I clearly remember his amazing comic timing in Shankar’s Jeans, and even though he considers his role in the film as nothing more than a cameo (which we strongly disagree with), SV Sekar is one of those faces from Tamil theatre and cinema that you just cannot manage to forget. We caught up with him on a warm Chennai afternoon for a chat about his three big passions: theatre, films and politics.

“The changes in the industry have largely been in terms of technology advancement, the culture of the industry has stayed pretty much the same,” he begins as we sip on some hot coffee at The Tiger House in Besant Nagar, Chennai. “Like a television serial, Tamil cinema is still within the walls of household and therefore culturally still grounded. Yes, there are directors who are trying to match Hollywood when it comes to technology. For example, director Shankar ensures that every film he makes is on par with the rest of the world. But he’s one of the only few who do this. The rest are still content with making films on love, revenge and stories that are suitable for a family,” he adds.

So, no difference at all? “The only real difference between most of these films is the number of songs or action sequences and that’s absolutely left to the artiste performing the lead role in the film.”

Unafraid to say what’s exactly on his mind, the conversation quickly moves to his choices in films. “I’ve largely worked with films being made on a smaller budget. Shankar’s Jeans was a one-off experience for me. I prefer working with smaller budget films as they are often more successful. I’ve only acted in around 97 films and out of these 97, 75 films ran for 100 days. But my real success has always been with teleserials. I was responsible for the first television series in Tamil Nadu. It was called Vanna Kolangal and it was a super hit. It is still being rerun on TV channels and has been telecast more than 11 times already. I’ve always preferred the television format, because I often become a one-man army — I am the producer, the artiste, the director — one person, all-in-all. The reach of television is also much more. Films are mainly for recognition. When you act in a film, you are recognised as an actor; while when acting in a teleserial, you are often recognised as the character portrayed by you. Not many people like that, but I love it.”

And has anything changed since you began working in films, serials and theatre? “The subjects are definitely changing in Tamil films, serials and the theatre world and young people are definitely changing the scenario. But technology wise, serials and films have gone far ahead of theatre. And there’s also the problem of the sabhas (performance halls) that seem to prefer Carnatic concerts over theatre. It’s nearly impossible to get a booking during the margazhi season (spring art festival in Chennai). Theatre comes to a standstill in Chennai for those 2-3months.”

And is there no other option to the sabhas? “Well, there are the public auditoriums but their costs are very high and government help is almost zero. The late chief minister, J Jayalalitha gave theatre groups a flat 50% off on the costs of renting Kalaivanar Arangam and later even gave us a flat 50% off on all transport on TNSTC buses. These discounts still continue. When this was announced, the rent for the hall was `10,000 and we paid `5,000. Today, the same hall costs over 1lakh rupees and we cannot afford it even at half price. The way the present government is increasing and renting out these halls for profit, I wonder if they would rent out the assembly building too — they don’t use it for more than half the year, anyway. Most bureaucrats are politicians and that is why they do not understand the value of art. The late J Jayalalitha did and that is why she supported us.”

How about your foray into politics… what led to that? “My father SV Venkatraman; you might remember him from Roja, where he plays Arvind Swamy’s boss — he was a very systematic and honest person. He was a member of Lions Club for a long time and was an educator who focused on blood donation, organ donation and advocacy around juvenile diabetes. He also donated his eyes when he died. He was very particular about self-discipline and therefore I think I inherited my personal ethics from him. He taught me one simple thing: when you are in a public office or doing work for the public — you have to be uncorrupted. That is what drove me to ensure work worth `300crores was carried out in Mylapore when I was the MLA there. This sans any bribes or delays. I was always interested in politics, so it was natural that I would eventually end up
with a party.”

Being so multitalented, where does you true
passion lie? “Basically, my passion is drama. I entered theatre at the age of 10. I started my own group in 1973 and we have, so far, performed 25 plays with over 6,000 shows all across the world. Drama is my passion, cinema was pure luck. I am very particular about the roles I play. I am a teetotaller in person and prefer doing such roles too. I will not perform a role that demands me to leave behind my ethics. I’ve made the mistake of doing such films in the past, without knowing the whole story and so nowadays I’d rather say no to such a film than create an uncomfortable situation on the set later.”

Would you call yourself a comedian? “My son has got into films recently. He prefers being an action hero. I prefer doing humorous roles. I think I would compare myself to Amol Palekar. I am not a comedian. I just enjoy humorous roles and if people choose to see me in that light… that is left to them.”

Lastly, any words of advice for young actors in the industry? “Your self-discipline is very important. Remember that you are your only competition and that when god is with you, nobody can be
against you.”

write to me at romal@paulsons.in
Watch the interview on ProvokeTV

PHOTOGRAPHER: Hari G Kiran | @kiranm_photraits
STYLING: Ramolaa Krishnaraj | @ramolaakrishnaraj
WARDROBE: Subhathra Couture & Jazzmen | @subhathracouture_jazzmen
HAIR & MAKE-UP: Priyanka Pun | @priyanka_pri_babe_ (Toni&Guy | @toniandguyindia)
LOCATION: The Tiger House | @thetigerhouseclub