To have a movie named after you (Sethupathi) must have been somewhat discomfiting.
Well, it was. But it’s a good thing that there was already a cop movie with a similar name (Sethupathi IPS). In fact, my character’s named Ka. Sethupathi in the film; ‘Ka’ is short for Kalimuthu, my father’s name. I suggested to Arun (the director) that we title the movie with the initial, but he felt that it wasn’t mass enough.
I know quite a few who are disappointed that Arun, who made Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, has made a mass film for his second.
He’s a really talented director, and I think he deserves more respect than he gets presently. People need to know who he is, and recognise him as a brand. That will not happen if he only does films like Pannaiyarum.
You’re saying it’s impossible to become a top director without doing mass films?
I think so. Once he does a couple of mass films, he will be recognised as a brand and become free to do any type of film. Sethupathi has many of the subtle touches you enjoyed in Pannaiyarum. In fact, while making the film, Arun and I wondered if we should have made Pannaiyarum after Sethupathi. Pannaiyarum could have attracted more interest then.
I trust Arun as a filmmaker; just like I have great faith in Karthik (Subbaraj) and Nalan (Kumarasamy). You can give them all the same script, but they’ll end up making different versions of the same film—all good ones.
I imagine there’ll be a lot of moustache twirling in the film, as you play a police officer.
(Laughs) Yes. I’m afraid so. In fact, did you know that when I first saw myself in the mirror dressed as a policeman, I was not at all sure that I looked good? When an actor decides to play a character, he must exude some sort of charisma and look relatable, even if he is playing the role of a really unattractive person. Arun too wasn’t convinced by how I looked.
He told you that?
Of course, he wouldn’t tell me that. But I could see he wasn’t really convinced. I even suggested that I play a clean-shaven cop. Why must a cop always have a moustache? But Arun felt it wouldn’t be appealing enough. The advantage of sporting a moustache is that you can use it to express yourself in scenes. As an actor, you need to use everything at your disposal. If I were playing a clean-shaven cop, I’d have used some other prop.
I find it interesting that Arun didn’t quite tell you openly that he wasn’t happy with your look. Did it have anything to do with your status as an actor? Do you find that directors, these days, tiptoe around you, so as to not offend your sensibilities?
Well, I break that as an actor. I surrender to my directors. I do that because I respect them immensely. In fact, a director’s talent scares me. I admit that they’re more intelligent than me, and I submit to that, as an assistant director does. Even when I have suggestions to make, I don’t state them strongly.
Considering you play the father of two children in Sethupathi, it must not have been easy at all for you to get an actress on board.
I’m happy it was difficult. I’m glad that some top actresses refused. Remya has done a great job. That said, I also understand why the actresses who refused, did so. The shelf-life of actresses is limited, and they don’t want to get typecast. But I think that those who have become stars can afford to play these roles. Nayanthara, for instance, recently played the role of a mother in a Malayalam film. When I asked her about it, she said she simply didn’t care as long as she liked the role. We need more actresses like her.
Somehow, Sethupathi has ended up releasing ahead of Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum. As an actor, would you prefer that some films release before others?
I have preferences, of course, but it is not right for me to express them. What if the producers suffer because of my decision?
Sethupathi’s teaser was released on the occasion of your birthday. So, perhaps you have more influence than you believe?
Absolutely not. I realise you’re referring to the ‘Happy birthday Vijay Sethupathi’ line at the end of the teaser. It was just an expression of affection from Arun and the producer; just a one-off gesture.
Considering that you had to radically alter your looks to suit your role in Nalan’s debut, Soodhu Kavvum, it must have been a relief to know the role in Kadhalum... was comparatively easier.
Yeah. I just had to come and go, really. I play a lazy, aimless person in the film. It’s a rom-com without overt romance. You’ll feel the romance in the film though. I loved the script when he first narrated it to me in 2014. I told him even then that if no other actor came on board, I’d love to do it.
You’re doing Iraivi with Karthik Subbaraj as well, whose first film, Pizza, also starred you. Siddharth joked recently that you’re not letting other actors work with these top directors.
( Laughs) We all just share a great understanding. We’re all great friends, and I know these directors from when they were all doing short films. So, naturally, we are comfortable working with each other.
From an anonymous actor who was working in short films, you have now become a star who has fan associations.
Thankfully, unlike earlier, these fan associations are now being formed with my approval. I knew that they existed only after I received a call at midnight once, informing me that two fans were fighting with each other for billboard space in a theatre. Sometimes, I don’t understand why they love me so much, but I’m humbled that they’re spending sleepless nights to promote my films. It’s an expression of love, I think. That’s why I try to meet them whenever I can. I attend some of the functions I’m invited to, and take photographs with them. I wish they spent more time understanding how politics works than in idolising actors.
How do you mean?
Well, I think they should join as party workers, if only to understand how parties function. It’s easy to complain about your dad when you’re a teenager. It’s only when you understand what he does that you’ll realise that simply complaining isn’t good enough. I want to tell this to everybody, not just my fans.
For somebody who’s as willing to interact with fans as you are, you are inactive on social media.
I was active on Facebook for a while, responding to comments, and thanking fans for their appreciation. But I found that the Facebook feed was numbing my emotions. I’d see an extraordinarily tragic news item, and even before I could react to it, see a hilarious meme right below it. This was confusing me. I wasn’t sure if I should cry or laugh. I decided to delete my account because this contradiction was affecting me as a human.