfits either. While all the children could wear "nice dresses," he had to wear the magician's outfit. "I did not like my dress. Later, when they gave me a T-shirt, I was happy," he says.
Suraj learnt some magic tricks so he could effectively play the magician. But he refuses to display them. "They strictly told me not to. One of my best tricks was putting a sword inside my mouth and taking it out."
For the most part, he shot the US with three boys and a dog. "I grew close to a boy called Justine. He used to stay far away. So when Jose Uncle asked my mother if he could stay with us in our room, I begged her to say yes. Both of us had great fun. We became great friends and are in touch even now."
Suraj first debuted on screen at the age of three for an advertisement for Kumaran Silks. Now he is a veteran of over 70 ads. "When they called me for my first ad, my mother said we will do this one ad and stop. For the shoot, they just put music on and asked me to dance. That was all. It was easy. Then other offers poured in. My favourite is the one I did for MGM Dizzee World. We went on so many rides. It was fun. I also liked doing the Kinley ad [shot by filmmaker Priyadarshan of Hera Pheri fame] because I had to dance in the rain."
Offers to act in films also poured in, but his father Suresh Balajee and grandfather Tamil film producer Balajee were against it. They feared it would affect his studies. Then cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan persuaded them to let Suraj act in Asoka. "My father first told Santosh Uncle he would not let me act in films. I don't know how he agreed later."
Acting in Asoka was fun, Suraj says, especially because he could meet one of his favourite actors Shah Rukh Khan; his uncle Malayalam superstar Mohanlal is the other [Mohanlal's wife Chitra is Suresh Balajee's sister]. Suraj says, "I love his [Mohanlal's] fights. I enjoyed Narasimham and Uncle Bun."
"I was very nervous in the beginning," Suraj reveals about working in Asoka, "because I was going to act with Shah Rukh. But he was very nice and friendly. He used to ask me a lot of questions. I enjoyed shooting for Asoka. Everyone was friendly."
Even heroine Kareena Kapoor? Suraj closes his eyes, "No, she was not friendly."
His next offer came from Mani Ratnam to act as Madhavan's son in Kannathil Muthamittal. Suraj's parents could not refuse. It was also difficult to reject Magic, Magic. Suraj's mother Usha explains, "The Navodaya banner is close to us. It gave breaks to the likes of Lalettan [Mohanlal] and Priyadarshan [a close family friend], among others. We could not refuse them. Besides, Suraj is the hero of the film."
Suraj has decided Magic, Magic will be his last film. "If I continue acting, my studies might get affected. I want to study well. But if Santosh Uncle asks, I will act."
As our conversation ends, Suraj picks up a cricket bat and tennis ball.
Later in the day, he has another interview. A promotional tour in Kerala in also in the offing. For now, he pleads to his mother, "Please, let me play till noon..."
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj