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S. J. Surya
Born Name: S. Justin Selvaraj
Date of Birth: 20 July 1968
Place of Birth: Sivagiri, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India
Height: 5 ft 11 in (180 cm)
Alma mater: Loyola College, Chennai
Occupation: Actor, film director, screenwriter, producer, music composer, singer
S. Justin Selvaraj, known by his stage name S. J. Surya is an Indian film director, screenwriter, actor, music composer and producer who has worked in the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi film industries. He sought to become an actor but ended up directing, assisting Vasanth and Sabapathy.
Surya made his directorial debut with Vaali in 1999 whose success catapulted him to stardom. His other notable films include Kushi (2000), New (2004), Anbe Aaruyire (2005) and Isai (2015). He made his acting debut with New and went on to act in films like Kalvanin Kadhali (2006), Thirumagan (2007), Vyabari (2007) and has also worked as Antagonist in Spyder (2017) and Mersal (2017).
1990–2003: Early career and success
Born in Vasudevanallur near Puliangudi, Tamil Nadu, he moved to Chennai to complete a Physics degree at Loyola College. Despite getting an opportunity to pursue further studies at an engineering college in Madurai, he declined the offer and stayed in Chennai, with the hope of finding a breakthrough as an actor in Tamil films. To be financially self-dependent, he began working in hotels and as a steward, before receiving an offer to apprentice under K. Bhagyaraj.
While working in the team of Ullaasam (1997), the film's lead actor Ajith Kumar recognised Surya from their collaboration in Aasai, and accepted to listen to a script narration. Ajith, impressed with the narration, subsequently helped approach S. S. Chakravarthy to produce the film and the team began work on Vaali (1999) in late 1997. Keerthi Reddy was announced to be the lead actress before she was replaced by Simran, while Surya also chose to introduce Jyothika in the film. A thriller film, a reviewer from the Deccan Herald described it as "definitely worth seeing" saying it "has something for all tastes — a pleasant love angle, some suspense, complex psychological nuances, good acting, pleasing songs" while praising Ajith's performance. The reviewer from Indolink.com labelled the film as "a classic in its own right", describing Surya as "a new young director to the cine field who can make Tamil Cinema be proud once again".
The New Indian Express mentioned the film as "outstanding" while mentioning Surya does a "good job and succeeds". The film's commercial success meant that it provided a breakthrough for both Surya's and the lead actor's careers.
After watching the première show of Vaali, producer A. M. Rathnam offered Surya an opportunity to make another film and thus Kushi, a romantic comedy featuring Vijay and Jyothika materialised. Telling the story of a pair of egoistic lovers with a college backdrop, the film was shot in early 2000 across South India and New Zealand. The film opened to positive reviews from critics in May 2000 and also went on to achieve box office success. Rediff.com gave a positive verdict stating that the movie is a "neat family entertainer", praising the director's story-telling, while Bizhat.com also gave the movie a positive review. The Hindu featured the film as runner-up in their list of top Tamil films in 2000, while Jyothika went on to win the Filmfare Best Actress Award in Tamil for her performance in the film.
The team then approached Pawan Kalyan to star in a Telugu version of the film and after a positive narration session, the actor prioritised the venture over two other films. Bhumika Chawla was added to the cast to play Jyothika's role, while a few changes were inserted to make it fit for the Telugu audiences. Pawan Kalyan had also insisted inserting few extra action sequences for the Telugu version, and despite an initial difference of opinions, Surya eventually allowed the scenes to be filmed but refused to be at the shoot when they were shot.
The film also titled as Kushi (2001), opened to positive reviews and went on to become the most successful Telugu film ever at release in June 2001. A film critic noted Surya "has come up with another winner this time. There is no story in this film, but it runs with a neat screenplay", adding "he has done an extraordinary job as screenplay writer". He made a third version of the film, Khushi (2003) in Hindi, for producer Boney Kapoor, with Fardeen Khan and Kareena Kapoor in the lead roles. In comparison to the other two versions, the film received negative reviews and performed poorly at the box office, with a critic writing "plenty of Suryah's scenes are also somewhat contrived, in the vein of those eighties family pot-boilers. .. [she] just cannot get effective emoting from his lead actors".
2004–2006: New (2004) and acting career
Surya began pre-production work on a third story titled New in early 2001, which he would also produce. Featuring Ajith Kumar and Jyothika in the lead role, and Deva had composed ten songs for the film by June 2001. After Ajith Kumar had become busy with other commitments, Surya decided to enact the lead role himself, revealing he had always wanted to be an actor. Simran signed on to play the leading female character, while Kiran and Devayani were cast in pivotal roles.
A simultaneously shot Telugu version titled Naani featuring Mahesh Babu in the lead role, with Amisha Patel, Ramya Krishnan and Devayani in supporting roles was also made. New told the tale of an 8-year-old boy who is turned into a 28-year-old man by a scientist and Surya noted that he was loosely inspired by the Hollywood film Big (1988). The film was shot in hundred days, with Surya revealing he would often stop acting in between the scenes, when he knew that his performance was not up to his expectation as a director.
New opened in April 2004 to mixed reviews, with a critic from The Hindu claiming that "belonging to a genre that is rare to our cinema, "New" however, gets bogged down in a mire of duets and double entenders", but hinted at potential success citing that director "seems to have hit the bull's eye." The movie subsequently went on to become a blockbuster, with music composed by A. R. Rahman being labelled as one of the film's largest selling points. Naani opened the following month to mixed reviews from critics, with a reviewer noting the film suffers from "a bad script and artificialness". The film's adult theme generated controversy, and post-release, women activists in the state of Tamil Nadu demanded a ban on a film after release, which they say contained obscene sex scenes. Surya responded by claiming that the sex scenes are there because the story line requires them and described his film as "fiction laced with sex and comedy".
In August 2005, the Madras High Court revoked the censor certificate for the film and directed the Chennai Commissioner of Police to investigate two criminal complaints registered against Surya, ruling that the film did not provide a "clean and healthy entertainment" and that it would be failing in its duty if it did not revoke the censor certificate of the film, claiming it originally attained an "A" certificate "under questionable circumstances". Surya was then arrested by city police for allegedly throwing a mobile phone at a woman censor board official in a fit of anger during the post-production of the film. He was later released without charge. A further case was launched in March 2006, with the Censor Board filing a complaint against Surya for using stills from scenes that were deleted from the film, with a poster which showed Surya resting on Simran’s cleavage resurfacing. He was subsequently arrested for the second time before being released.
He announced a film titled Isai in 2004 shortly after the release of New, when he revealed that A. R. Rahman would also collaborate for two further ventures titled Anbulla Nanbane and Aezhumazhai vs Chitra.
While Isai was postponed, Anbulla Nanbane developed under the title Best Friend, before the title Anbe Aaruyire (2005) was finalised.
Featuring himself in the lead role again, he signed up newcomer Meera Chopra for the film and rechristened her under the stage name Nila. He revealed that he was inspired to make the film to convey that young lovers must give each other space and wanted to showcase that attitudes towards relationships by the Indian youth was changing from the previous decade. He called the film a "sequel to Kushi", revealing that the film's lead actors would have similar ego clashes.
Like New, the film faced hurdles prior to release with the censor boards insisting on several cuts and Surya's ongoing legal tussles meant the film was delayed. The film opened to mixed reviews in September 2005, with Sify.com labelling it as "adult entertainment" though added he "tries hard to bring his character Shiva to life but has to go miles as far as dialogue delivery and voice modulation goes but has improved leaps and bound on the dancing front". The film became his fourth consecutive commercial success in Tamil films, with Surya adamant on thanking his crew for helping get through the controversies, labeling that "team effort" helped them overcome the problems.
Surya began pre-production work on a directorial venture, Aezhumazhai vs Chitra, a romantic comedy starring Silambarasan and Asin, in January 2005 and the team released images taken from a promotional photo shoot. However the film, which was to be produced by S. S. Chakravarthy, eventually failed to develop and those involved moved on to different ventures.
Surya then began work on a venture titled Puli, a police thriller which would feature Vijay in the lead role, and would have Navodaya Appachan as the producer. In late 2005, reports suggested that Asin would play the leading female role, while Surya developed the project alongside his commitments as an actor.
However, by early 2006, Vijay dropped out of the project after Surya had refused to make alterations to the script. In January 2006, Isai was reported to be back under way with either S. S. Chakravarthy or Navodaya Appachan being producer and it was suggested that the film would be about a "cunning assistant music director comes to the top".
Other reports had also suggested that the film told the tale of the tensions between South Indian musicians Ilaiyaraaja and A. R. Rahman. However the film failed to materialise again, and Surya postponed production work. Following the postponement of several of his projects, Surya revealed in April 2006 that he would direct and star in a venture titled Pesum Deivangal for children and family audiences, in an attempt to remove the "sleazy" image he had been associated to in films. Despite pre-production works being carried out, the film also failed to materialise.
2006–present: Recent work and comeback success
Following the positive reception he received on his acting with New and Anbe Aaruyire, Surya chose to take a break from directing and opted to act in films directed by other film makers. He was cast as a casanova in Tamilvannan's romantic comedy Kalvanin Kadhali (2006) opposite Nayantara, and the film garnered the industry's anticipation prior to release. It eventually won average reviews and performed well at the box office, with a critic noting "Suryah is improving with each film though he hams the usual way." He had two releases as an actor in 2007, with Sakthi Chidambaram's science fiction comedy Viyabari being the first release. Featuring in an ensemble cast, alongside Tamannaah, Namitha and Vadivelu, Surya was cast as a businessman who creates a clone of himself to care for his family and playing both roles, Surya's performance was described as "outrageous, over the top and loud". Similarly, critics noted he is just "a limited actor who just walks through the first half effortlessly doing what he had done in his earlier films" for his performance in Thirumagan. The failure of both films prompted another ongoing venture titled Pandigai to be shelved, and Surya chose to concentrate instead on directing. He made a brief comeback as a lead actor in the psychological thriller Newtonin Moondram Vidhi (2009), which won good reviews but only performed averagely at the box office.
In April 2007, Surya announced he would re-begin work on his directorial venture Puli, but would instead make it as a Telugu film and Pawan Kalyan would play the lead role. Produced by Singanamala Ramesh, he signed on A. R. Rahman to compose the film's music, while newcomer Nikeesha Patel was selected to play the lad actress. The film took close to three years to produce and was faced delays at regular intervals. The film was finally released in September 2010 and received negative reviews from critics. A reviewer from Sify.com noted "the main problem with the film is that it does not have a credible story or script", adding that Surya "has done a haphazard work in his writing. There is absolutely no consistency in characterization".
Another critic noted Surya "fails in the screenplay department" and the film has loopholes galore, labelling it as a "disappointment".
In between directorial commitments, he played guest roles in Shankar's Nanban (2012) and as a film director in the horror Pizza 2: The Villa (2013). In 2011, Surya announced that he would restart Isai and would compose music for the film himself after being recommended by A.R. Rahman, describing it as a "musical" which would explore the battle between a veteran and an emerging music composer.
In May 2012, the film's first look posters were revealed, with Sulagna Panigrahi, an Oriya television and film actress introduced in the leading role under the new name Savithri. The film was shot for more than two years, undergoing a notable change in the film's antagonist from Prakash Raj to Sathyaraj in the midst of production. Surya trained as a musician by taking lessons lasting up to ten hours for a six-month stretch. Isai finished post-production work in late 2014 and had a theatrical release in early 2015.
In 2016, Surya acted in the drama film, Iraivi. His performance as an alcoholic and abusive director fetched highly positive reviews from both critics and audiences, for which he was nominated for national award. Later, Surya signed and starred in two films, Spyder, a bilingual and Mersal. He played the villain in both the movies. Spyder received mixed response, whereas Mersal became a blockbuster hit, although Surya's performance in both films were widely appreciated, with some even describing them as his "comeback" after facing a slump of unsuccessful films.
In March 2017, Surya signed a new project titled Iravaakaalam which is to be directed by Maya fame Ashwin Saravanan to star along with Sshivada and Wamiqa Gabbi.
Surya's 2019 venture is Monster, a comedy film co-starring Priya Bhavani Shankar and directed by Nelson Venkatesan of Oru Naal Koothu fame. The film released on 17 May 2019 to positive reviews from crittics. Once again, Surya's performance was critically praised.
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