Sibiraj to make his theatre debut; will play Theeran Chinnamalai in a historic musical

Sibiraj is all set for his second debut — the actor will be playing Theeran Chinnamalai, a freedom fighter who fought against the British East India Company, in a musical theatre, directed by Ibhaan Sreeram.

Speaking exclusively to us, Sibi says, “Sreeram sir, who has done a stage production on Rani Velu Nachiyar, wanted to do a feature film, and he approached me through a couple of common friends. While discussing the movie, he mentioned that he was working on a musical, based on Theeran Chinnamalai. He then asked me if I could play the warrior in the theatre production. I was scared, but I was also excited, and I said I would happily do it.

He adds, “A lot of actors have come to cinema from the stage. MR Radha, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Sivakumar sir, even my appa (Sathyaraj)… they have all done theatre. As an actor, when you do stage, it helps you grow.” Playing one of the first freedom fighters from the south was another reason why the actor got excited about the historical musical theatre. “Theeran Chinnamalai is an unsung hero. I feel that the awareness about warriors from the south, especially Tamil Nadu, is very less. So, it’s exciting to be playing one such unsung hero,” he says.

Sreeram chips in, “From 1801 to 1805, Theeran Chinnamalai fought against the British on his own. His will be a pertinent story to narrate. The planned duration of this production is 100 minutes. There will be 60 artistes — including 20 dancers and 10 fighters trained in traditional forms like kalaripayattu and silambam. Sibi will be playing the titular role. This wouldn’t have been possible without our common friends — Suchithra, with whom I was discussing the possibility of turning Velu Nachiyar into a film, and Arun Prasanna.”

Ask him why he roped in a film actor for a theatrical production, and he says, “After the 70s, the trend of actors doing stage has almost stopped in Tamil Nadu. But even today, actors in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala do theatre. Since there is no popular face in a theatre production, sponsors are hesitant to come forward. Velu Nachiyar opened to glowing reviews about 10 years ago, but we could do only 52 shows because we didn’t have sponsors. Adhunalaye, indha kalai nalindha kalai-a aayiduchu. But I’m hopeful it will change after Sibi’s entry.”

So, is Sibi ready for the stage? “In theatre, there are no retakes. If I miss a dialogue while shooting, I know we can adjust it while dubbing, or we can use close-up or wide shot. But there is only one take on stage. It’s a challenge, but it will help me grow,” he says, adding, “Appa didn’t get an easy debut. But I had a fairly easy entry. He has been telling me that stage will give me new exposure.” So, when will the musical theatre premiere? “Scripting is done. I will start composing by the month-end, and it should be complete in another 20 days. We will then have a month-long workshop. April 17 is Theeran Chinnamalai’s birth anniversary, and we wanted to come out then. But things got pushed because of the pandemic. We are planning to go live by May,” says Sreeram. And, what is the status of their film? “We’ve finalised the story. The film has a different concept, something that has not been tried before in the Indian industry. We should start rolling soon,” signs off Sibi.