Saravanan Sivakumar (born 23 July 1975), known by his stage name Suriya, is an Indian actor, producer, television presenter and a philanthrophist. He is best known for his work in Tamil cinema, where he is one of the highest paid actors. Among his awards include three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, four Filmfare Awards South, two Edison Awards, a Cinema Express Award, a CineMAA Award and a Vijay Award. Based on the earnings of Indian celebrities, Suriya has been included in the Forbes India Celebrity 100 list six times.
23 July 1975
|Alma mater||Loyola College, Chennai|
After making his debut in Nerukku Ner (1997), Suriya landed his breakthrough role in Nandha (2001) and then had his first major commercial success with the thriller, Kaakha Kaakha (2003). Following award-winning performances of a conman in Pithamagan (2003) and a hunchback in Perazhagan (2004), he played a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, in the 2005 blockbuster Ghajini. He rose to stardom with dual roles of a father and son in Gautham Menon's semi-autobiographical Vaaranam Aayiram (2008). His status as an action star was established with roles of a smuggler in Ayan (2009), and an aggressive cop in the Singam trilogy. Suriya also found success with the science fiction films 7aum Arivu (2011) and 24 (2016).
Suriya is the eldest child of Tamil film actor Sivakumar and his younger brother Karthi is also an actor. He married co-star Jyothika in 2006. In 2008, he began Agaram Foundation, which funds various philanthropic activities. The year 2012 marked his debut as a television presenter with the Star Vijay game show Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi, the Tamil version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. In 2013, Suriya founded the production house 2D Entertainment.
Early life and family
Suriya was born Saravanan Sivakumar on 23 July 1975 in Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu, to Tamil film actor Sivakumar and his wife Lakshmi. He attended Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan School and St. Bede's Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in Chennai, and obtained his under graduate degree B.Com from Loyola College, Chennai. Suriya has two younger siblings, a brother Karthi and a sister Brindha.
1997–2002: Early career
Before his career in films, Suriya worked at a garment exports factory for eight months. To avoid nepotism, he did not reveal himself to his boss as Sivakumar's son, but his boss ultimately learnt the truth himself. He was initially offered the lead role by Vasanth in his film Aasai (1995), but he rejected the offer citing a lack of interest in an acting career. He later debuted in Vasanth's own 1997 film Nerrukku Ner, produced by Mani Ratnam when he was 22 years of age. The stage name Suriya was bestowed to him by Ratnam to avoid a clash of names with established actor Saravanan. The name Suriya was frequently used for characters in Ratnam's films. Vijay, who would also go on to become a leading contemporary actor in Kollywood, co-starred with him in the film.
This was followed by a series of roles in commercially unsuccessful films in the late 1990s. In 1998, he starred in the romantic film Kaadhale Nimmadhi. In July the same year, he had another release Sandhippoma. Subsequently, he acted with Vijayakanth in the film Periyanna (1999), directed by S. A. Chandrasekhar. He then appeared twice with Jyothika in Poovellam Kettuppar (1999) and Uyirile Kalanthathu (2000). In 2001, he starred in Siddique's comedy film Friends, also co-starring Vijay.
Suriya confessed that he struggled due to lack of confidence, memory power, fighting or dancing skills in his early career, but it was actor Raghuvaran, one of his mentors, who advised him to create his own identity, rather than stay under his father's shadow.
His major break came in the form of Nandha, which was directed by Bala. Playing the role of an ex-convict who is very attached to his mother, he received a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor. His next venture was Vikraman's Unnai Ninaithu followed by Shree and Mounam Pesiyadhe directed by Ameer Sultan.
2003–2007: Experimentation and success
In 2003, he starred in Gautham Menon's Kaakha Kaakha, a film about the life of a police officer. The film opened to positive reviews with a critic from Rediff.com claiming that "Surya as Anbu Selvan fits the role and this film is certainly a career high for him". The film became Suriya's first biggest blockbuster. His portrayal of a happy-go-lucky village crook with a comic touch in Bala's Pithamagan, along with Vikram, won him Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor – Tamil and the film did well commercially. In 2004, he played dual roles in Perazhagan, as an aggressive boxer and a handicapped phone booth keeper. Suriya's performance won positive reviews from critics with a reviewer describing it as "Surya deserves appreciation for his astounding performance. He is at his best be it humor or action. The actor has scored a hat trick". The film became a successful venture at the box office and Suriya won his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil. The same year, he portrayed the role of a student leader in Mani Ratnam's political drama Aaytha Ezhuthu along with Madhavan and Siddarth which received highly critical acclaim.
Suriya signed on to feature in the psychological thriller, Ghajini directed by A. R. Murugadoss in November 2004; he played the role of a businessman who has anterograde amnesia. Ghajini released in late 2005 and became a Blockbuster and was the third highest-grossing film of that year in Tamil. Suriya's role was unanimously praised, with a reviewer from Sify citing that "the film is driven by Suriya's riveting performance". Later he worked in Hari's action film Aaru and the film received a moderate response at the box office. His performance fetched positive reviews with a reviewer citing that "Surya keeps you riveted to the seats with another wholesome effort". The film was dubbed in Telugu under the same name and was a box office success, earning him a name in Andhra Pradesh.
In 2006, he starred with Jyothika and Bhumika Chawla in N. Krishna's film Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. The film took a strong opening, average reception But his performance was praised, with a reviewer from Sify citing that "Surya pitches in with yet another fantastic performance, be it the responsible husband and father, or the cool dude at college". In 2007, his only release was director Hari's Vel, where he was paired with Asin for the second time after Ghajini. The film, which featured him in dual roles, was commercially successful.
2008–2014: Continued commercial success and stardom
His next release was a collaboration with Gautham Menon, after the success of Kaakha Kaakha, Suriya began work on Menon's biopic Vaaranam Aayiram in November 2008. Playing dual roles for the third time in his career, Suriya appeared as father and son, with both characters also demanding scenes shot throughout their lives ranging from scenes as a 16-year-old to scenes as a 65-year-old. During the production of the film, Suriya described the project as "unique" and "straight from the heart", describing the physical hardships he endured during the making. He lost weight and prepared a six pack for the film through an eight-month fitness regime without steroids, with the movie being a trend-setter for other leading actors from South India. The film, which also featured Simran, Sameera Reddy and Divya Spandana in prominent roles, became commercially successful at the box office upon release as well as receiving positive reviews from film critics, with Suriya's performance being lauded. A critic from Rediff labelled the film as his "magnum opus", citing that he is "perfect" and that the film for him is a "justified triumph". Similarly, critics cited Suriya's performance as "outstanding" and claimed that the film "works because of his performance", whilst other reviewers claimed the film was an "out and out Suriya show". His portrayals also fetched him several notable awards, including the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil, a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor by the jury and also the Vijay Award for Best Actor for 2008. The film also went on to receive a National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil for 2008.
In 2009, Suriya's first release was K. V. Anand's action-thriller Ayan. With Suriya portraying the role of a smuggler, the film also featured Prabhu as his guardian and Tamannaah Bhatia as the lead actress. The film was shot extensively across Tanzania, Namibia, Malaysia and India and featured acrobatic stunts by Suriya, without the use of a stunt double. Upon release, the film won positive reviews citing that the film was a "must watch" and Suriya's performance was yet again acclaimed and he found himself nominated for leading awards and won the Vijay Award for Entertainer of the Year. The film's success saw Suriya emerge as the most profitable leading actor in Tamil films, following a hat trick of large commercial hits, with film journals suggesting that his success was due to "experiments within the commercial format" and he was successful in "avoiding being typecast". Ayan was the highest-grossing Tamil film of 2009.
His next film, K. S. Ravikumar's action entertainer Aadhavan also achieved commercial success, while Suriya's depiction of a hitman was praised. A critic from Sify.com labelled it as an "out and out Suriya show", stating that "the film rides on the magic of the actor, and his zany shenanigans alone makes it worth a watch" and Rediff.com cited that "he sings, dances, and fights with absolute sincerity, but when he looks at you with tears in his eyes in an emotional scene tailor-made for him, the applause hits the roof", concluding that it is "completely his film". In 2010, he had his 25th release with Singam directed by Hari, in which he played the role of a police officer from a small village going to work in the city. The film received to positive reviews with The Hindu newspaper noting that "Suriya shows that be it a performance-oriented role or a formulaic concoction he can deliver", while Sify.com stated "Ultimately it is Suriya who carries the film to the winning post. His passion and the way he brings an ordinary regular larger-than-life hero character alive on screen is lesson for other commercial heroes." The film won Suriya the Vijay Award for Best Entertainer again and saw him nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil again, and subsequently went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year. He made his Telugu and Hindi debut in the second part of Ram Gopal Varma's political drama Rakta Charitra in 2010. Suriya subsequently went on to appear as himself in three consecutive guest appearances, appearing alongside Trisha and Madhavan in a song in Manmadhan Ambu (2010), before also starring in K. V. Anand's Ko and Bala's Avan Ivan (2011).
His only release in 2011 that featured him in a starring role was A. R. Murugadoss's science fiction thriller 7aum Arivu. Suriya played dual roles with Shruti Haasan in the film, as a circus artist and as the Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, who lived in the 6th century. The film met with mixed reception, but was a commercial success and became the actor's first work to gross above ₹1 billion. His 2012 release was the K. V. Anand directed Maattrraan in which he played the role of conjoined twins, Vimalan and Akhilan. The film received mixed reviews. and the film ended up being an average grosser while Suriya's performance is praised along with technical aspects and VFX. Suriya himself dubbed for one of his characters in the Telugu dubbed version of the film.
In January 2012, Suriya was named as the official host of the new game show to be presented on STAR Vijay, Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi, the Tamil version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which began airing on 27 February 2012 and ended on 12 July. His next film was Singam II, a sequel to his 2010 film Singam, that released on 5 July 2013 to mixed responses from critics. However, the film received a huge opening and emerged one of the highest grossing Tamil films of all time. Suriya was once again acclaimed for his portrayal of Durai Singam and his performance was hailed as "the film's backbone". Singam II was a box office hit. He had signed on to feature in Gautham Menon's film Dhruva Natchathiram and reportedly waited for six months to start filming. However, in October 2013, he backed out due to lagging of the project and differences with the director.
2014–present: Career struggles and sporadic success
His next film Anjaan directed by N. Lingusamy was released on 15 August 2014 to mixed reviews. His next release was Venkat Prabhu's film Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss) which released to mixed reviews but critics were all in praise for Suriya's performance.
His next release was 24 directed by Vikram Kumar which was released on 6 May 2016. The film is based on the concept of time-travel, the film stars actor Suriya in triple roles, with actresses Samantha Ruth Prabhu and Nithya Menen in leading roles. The film received mixed reviews.The Hindu, critic Baradwaj Rangan called 24 an "intelligent, joyous mix of sci-fi and masala-myth." Sreedhar Pillai in his review for Firstpost mentioned, 24 is a classy commercial entertainer, which has its moments. Malini Mannath of The New Indian Express wrote, "Attractively packaged, 24 is refreshing, novel and worth a watch. M. Suganth of The Times of India, assigned 4 out of 5 stars, stating: "It is not often that we see a big star choosing to take a risk with a script that is not simplistic or formulaic, especially when his last few films have underperformed at the box office, but here Suriya pulls it off admirably. IndiaGlitz.com rated the film 3.3 out of 5 and called it as "A beautiful and brilliant show of Time". Suriya won filmfare awards for critics choice best actor and become one of few actors of Indian Cinema to win in all awards under Actor Category. Also, the movie collected est.₹1 billion (US$13 million) in 18 days. And the director of the movie has confirmed that there will be a Sequel, planned as 24 Decoded.
His next film S3 was released on 9 February 2017 and emerged another ₹1 billion grosser. His only release in 2018 was Thaana Serndha Kootam directed by Vignesh Shivan and produced by Studio Green with music done by Anirudh Ravichander with Keerthi Suresh as the female lead. The Telugu dubbed version received praise for Suriya's dubbing. The first of his two releases in 2019, Selvaraghavan's NGK, released on 31 May 2019. The second, K. V. Anand's Kaappaan marked the third time he collaborated with the director. Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, it ended up being a commercial success and yet another ₹1 billion grosser for the actor. His next film, Soorarai Pottru was based on the life of Air Deccan founder Captain G. R. Gopinath. It was produced by Suriya's 2D Entertainment and co-produced by Guneet Monga of Sikhya Entertainment. It was released directly on the OTT platform Amazon Prime Video on 12 November 2020, with positive reports. It is currently the fourth highest rated film on IMDb and has a rating of 9.1/10.
His next work was Navarasa, a Netflix anthology series produced by Mani Ratnam. It released on 6 August 2021. He acted in the episode Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, directed by Gautham Menon. The artists, technicians and directors of the series are contributing towards the film without remuneration, with only the costs of production being associated. The profits earned from the project will be donated to the members of the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He then played Justice K. Chandru in T. J. Gnanavel's Jai Bhim. The film, an own production, was distributed by Amazon Prime Video on 2 November 2021. It is currently the highest rated film on IMDb and has a rating of 9.5/10.
In 2007, Suriya was the brand ambassador of Tanker Foundation and acted in a short film on AIDS awareness. In 2019, Suriya criticised the union government's Draft National Education Policy (NEP), claiming that several of its features would affect students from rural areas. He said the policy sought to impose entrance and qualifying examination on students and the three language formula in Tamil Nadu. His statements were criticized by BJP and AIADMK leaders.
Suriya issued a statement on National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) on September 2020 after three students committed suicide. He criticized the government for enacting laws that created inequalities and criticized the judiciary saying that "while the court is run through video conferencing, they have ordered students to take the exams in person during COVID-19". He referred to NEET as "manuneethi" and compared it to a tale in the Mahabharata in which Drona demanded Ekalavya's thumb as payment for training and said "the skills and abilities of our children should not be determined by one test". He asked people to raise their voice against the NEET which "prevents medical courses to students from normal familes". Madras High court judge S.M. Balasubramaniam urged the chief justice to take contempt action against the Suriya but this was opposed by six retired judges. Suriya's wife earlier requested to contribute to schools and hospitals as same as temples.The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other right-wing organisations condemned them while they were garnered widespread support from people advocating for equal access to health care and education.
Suriya and his family has also extended help towards the education of Sri Lankan Tamil children on behalf of the Sivakumar Charitable Trust. He is also an active participant in other humanitarian works such as "Save The Tigers" campaign, which aids in the protection and preservation of Tigers in India, and "REACH", a non-profit that cures TB patients for free using supervised medication programs. The actor celebrates every birthday by doing charity work across Tamil Nadu.
In 2006, Suriya began the Agaram Foundation, working to help children who drop out of school early in Tamil Nadu. Suriya revealed that he was inspired to begin the movement as a result of his father's own organisation, Sivakumar Educational Trust, which had been operating similar benefits on a smaller scale since the 1980s. With the Ministry of Education in Tamil Nadu, the foundation created a short commercial video outlining child poverty, labour and lack of education, titled Herova? Zerova?. The film was written and produced by Sivakumar and also starred Vijay, Madhavan and Jyothika. Agaram sponsored 159 underprivileged students in 2010 for their higher education in various disciplines, and has continued to provide free seats and accommodation for pupils. With the firm belief that the educated mind can not only eliminate social evils but also aid in the socio-economic upbringing of society, Agaram Foundation works towards providing appropriate learning opportunities to the rural populace who do not otherwise have access to quality education. Through the foundation, he has also set up a platform for students to participate in workshops and improve communication skills, teamwork, goal setting and leadership.
In 2004, Suriya along with R. Madhavan was Pepsi's brand ambassador in Tamil Nadu. He was chosen to represent TVS Motors, Sunfeast Biscuits and Aircel in 2006, the latter which he endorses to this date. He has endorsed Saravana Stores, Bharathi Cements and Emami Navaratna products since 2010. In 2011, he had signed a new deal with Nescafe, Close-Up and with Zandu Balm brand as of May 2011, for which he appeared with actress Malaika Arora. In 2012, Suriya was drafted in by Malabar Gold, a leading jewellery group. The commercials for Aircel and Nescafe featured Suriya and his wife Jyothika together. In 2013, he was honored at the Edison Awards as the Best Male Endorser in South India. In 2014, he had one major contract with Complan energy drinks. In 2015, Suriya was named as the brand ambassador for Quikr and Intex Moblies. Based on the earnings of Indian celebrities, Suriya was included in the Forbes India Celebrity 100 list for 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. He was ranked No. 33 in Forbes India Celebrity 100 list for the year 2013, with earnings of ₹485 million (US$6.4 million), and No. 25 in the list for 2017, with earnings of ₹340 million (US$4.5 million).
In a 2013 interview with the Bangalore Mirror, film producer G. Dhananjayan called Suriya as the "biggest star" in contemporary Tamil cinema and claimed it was mainly because his popularity extended to Telugu and Malayalam speaking audiences as well.
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