Sathyaraj was born on 3 October 1954 in Coimbatore. His parents Subbaiah and Nathambal. He has a two younger sister, namely Kalpana Mandradiar, Roopa Senapathy. Sathyaraj completed his primary school education in St Mary's Convent school, Coimbatore and later studied for tenth standard from Suburban High School, Ramnagar, Coimbatore. He went to Government Arts College, Coimbatore for a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany. Sathyaraj original name Rangaraj. He entered into Tamil industry in the year 1978. Sathyaraj's first film in a credited role as an actor was Sattam En Kaiyil. He started his career in villainous roles and later played lead roles. He has acted in over 200 films, which include a few Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and Kannada films as well. He is known for his performance in Amaidhi Padai, Nadigan, Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, the Tamil Nadu government-sponsored film Periyar among others. He was also the director of the film Villadhi Villain (1995), starring himself in three different roles.
Apart from his film career, Sathyaraj has been vocal in the media about various issues, such as Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism and water rights in Tamil Nadu. In 2011, he had a brief career as a television host for the game show Home Sweet Home on STAR Vijay. He has also served as a brand ambassador for Pothys and Kumaran Jewelry Shop. Ennama Kannu was a super hit. His 170th film Kurukshetram (2006), Periyar and Thangam. He received the Vijay Award for Best Actor for Onbadhu Roobai Nottu in 2007 and was also nominated for his performance in Periyar in the same year. He ventured into Telugu cinema after long time as a supporting actor in Sankham in 2009 and later did Mirchi in 2012, both of which were successful. He also entered Malayalam cinema with Aagathan in 2009. He played the critically acclaimed role of Kattappa in Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and is will reprise the role in the sequel, Baahubali: The Conclusion (2016).
Sathyaraj is married to Maheswari in 1979, niece of producer Madhampatti Sivakumar and the couple have a daughter Divya and son Sibiraj. His son, Sibiraj, is also an actor. He is an atheist. Manivannan (as the director) and Sathyaraj had 12 consecutive hit films together beginning from 1987 to 1994: Jallikattu, Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi, Ganam Kortaar Avargale, Manidhan Marivittan, Ullathil Nalla Ullam, Vazhkkaichakkaram, Pudhu Manithan, Therku Theru Machan, Government Mapillai and Amaidhipadai. About working with Manivannan he has said, that it "is a pleasure. There’s no script, no dialogue sheet. It’s all in his head. But, he extracts great performances". Sathyaraj and Manivannan also acted together in several films directed by other directors.
Sathyaraj was also personally close to Manivannan. He said, "I still reminisce about the beautiful moments that I had with...Manivannan, a genius of a person. Manivannan died in 2013 and Sathyaraj has said that just 24 hours before his death they had discussed their next project and that he had him narrated him a story.
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