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 Director 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. 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 2001, he starred in Siddique’s comedy film Friends, also co-starring Vijay, which became a superhit. His major break in acting 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 Mounam Pesiyadhe directed by debutant Ameer Sultan, which became a hit film & a cult classic.
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, and became a Blockbuster at the box office. Suriya also received an ITFA award for Best Actor for his role in the film. Next, his portrayal of a happy-go-lucky village crook with a comic touch in Bala’s Pithamagan, along with Vikram, won him the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. 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. The film became a successful venture at the box office, and Suriya won his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor. The same year, he portrayed the role of a student leader in Mani Ratnam’s political drama Ayitha Ezhuthu along with Madhavan and Siddarth which received highly critical acclaim and became a commercial success.
Suriya signed on to feature in the psychological thriller, Ghajini directed by A. R. Murugadoss in November 2004; he played the role of a patient suffering from short-term memory loss. 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. Later he worked in Hari’s action film Aaru and the film received a positive response at the box office.
Suriya’s 2006 release was N. Krishna’s Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. He acted opposite his wife Jyothika Saravanan in the film, which took a good opening, but became an average grosser. In 2007, Suriya’s solitary release was Vel, which became a hit at the box office. His next release was Vaaranam Aayiram, a collaboration with Gautham Menon, after the success of Kaakha Kaakha. Playing dual roles for the third time in his career, Suriya appeared as father and son, portraying scenes as a 16-year-old and as a 65-year-old. 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 became commercially successful at the box office upon release as well as receiving positive reviews from film critics, with Suriya’s performance being lauded. His portrayals also fetched him several notable awards, including the Filmfare Award for Best Actor, 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, which went on to become the highest grossing Tamil film of the year. Upon release, the film won positive reviews and Suriya’s performance was yet again acclaimed. 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. Following Ayan, his next film, K. S. Ravikumar’s action entertainer Aadhavan also achieved commercial success, while Suriya’s depiction of a hitman was praised.
In 2010, he had his 25th release with Singam directed by Hari, in which he played the role of ‘Durai Singam’, a police officer from a small village going to work in the city. The film received positive reviews, and became a huge commercial success. The film won Suriya the Vijay Award for Best Entertainer again and subsequently went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year. He made his Bollywood debut in Ram Gopal Varma’s two-part political drama Rakta Charitra in 2010 which was released to highly critical acclaim and became an average success. 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 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. His only 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 was praised. 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 2, a sequel to his 2010 film Singam, that released on 5 July 2013 to positive response from the public. The film received a huge opening, becoming the highest grossing Tamil film of the year and emerged as one of the highest grossing Tamil films of all time, collecting more than 100 crores worldwide. His next film Anjaan directed by N. Lingusamy was released on 15 August 2014 to negative reviews. The film had one of the biggest openings ever in Tamil Cinema and Suriya’s best, but became a below average venture at the box office. His next release was Venkat Prabhu’s film Masss, which released to mixed reviews. His only film in 2016 was his home production 24 directed by Vikram Kumar which hit the screens on 6 May 2016. The film, based on the concept of time-travel, featured Suriya in triple roles. The film met with unanimous critical acclaim, and became a commercial success, grossing more than 100 crores worldwide. Suriya’s performance, especially the character ‘Athreya’ was much praised. His first release in 2017 was Singam 3, the sequel to his earlier films Singam & Singam 2. The film released on 9 February 2017 to mostly positive reviews from the public. It had one of the biggest worldwide openings for a Tamil film, and Suriya’s biggest yet, and eventually grossed 100 crores worldwide in just 6 days of its release. Suriya’s next film in 2017 is with director Vignesh Shivan for Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, following which he has signed on to feature in a film with director Selvaraghavan for his 36th film.
Suriya is married to actress Jyothika, with whom he worked with in as many as seven films. The couple, after being together for several years, got married on 11 September 2006. They have two children, a daughter named Diya (born 10 August 2007) and a son named Dev (born 7 June 2010).
In 2008, 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, he created a short commercial video outlining child poverty, labour and lack of education, titled Herova? Zerova?. The film was written and produced by Suriya 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.
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.