Never Say Die – A Candid Chat With Sanju Sivram!

He has done memorable roles in Mollywood apart from Telugu debut, Raktham

He may not be the regular Macho hero who will bash up villains and scream punch dialogues but his down to earth persona and innocent humour will definitely crack you up into splits of laughter. Be it humour or drama, he has proved his mettle as a talented actor with his memorable roles in Malayalam Cinema and of course with his Telugu debut film, Raktham, that won multiple international awards this year. RITZ is in conversation with Mollywood star Sanju Sivram, who will bowl you over with his warm smile and humble demeanour!

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Shafi Shakkeer

Venue : Crowne Plaza, Kochi

Costume Courtesy: North Republic

Styling: Savad

Makeup & Hair styling: Subi Ganesh


You have a Kolkata connection. How has that helped you in your film career?

I was born in Kolkata as my parents were working there but I spent my childhood in Kerala and returned to Kolkata only for vacations. I always had a passion for movies and it was my dream to do films. So after completing my post-graduation and a brief work stint in Bengaluru, I chose to work in my home state to try my luck in Mollywood. In a way, my Kolkata connection did help me to get into movies…I unexpectedly got a chance to dub for a film called ‘Dhoore’ by Prabhu Radhakrishnan. Since the storyline was based in Kolkata, they needed someone who was familiar with both the languages. It was a very challenging task as I had to dub for almost 6 different characters including that of the hero in just 24 hours! It was really tough but it gave me the confidence to follow my dream.  The assistant director of ‘Dhoore’ was the one who suggested that I audition for ‘Nee ko njaa cha’, my first Malayalam movie! I was selected for one of the lead roles in the movie and I instantly knew that this was my destiny!

Without a background in Cinema or a stint in acting school, how did you handle your very first experience?

Well, more than excitement, I was too stunned to think or react! Soon after selection, I was told that I would have to attend an acting workshop and right after that we started shooting. I knew this is what I had been waiting for and so I had no choice but to push myself into it! It was a 33 day continuous shoot, most of which was in Goa. It was extremely tiring as in a single shot, they would do a complete scene. So we had to be really well prepared. I was at the location throughout the shoot, even when it wasn’t my scene but it was the most amazing experience!

Inspite of so many established actors and thick competition, you still managed to get lead roles in majority of the films you have done. Did you find it intimidating at first?

More than getting into films I think it’s more difficult to survive in the industry. Today it’s a lot easier to get your first film, which wasn’t the case before. But getting good roles continuously is the key to survival here which is very tough. There is also lot competition now. You are viewed as a product, so it is important to market yourself well. I look upto top stars like Mammootty or Mohanlal who didn’t have a background or legacy in Cinema to fall back on when they started. But they still made it to the top through their sheer hard work. So one has to be patient and wait for the right projects. My very first film turned out to be a hit and though the numbers were limited, I managed to get good roles in almost all the movies I have done so far – which I think is a big blessing. But it is challenging and important for an actor to reach a point where he is considered inevitable to do a particular role.

After every successful film, you have always had a gap. Was that intentional?

No, not intentional at all. I have always had gaps in my career. It is probably because I was conscious about doing good roles and didn’t want to blindly do every film that came my way. I was open to doing different roles but unfortunately, it was taking time. I chose the best roles that came my way as there was always this fear of losing the recognition and critical acclaim I got after every successful movie.

How was your experience acting in your first Telugu movie ‘Raktham’ which has won so many international awards?

It was unexpected and totally unplanned. My performance in 1983 won a lot of critical acclaim and Rajesh Touchriver, the national and international award winning director was among those who congratulated me. Though he had mentioned it to me earlier about doing a film, we hadn’t gotten a chance to take it forward. But then, one fine day, he called all of a sudden and told me that we have to start shoot as soon as possible for a Telugu movie. I was not at all confident because I didn’t know the language at all and he mentioned that it would be synchronised sound recording which meant the sound would be recorded during the filming of the movie. I didn’t see any chance of my taking up the role at such short notice but somehow, Rajesh seemed very confident and at ease. Since I always wanted to do a serious role, I didn’t want to give up either so I decided to give it a shot. In Raktham, I am donning the role of a Naxalite, a role with a lot of focus on dialogues.  I knew I would have to put in extra effort as I had a lot of limitations in terms of improvisation due to sync sound.   I worked really hard to learn the language and looking back now, I have no regrets. As an actor, it was a tremendous learning experience. The entire crew was very supportive and working with Rajesh was the best part, he guided me so well that I didn’t feel any pressure at all.  The movie has been screened at several international film festivals and it has won several awards including best foreign feature, best cinematography, best people’s feature at the Indie Gathering Film Festival 2017 held at OHIO. It was the toughest film that I have done till date but the most satisfying too.

Tell us about your role as a TV Host in the show, Malayali Veetamma on Flowers Channel.

It was when I was working for the movie, ‘Hello Namaste’ that I realised that the role of an RJ was really tough. I have often wondered how it would be to handle a live audience on screen. I am a person with stage fright and so when the TV show was offered to me, I took it as a challenge and an opportunity to overcome that fear. It has been a show that has had a lot of reach and exposure and I think I have been able to reach out to a lot more people through this medium. It is indeed very tough handling so many people on stage and keeping them engaged but it was a totally new experience for me.

Tell us about your upcoming projects…

I am doing a film with Mammootty next where I get to share considerable screen space with him. It has been my dream to act with Superstars like Mammootty and Mohanlal, who have been my constant inspiration right from childhood. This year I am getting to do films with both of them! I am doing a cameo in Mammootty’s Masterpiece, Mohanlal’s Villain and also in Tarangam which has Tovino Thomas in the lead.

What are your interests outside of films?

Sports, my love being for Cricket! My first dream was to be a cricketer but I had to drop that dream when I realised that we had to start preparing for it from a very young age. I even used to keep a diary to record all important milestones in Cricket during the 90’s. I always find time to play cricket at the Cricket Village in Kochi. Am a member of the Celebrity Cricket Club as well! That came as an added bonus of being a celebrity! It has helped me to play cricket in the top stadiums in the country and abroad! Couldn’t as asked for more!

What’s your Dream role?

I want to do a movie based on Sports. The movie ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ by Tigmanshu Dhulia with Irfaan Khan in the lead is one of my personal favourites. I would love to do a movie on those lines, something that’s different from the regular line of Cinema.

What is your biggest learning from Cinema?

Perseverance. The one thing that I realised is that, the only person who will help you and be there for you is you yourself. Only truly sincere people will stand by you during your most difficult times and they are the ones who matter when the going is good. Cinema is not just a fancy world, there is immense hard work involved. Being among the audience and working in cinema are totally two different things.  Survival is really tough and there is no guarantee of financial security. It is extremely challenging and you need to have the grit to hang on even through difficult times. At the same time, the respect and the privilege you get from being a celebrity is also something that I value and cherish.

What is your Inspiration?

My motivation is my pain and my struggles. It has motivated me to be stronger and to work harder to achieve my goals. So, even when good times roll, I don’t get carried away.

How would you describe yourself?

Adaptive, Patient, Fun loving and always willing to be inspired!

Rapid Fire:

  • Biggest strength: Don’t give up easily
  • Weakness: Am badly optimistic
  • Biggest Fear: Fear of Failure
  • Favourite Brand: Jack N Jones
  • Favourite Hangout: At home or at the Beach
  • Favourite Holiday: Hill stations
  • Favourite Dish: Puttu
  • Dream Car: Mini Cooper
  • Indispensable Accessory: My specs coz it gives me better vision (laughs)!