An actor alternating between villainy and heroism in films is almost impossible. But Arjun does it with élan, writes Malathi Rrangarajan
It’s a never-say-die attitude that has helped Arjun go on for decades as a hero, despite a detour at times. Probably his self-confidence makes him find newer pastures in his quest for versatility. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t have seen him sharing screen space with an actor of Kamal Haasan’s stature in Kurudhi Punal, teaming up with Ajith to play a chicaner in Mankaatha, or more recently spewing inimicality as the antithesis of Arvind Swami in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. All these even while playing superhero, like in the just-released Vanayuddham. “Ha, ha,” he laughs. “Vijayakumar is a super cop and I got a chance to play the part and nab Veerappan on screen. But seriously, I don’t see a character as positive or negative. The scope of the part and the maker behind it are the only considerations.”
So if Mani Ratnam wasn’t wielding the megaphone, Arjun would not have played the antagonist in Kadal? “Exactly, if it hadn’t been a director I was confident about I would not have gone ahead. The character is one that wishes his wrongs had been forgiven. I loved my role in Kadal.” Despite unique casting and his brilliant performance, Kadal hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire. “That’s something I feel sad about. It should have done much better. Yet accolades continue to come my way.”
The raw evil in his eyes in Kadal shows an acting side we never thought existed in him. “Scary, right? But that’s the actor’s job. To look convincing in the role he portrays.”
Does he think switching over to villainy and swinging back to heroism are judicious career moves? Particularly when he still has a solid fan base that laps up his action movies?
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think so, would I?” he counters.
Mankaatha, cine goers assumed, was his one-time trip to crime land. But his turning villain again for Kadal is rather puzzling. Arjun justifies: “Come on, I’ve passed the stage of feeling insecure. Image is of little consequence. And playing a character with a wicked slant isn’t new to me. I did it in Prabhu Solomon’s early film, Kannodu Kaanbadhellam. Watch my Kannada film, Prasad, which was screened at the Berlin Film Festival recently. You’ll see yet another very different dimension in my portrayal,” he says. Prasad is to be released in Tamil soon.
“In Mankaatha, I’m suave till almost the end. I flipped for the transformation in my character. It was Ajith’s 50th film and he was keen I do the role. And Venkat Prabhu, whom I’ve known for ages, is a capable director.”
And Kadal? “I always believe in the presenter, in this case Mani Ratnam. The schemer in Kadal had a strong reason to be so. He had lost his family because of the decision of the superiors in the church who didn’t have the heart to forgive him for his wrongdoing, and considers the man who passed on the info to them a bitter foe. I liked the consistency in Mani Ratnam’s characterisation, and I’m glad I did it. There’s this story in the Mahabharata about Duryodhana going straight to heaven after his death, while Dharma, known as the virtuous, had to take a circuitous route. Duryodhana’s unflinching nature even amidst odds was the reason,” he smiles.
Is his choice of roles goaded by the fact that he feels it’s time he steers clear of romance, the running-around-trees kind? “Not at all, I’m an actor and I’ll go on as long as the going is good. I’m doing all these and more in my next release, Moondru Paer Moondru Kaadhal. Director Vasanth has fleshed out the role very well,” he says.
Arjun is also a director with around nine films to his credit. “I’ll soon be directing a film for Aascar Ravichandran, and I’m its protagonist. It’s called CM.”
“No, Common Man,” he chuckles.
As a seasoned senior in cinema, does he advise his daughter Aishwarya who will be debuting as Vishal’s heroine soon? “It’s not just for Aishwarya. Once aspiring actors realise that the only three ways to success are diligence, discipline and punctuality, nothing can stop them from realising their dreams.”