In an exclusive chat with ETimes, Santhi talks at length about working in Gulmohar and its cast, his growing up years, his acting journey and his idea of success.
Your Hindi debut Gulmohar is being discussed everywhere. How does it make you feel?
This has been a very heartwarming response. People have especially liked the romantic track between Reshma and Jeetu. Different couples in the film are at different stages of their relationship. You have a couple who have been married for 35 years and then there are newly married couples who are discovering their feelings for each other. It was interesting that there was such an exploration of romance in the film. People have picked it up and enjoyed it. And that’s really nice to know. As actors, we are lucky that we get this kind of response.
Your father was more than excited to see you sharing space with him Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee,
You know, actually, it’s really funny how these things happened. Sometime before Gulmohar happened, quite randomly, my father said one day, ‘You know, I think you’ll work with Manoj Bajpayee one day.’ And somehow very fortunately that was the next project I committed to. I was really amazed that his words came true. It was, in fact, a matter of coincidence or I think, maybe they put this idea out into the universe and it responded (laughs). And as he said in his post, he has been a big fan of Sharmila (Tagore) ji since he was young. For him, that was the added element of excitement. In fact, last year he published the book Gitanjali, a Malayalam translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems, for which I did the illustrations. So it was nice that I could actually give Sharmila ji a copy of the book with her words and my pictures.
Were you nervous on the sets of Gulmohar?
Director Rahul made a conscious effort to ensure that the cast got to know each other before shooting. We also had a workshop here, which was run by Manoj sir. We had a theater workshop. We spent a day with all the actors. So we have to break the ice in this way. Before that we also had several reading sessions. So there was an element of comfort that had already started to set in. It was always fascinating to see these actors you’ve heard of and admired. They were cute on set. Manoj sir loves to discuss crafts and share his insights. It was a very positive environment for actors who are just starting their journey. It was a really exciting opportunity to be in the company of these really established, experienced actors and to see them at work and work with them.
Was it a conscious decision on your part to work on a Hindi project?
Yes, I have always wanted to work in languages. Acting is a profession that gives you the opportunity to cross the language barrier. Especially now that OTT has opened up a lot, there are a lot of diverse parts being written, parts that can be played by people across the country. It was an interesting opportunity for me to try. If you have successful films, it definitely opens more doors for you as people pay more attention to your work. You’re more on the radar of people who are casting, or who are writing interesting scripts. So definitely, it gives a boost to your career if you work in projects that do well commercially.
How was acting with you?
I’ve always been a creative person. Growing up, I was always interested in theatre, painting and the arts in general. My parents have always supported my interest in the pursuit of art. I used to paint a lot as a child and my paintings were exhibited. He was a big part of my life. But I also had a very academic side. Then I did psychology, and then I went into anthropology. I’ve always been interested in human behavior. I feel like my interest in acting has also kind of expanded.
I have a bachelor’s degree from Oxford University. I have done my PhD. Then I felt that I needed a break. And at that time I did a play. And because I did plays, casting agents started noticing me, and then they asked me to audition. And that’s how I got my first two projects because of drama. I realized this was something I wanted to explore a little more seriously. So theater exposed me to the idea of taking acting more seriously as a career option.
If you were not an actor, what profession would you be in?
I enjoy writing. I did a music video, the script of which I wrote, which was released AR Rahman In 2021. This is called oblivion. It was a very experimental work as it explored the space between life and death. So it was something that I really enjoyed doing. I worked on a script with a friend, we wrote it together. Writing is one area that I definitely enjoy and would like to explore more. I really enjoyed that aspect of bringing in a team to execute a project. It was definitely a special point in this journey in films for me.
Tell us about Sweet Karam Coffee.
Sweet Karam Coffee is a Tamil web series which will release in a few months. I think it’s probably scheduled for like a summer, holiday release. So nothing is completely confirmed as of now. We’re just waiting. Date not set. But it is a place similar to Gulmohar. This is a family place, very kind and light hearted. As the name suggests, it has all the flavor of life. It is the story of three generations of a family, grandmother, mother and daughter. It has also been shot in different parts of India. So my grandmother is played by veteran actress Lakshmi, and my mother is played by Madhu. I had a great time with both these ladies. They were wonderful women to work with, so talented and so experienced. He is also a really lovely person.
What is your definition of success?
It’s a combination of doing things that fulfills you. At least personally, what I really enjoy most is the process of becoming a character. Even if the project is not a commercial success, you have learned something as part of that journey. This is success for me. I invest very little of my emotions in the result, because the result is not really in your hands.
How are you planning to explore opportunities in the Hindi film industry?
I don’t think I have any specific plan or strategy. I am happy waiting for good work. I look forward to auditioning as much as possible and finding projects that resonate with me. I look forward to doing better.
Do you have a favorite actor or director you would like to work with?
There are many directors with whom I would love to work. It is difficult to name a few, but Shoojit Sircar is one of them. I think his work is very sensitive. It explores human nature in a very beautiful way. i would also love to work with Zoya Akhtar, There are so many amazing people working right now.
It has been five years since you entered acting. How would you describe your journey so far?
It has been an experience where I feel I have learned a lot, especially about dealing with a creative profession and the uncertainties that come with it. It has taught me to take life as it is. In general, life is unpredictable, but if you’re working in a creative field, it’s even more so. Just enjoy that unpredictability and make peace with it. With new collaborations life can be surprising and things can change. It has been tough for me and it has taken some time to see the positive side of it.
I am very fortunate to have got a very interesting filmography and the characters I have played are mostly offbeat. I have got to play a lot of characters with gray shades. I am very grateful to the writers and directors who have given me these opportunities to explore these different sides of human nature. Until someone offers you that opportunity as an actor, you are at the mercy of someone seeing that character.