Newcomer stars in Tamil epic drama

First-time actor Sri Venkatarageavan plays a naive man from India who arrives in Singapore to help in his uncle's money-lending business.
First-time actor Sri Venkatarageavan plays a naive man from India who arrives in Singapore to help in his uncle's money-lending business.PHOTO: MEDIACORP VASANTHAM

Student Sri Venkatarageavan lands the lead role in Vasantham's epic Tamil series

Sri Venkatarageavan went straight from film student to leading man in his acting debut, for the epic local Tamil drama that commemorates Singapore's Golden Jubilee next year.

Back from India where he went for his vacation in June, the 22-year-old was visiting TheMedia, a production house where he used to intern, when his ex-colleagues got him to audition for the Vasantham drama Annamalai.

"It was something unexpected. I didn't need any persuading to take on such a big thing. As a film student, I know how it is to get an opportunity and I wasn't going to let it go," he says.

The 52-parter drama Annamalai, the first instalment of a trilogy, premiered on Monday on MediaCorp's Vasantham channel. The story takes place in Singapore over three generations from 1940 to 1945. Without revealing figures, MediaCorp says it is a big-budget production.

Sri, who has been on leave since October from SRM University's Sivaji Ganesan Film Institute in Chennai, will not be appearing in the second and third instalments, which are expected to air in June and December next year.

His guileless nature was what led him to land the role of titular character Annamalai, a kind soul who travels from India to Singapore to help in his uncle's money-lending business.

Co-director and screenwriter Mohamed Ali says: "The character requires a certain innocence that Sri exudes naturally. His role is that of an innocent young man, dreamy-eyed and completely ignorant of the realities of the world.

"He comes out of his nest for the first time and life teaches him very harsh lessons because of his naivety."

Annamalai is born into the chettiar clan in Chettinad, Tamil Nadu.

Ali says: "It is the tradition of the clan for the children to take over the business. Annamalai comes in to take over from his uncle, but he is not someone who likes to do anything to do with finance or calculations, or money for that matter. He is a poet and wants to be a Tamil teacher."

To prepare for his role, Sri went to India to observe chettiars.

"Chettiars have a certain way of speaking Tamil, they have a certain slang. When my producer told me about this, I was in India at that time. I actually went to places where they were in India to observe the way they behaved."

Shooting the show itself was an eye-opener for the newcomer.

He says: "It brings me back to the period when I didn't exist. To see how Singapore was like and how the production crew brought the details to life - it's amazing. It gives me a taste of what my forefathers went through. A role like this is a privilege for a newcomer like me."

The rookie actor was all nerves on his first day of shooting, but says that his biggest challenge in portraying the soft-spoken Annamalai was the need to go against the grain of his own gregarious personality.

"It's such a big production. There are a lot of people around you. I was really nervous. I think after that, I kind of got used to it.

"The character completely contradicts my own character. I'm a more fun-loving, happy-go-lucky person," says Sri, who will be returning to India to complete his studies next month, and will graduate next year.

His family - comprising his retiree father who is in his 70s, and his mother and older sister, who are lawyers - is supportive of his showbusiness dreams.

He says: "My parents are excited. I've not told a lot of people that I am starring in this drama. My mum has been going around showing the trailer to every person she knows. She has been spreading the news for me. I'll just let her do her job."

nggwen@sph.com.sg

Annamalai airs on Vasantham from Monday to Thursday at 10pm.