GM Sundar: ‘Today’s ‘bro culture’ directors understand the importance of etching out characters’

Set to play a lawyer in Tamil film ‘Writer’, releasing on December 24, GM Sundar looks back on the long road to getting author-backed characters

After GM Sundar was signed on to play a gangster in Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum, Vijay Sethupathi had an interesting idea for him. Having watched Sivaji Ganesan’s Thiruvilayadal the previous night, Sethupathi wondered if Sundar could impersonate the thespian’s walk in the film. Both Nalan and Sethupathi insisted that Sundar watch the film in order to get the body language right, but the latter was adamant on going directly for the take. For, this was what Sundar had been doing since he was 13.

Life for Sundar came a full circle at that moment, when he mimicked Sivaji’s walk. It had taken 20 years for his professional career to take off; he was “waiting for someone to tie a bell around this cat’s neck”.

GM Sundar graduated from the then Adyar Film Institute, Chennai where he studied acting alongside actors Nassar and Archana. Here, he learnt the theoretical aspects of acting and began to study trained method actors such as Marlon Brando. His exposure to world cinema and having watched the work of international filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini helped him sharpen his craft. “But the irony is, when I started to act in the ‘80s, I couldn’t apply any of the things I learnt from these masters,” says Sundar, at his Besant Nagar office.

Sundar has a fair point. Even though he has been active since the ‘80s, he has mostly acted in forgettable films. His most notable works from that era are K Balachander’s Punnagai Mannan and Kamal Haasan-starrer Sathya.

When he did not get the desired roles he hoped for, Sundar switched to theatre and became one of the lead actors in drama school Koothupattarai. “Just because I didn’t get films at that point of time, I didn’t lose hope. You can call that period a hiatus but I was only doing my homework as an actor,” he says.

What’s next?

  • Sundar will be next seen in Ajith Kumar-starrer Valimai. He will also play an important role in Karthi’s Viruman, directed by Muthiah. In addition to this, Sundar has signed an anthology with independent filmmaker Vijay Jayapal and has a web series coming out. “I am not saying that I want to be a jack of all trades, but I just want to make my presence felt across mediums.”

Long road

Though he would fall into depression, Sundar says he could afford to stay in the business of acting because of his privileged background. “But the passion was killing me,” he says, “I was just waiting for a forum where I could apply what I had learnt. It required a lot of mental perseverance.”

But the wait did not go to waste. People began to recognise Sundar again after Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum; he has now been getting author-backed characters to play. The lesson he learnt in due course is saying ‘no’. “Today’s ‘bro culture’ directors understand the importance of etching out characters and the need to give something different to the audience.”

GM Sundar: ‘Today’s ‘bro culture’ directors understand the importance of etching out characters’

Sundar’s performance in films such as Magamuni and Mandela stood out. Then came Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai, in which he played Duraikannu Vaathiyar who goes against Rangan Vaathiyar, played by Pasupathy, Sundar’s junior at Koothupattarai. The rousing boxing drama became such a huge hit that Sundar’s character turned into a meme fest online. “Even though Ranjith is the creator of Sarpatta…, it is the actor who recreates it on the set.”

In fact, it was Ranjith who recommended Sundar for Writer, which releases this Friday. Playing the role of a lawyer, Sundar says the film is about RTI and will spark the kind of reaction Jai Bhim created.

Sundar says he was able to survive in the industry because he is also a businessman, a luxury most people cannot afford. “I have to run my family too. It’s ultimately a balancing act,” he adds.

By sharing his side of the story, Sundar says he wants to inspire the young generation and wants them to not lose hope. “I have had a rollercoaster of a career. With each film I get now, I am sowing seeds. Because, I have realised that my next offer depends on my previous performance.”

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