Suriya’s production and distribution company 2D Entertainment specializes in Tamil-language films. In May 2020, at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, when cinemas were shuttered, 2D bowed J. J. Federick’s “Ponmagal Vandhal,” starring Suriya’s wife Jyothika, also a leading actor in Tamil cinema, directly on Amazon. Sudha Kongara’s “Soorarai Pottru,” starring Suriya, bowed on the service in Nov. 2020.
In Aug. 2021, 2D signed a multi-film direct-to-digital deal for several upcoming Tamil-language films with Amazon. When the pandemic hit, 2D had six films in production and, given that a typical Indian film directly or indirectly employs 600-800 people, Suriya says that he didn’t want to pause so many people’s sole means of livelihood.
“This was the best thing which happened to all the films – we got a wonderful audience, we crossed borders, the language barrier, we’ve been able to release in five languages. And Amazon showed us the way how films can reach beyond borders,” Suriya told Variety. “Also there was no need to implant certain commercial things, we were happy to remove the stunt sequences. We were able to give the kind of film what we really honestly wanted to give. We didn’t have to please a certain section of the audience and say, ‘okay, they have come to the theaters, we have to do this product.’ So we didn’t have to tick all the boxes, basically.”
The relationship with Amazon will definitely continue, says Suriya. “Right now, we see a lot more opportunities with Amazon. It will definitely be films, direct to OTT [streaming] and also post a release will automatically happen.” The actor says that a lot of other content including series and originals are also in the works, with more than 20 ideas being worked on.
It is not necessary that Suriya will act in all of them, he says. “If there is a need I would love to be a part of it, but the writing and the kind of genres and the stories – where they are set, it’s not necessary that I should be everywhere,” said Suriya. “I would love to be a showrunner, be a part of it at every stage of the process.” Suriya says that there are plans to introduce several writers to the streaming medium and tap into the rich vein of literature that Tamil Nadu is famous for.
Manish Menghani, head of licensing at Prime Video India, confirms that the streamer is exploring a range of options with 2D including direct-to-streaming titles and films that will bow on the service after theatrical release. “We’re also going to work on a model where we will be very thrilled to work with their creative team to see what we can commission as Amazon original films,” Menghani told Variety.
2D’s Amazon deal included T.J. Gnanavel’s “Jai Bhim,” starring Suriya as a lawyer who helps a tribal couple who are harassed by the police. It earned a tremendous acclaim and is one of the highest viewed films on Amazon. It focused on the plight of the tribal peoples of Tamil Nadu, of whom there are more than 800,000. The film became an agent of social change.
The actor says that he saw disenfranchised people like the ones portrayed in the film everywhere around him. “What did I do about it? Why did I see them as invisible? Why would I just walk through them? Why I didn’t know about them? All these questions made me part of this film,” Suriya told Variety. Gnanavel had initially approached Suriya to produce but the star decided to act in the film as well.
“I didn’t know about our own people. These people live 30 kilometers away from my house. I didn’t know this is the life they are living,” said Suriya. “They couldn’t send their kids to even basic education, free education, what the government gives, and they don’t have the basic needs, what they are eligible for. So this was the conversation all over India, just not in Tamil Nadu. And we’re very glad and very happy that this film happened.”
Suriya says that thanks to the film’s impact, the tribal population of Tamil Nadu benefited. A week after the film began streaming on Nov. 2, 2021, the Chief Minister of the state ordered statistics on the tribal community to be collected and set a timeline of three months for them to be given a community certificate enabling them to access government-provided benefits, and land title deeds, says Suriya. The star adds that change is happening in other Indian states as well.
Meanwhile, “Jai Bhim,” along with “Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea,” are the two Indian films among the 276 feature films that are eligible for this year’s Academy Awards. A clip from “Jai Bhim,” with Gnanavel breaking down the scene, is featured on the Oscars’ YouTube channel as part of the Scene at the Academy strand available for films being submitted for best picture consideration.
“This film deserves global attention and love,” says Suriya.
Coming up for Suriya is Pandiraj’s “Etharkkum Thunindhavan,” awaiting a post-omicron theatrical release. The next film that will commence shooting is a film with Bala, who previously directed him in “Nandha” (2001) and “Pithamagan” (2003), alongside Vetrimaaran’s “Vaadivaasal,” followed by an as-yet-untitled film with Siva. The actor will also reunite with “Soorarai Pottru” filmmaker Sudha Kongara for another untitled film.
“Very different, very, very challenging,” is how Suriya describes his upcoming workload.