The king of action is at it again. ‘Maasi,’ Arjun’s next, is about a cop, and in Tamil cinema a police story invariably turns up trumps.
“I’ve played a police officer earlier. But ‘Maasi’ isn’t just another tale of an official, a don and his goons. Realistic, sans frills, it has drama that blends well with commercial elements. ‘Maasi’ will be different because matters go beyond action and duets,” Arjun assures.
During the freewheeling chat, the actor-producer-writer and director speaks his mind with maturity that comes from long years of experience. We talk about ‘Maasi,’ which should see the light of day soon, and as he fields posers about the film, he also discusses issues pertaining to cinema.
In Arjun’s hit, ‘Marudhamalai,’ the villain was called Maasi. How come the hero has the name this time? “I asked Kicha the same question. But as a director he believes that the title suits the film,” he smiles.
The ‘action king’ is famous for his daring stunts -- normally he prefers to do the risky action sequences himself. Like the time he jumped down from the ninth floor of a building for ‘Marudhamalai’! A feat all right, but isn’t it reckless especially when so much money is riding on him? “I know and I’ve also regretted it later. But at that moment I just go ahead and do it. The climax in ‘Durai’ was another such. The blows and the punches on the stomach shot in 500 frames were all real. It earned us a good name, but it’s upsetting when filmgoers brush aside such action as graphically generated. ‘Maasi’ too will have some interesting stunts,” is his cryptic remark.
But will stunts alone sell? “Not at all, you have to package a concept in a racy screenplay, which has enough scope for essential ingredients,” Arjun contends. “And a film should have a purpose woven around a new message or a fresh idea. That was where flicks such as ‘Gentleman’ and ‘Mudhalvan’ scored. Soon you had a host of films based on the same premise and as expected they bit the dust.” Arjun is now working on a story, which he avers, will be fresh in every sense.
‘Maasi’ has two new heroines. In ‘Vallakottai’ he is paired with another debutant, Haripriya. Most of these faces seem to zoom in and out in a jiffy. “There’s a dearth, no doubt. The two or three established names are busy, so the director has to go in for new actors,” explains Arjun. He is also excited about his ‘Meikaann,’ which is being directed by Major Ravi. “Nearly 80 per cent of the film is being shot in Malaysia. An interesting project,” he says.
Generally Arjun’s films have Vidyasagar or Imman composing the music. For ‘Maasi’ it’s Dhina. “It was the producer’s choice. But I like the numbers, particularly the melody on a mother’s love,” he says.
Filmmaking is no more viable and commercially Tamil cinema has touched an all-time low, feel many. “The arguments aren’t new. They’ve existed from the time I entered the industry. The fact is, on an average, out of every 100 films made, only 10 emerge victorious,” maintains Arjun.
He has never been the socialising kind. “Even when I have to attend functions I try my best to avoid the camera,” he says. The words sound strange especially because they are from a person who’s been in showbiz for two decades and more! “I believe my work should speak for me. I’m generally the shy kind,” he adds.
He has had his share of misses too. But because he works in the four languages of the south and has a sizeable fan following in all the regions, his films are dubbed in one or the other language. “My projects are known to offer minimum guarantee to makers. Thanks to God,” smiles Arjun.
Being a writer-director himself, it must be tough to desist from making suggestions to the directors whose films he works in. “It’s inevitable. Sometimes I even plead with them to pay heed to my words. Most of the time, they see it as interference. As for me, my only concern is that the product should click. However, many of the directors must have felt I’m sincere because they’ve repeated me in their projects,” laughs Arjun.
When industry folks are crying themselves hoarse that multi-starrers are the only way to stay afloat, Arjun has quietly been featuring in them now and then. You saw him with Kamal Haasan in ‘Kurudhi Punal’ and with Nana Patekar in ‘Bommalaattam’ and he’s now doing ‘Vande Mataram’ with Mammootty. “My recent Telugu release, ‘Rama Rama Krishna Krishna’ is another multi-star cast venture,” he informs.
In Tamil it’s been nearly two years since his last release, ‘Thiruvannamalai,’ which met with a lukewarm response. Now he’s all revved up for ‘Maasi.’ When most new heroes are turning out to be a flash in the pan, the staying power of actors like Arjun is incredible! “My only weapon is hard work. And as far as youngsters are concerned, most of them seem to think that with just one hit they’ve made it. A slight imbalance in approach follows and before they realise, things come to a grinding halt. A lead actor has to be conscious of the fact that his fate is decided by his last release. So he has to win every time.”