Suriya in Jai Bhim
Suriya in Jai Bhim Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Tamil superstar Suriya was hugely inspired by late actor Irrfan Khan’s career choices and took a leaf out of his acting process when socially-charged drama ‘Jai Bhim’ came his way.

“I remember watching an interview of Irrfan Khan sir where he said that he likes to dive deep into any topic or genre that he takes on — be it romance or about education or about the rural community. He dives deep into it and asks difficult questions. I tried to do the same with ‘Jai Bhim’,” said Suriya in a round table discussion with journalists ahead of his new film’s release on November 2.

Suriya with Rajisha Vijayan in 'Jai Bhim'

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video now, his idea worked wonders. ‘Jai Bhim’, a riveting film which documents the trials of a pregnant woman from an oppressed tribe in Tamil Nadu, now outranks ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ as the highest-rated film on IMDb.

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in 'The Shawshank Redemption' Image Credit: AP

It’s the tale of how a marginalised woman seeks justice for her husband who was arrested, brutally tortured in police custody and murdered after being implicated in a false case. It’s based on a true incident from the 1990s,” said the actor. “‘Jai Bhim’ will raise a lot of questions on who we treat a certain community and how they live their lives. It won’t appeal just to the change-makers, but also to the common people too. It may push you to think about why they are invisible in front of us or why we never bother about them ... This film also talks about how a lawyer stood by a woman who was voiceless.”

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Lijomol Jose plays an oppressed pregnant woman who fights for justice for her dead husband Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The ‘Soorarai Pottru’ star plays the real-life lawyer Justice Chandru in ‘Jai Bhim’ who took on the case to defend the rights of an oppressed woman, played an on-point by Lijomol Jose in the film.

“She was a stranger to him, but it explores what it took for this lawyer to stand by her. The film also touches upon how our judiciary and the police department stood hand-in-hand and resolved an ugly situation,” said Suriya.

Here are the excerpts from our conversation with the actor, who is one of Tamil cinema’s biggest stars ...

Will ‘Jai Bhim’ help you reach out to a larger audience other than just South Indians who follow your films closely?

Every time a film is made we embark on a new journey where we don’t know how it’s going to shape up or how the audience will take to it. But something about this film – right from the beginning – attracted the right people in every department.

‘Jai Bhim’ is a beautiful film made by a beautiful team and its director [T. J. Gnanavel] is a close friend of mine. He helped me start my own NGO and for him to suddenly become a filmmaker came as a surprise to me and we are confident that we had a great film in our hands.

‘Jai Bhim’ is based on a true story and has immense impact. Anybody watching this film doesn’t need any language to understand it. It’s about our people, it’s about our system, and it’s about what’s happening around us. I promise you that every viewer will experience the same joy as we did while making this film. It’s a story of how one person stood by thee common people and fought the whole system. It was a jaw-dropping experience for all of us involved and it’s likely to be the same for anyone watching it from any part of the world and they will connect with what we are trying to say.

Do you feel it’s a social responsibility for you as an artist to feature in socially relevant films such as ‘Jai Bhim’? And what do you think is the role of an artist in these fractured times?

It’s more about how we want to celebrate our unsung heroes, but there’s definitely a sense of responsibility that comes when a story deals a tribal woman and her fight for justice. This film explores what it takes for them to reach the high court.

It isn’t a normal situation for them and what it takes for them to bring out change. It’s also a story of how one person can bring in change and it’s based on a true-life incident. Through this film, I hope we can bring in true change and awareness in our society. True incidents bring in true changes in our society and that’s what I believe in … A lot of care has been taken not to blow anything out of proportion and everything was handled with a lot of care.

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Suriya in 'Jai Bhim' Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Going by its trailer, ‘Jai Bhim’ touches upon the current Indian politics and the changes that need to be made. Do you think such films are the need of the hour?

That wasn’t in our agenda for us. This film is about what happened in 1995 and a case that was handled by Justice Chandru Sir. We wanted to tell that story. But it’s true that real-life incidents can bring about a lot of change in people’s minds. It’s also about how people stood by this case and fought for justice.

This film will inspire young lawyers and other people and compel them to have a different perspective for certain. The film will also remind us that the judiciary and the Police department should be hand in hand to make things happen. ‘Jai Bhim’ doesn’t talk about the current politics or about the immediate changes that need to be made … As people, we just need to march towards a better society. This film is a biopic that talks about marching towards a better society and how we can become more sensible. This film will make you aware of what’s happening around us.

In this film you represent a community and its fight for its rights. In real life, have you ever had to stand up and fight for your own rights?

I am blessed and I have never faced a personal situation where I had to stand up for my needs per se. But I have stood up for those people around me and my NGO [the rural educational unit Agaram Foundation], but it was never about politics. I voiced what was right for them and tried to be their voice.

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A still from 'Jai Bhim' Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

How did you prepare for this role?

Chandru Sir is a wonderfully fascinating character and you realise that when you interact and spend time with him. Every time I met him even if was for five minutes for tea or travelling with him in a car, there was a new story or incident that he would share. He came to our shooting set one day and it was a wonderful experience to see him with a smile. For the first time in Tamil cinema, there was a whole High Court room sets erected. He appreciated every minute detail that he saw and he also saw me arguing in the make-shift court just like he used to do in real life in front of the camera. He approved everything that we did and he told us what he felt.

He knew each and every dialogue and the content of the film.

 And,what do you want the viewers to take from it?

I may be an actor by profession, but I am a common man. It pains me to see when a person does not have a basic human rights like a ration card or community certificate or access to water. All this may be happening just 80kms from where we stay and there are people who live without electricity or water for generations.

They live that life and you may not even know about it. So when you make a film and talk about such an issue, it’s always nice to raise complicated questions and come up with answers so people can debate and think about it. This film, which talks about what happened in 1995, does that and may bring about positive change. This film will raise a lot of questions about whether we care for a certain community or how they live life. It won’t appeal just to the change makers but to the common people too.

It may push you think why we thought that they were invisible in front of us or why we didn’t bother about them … the film also talks about how a lawyer stood by a woman who was voiceless. She was stranger to him, but it explores what it took for this lawyer to stand by her. The film also touches upon how our judiciary and the Police department stood hand-in-hand and resolved an ugly situation. They brought back justice and harmony.

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A still from 'Jai Bhim' Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

When there’s a film that touches upon inequality and marginalisation, how did you ensure it wasn’t preachy and reduced to token activism and did you discuss that concern with your makers?

I didn’t need to because my director who also wrote the film is a very sensitive and sensible person. He has a journalist background and wrote cover stories for a popular magazine. He was acutely aware of what he wanted to say through this film and was equally concerned … It was a beautiful journey with him. We have asked the right questions in this film.

Would a theatrical release worked better for a film like ‘Jai Bhim’?

We have a wonderful audience here on this OTT [Over-The-Top] platform. This film’s journey began ten days before the first lockdown began and by the time we reached our third schedule of our filming, the second wave of the pandemic hit us. I got badly affected and I was hopsitalised with an oxygen mask for five days. So in all honesty, we were not aware or sure of when a theatrical release could happen. By then it was already a 2.5 year-old film. Also, we saw what happened with ‘Soorarai Pottru’ where we were able to test and tap into new territories and audiences with Amazon and that film brought us a lot of happiness and satisfaction. We were overwhelmed with the response that ‘Soorarai Pottru’ got cinema lovers … Having said that, the experience of watching a film in a cinema hall with a crowd is very different. But I am happy that ‘Jai Bhim’ is happening right now with the Amazon Prime Video because we have new territories to reach now.

Don’t Miss It!

‘Jai Bhim’ is out on Amazon Prime Video now

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Actor Suriya plays an ethical and humane lawyer in 'Jai Bhim' Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video