by Rinku Gupta

For director turned hero, M Sasikumar, Thaarai Thappattai will be a special film for more reasons than one. Not only has he played a musician, learnt folk dancing and undergone a makeover, but he has also worked as a hero, being directed by his mentor, Bala. Thaarai Thappattai gave him the opportunity to relive the days of yore when he was assistant director to Bala. It’s no surprise then that he gets nostalgic as he recounts his experiences.

Though he makes switches easily between directing and acting, dancing has never come without a struggle to Sasikumar. In this film he plays a musician with a Karagattam troupe, a man who has knowledge of various instruments and dance as well. So how did he bag this role ? “That you should ask Bala,” he smiles. “I don’t question his decisions. He did two look tests and thought me apt for the role and I did it.” Playing a musician associated with the famed folk art of Karagattam of Tamilnadu, Sasikumar had to undergo a makeover. He grew his hair longer and put on some weight to look the part. All of it took around a year and a half. He also had to spend two months learning basic dance moves, especially folk dancing, to get the flexibility and natural moves of a dancer. Playing a musician who can handle several instruments in the film, especially the Naadaswaram, he had to get familiar with them all. Breathing techniques were part of his training.

Armed with all the preparation, when he hit the sets, he was ready to face his mentor. Was he apprehensive to be directed by the man who had taught him the ropes of film making? “I just went with a blank mind. I just observed him carefully and did whatever he wanted me to do. I know Bala sir well. If he asks for ten movements, like nodding, eye and hand movements, walking, talking, etc, you have to observe and do all ten of them at the same time. If you do nine out of ten, he’ll point it out. So as long as you observe and deliver, it’s ok.”

Bala is known as a tough taskmaster but Sasikumar’s opinion differs. “Those are just rumours. He’s very cool and never scolds anyone. In fact, Bala adjusts to the mood of the artist. If there are several scenes planned and you can’t complete them, he will postpone it saying ‘don’t get anxious, we can do it tomorrow.’”

Rewinding back to Sethu

Ask him about his most cherished moment in the film and he ponders a bit before answering, “There are several of them. But one moment where I got very emotional was in a temple in Kumbakonam. It was the same location Bala had shot for Sethu, his debut film, and I was his Assistant Director at that time. Now, we shot at the same place and I was his hero. It was a special moment for both of us.”

For Sasikumar, the film is special for one more reason. “Its Ilayaraja sir’s 1000th film and I’m so happy I’m in it, that too playing a musician to music composed by him!” he gushes.

He is all praise for his co-star Varalaxmi who is quite his opposite in temperament. He recalls, “She’s quite the chatterbox and there was never a dull moment on the sets with her around! She’s done a great job as Sooravalli and this film will get her a good name in the industry.”