Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, Soodhu Kavvum…after a hat-trick of hits Vijay Sethupathi continues to push boundaries. Sudhish Kamath catches up with the actor who has cherry-picked eight vastly different films

While stars often keep their “look” in their next film a secret, he has no such superstitions. “I believe that the script is more important than the look. Discovering a new look could kill curiosity within a moment but it is the script that keeps you hooked till the end,” says Kollywood’s bravest rising star who has made his career by picking the smartest scripts.

Despite having tasted critical and commercial success with Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom and Soodhu Kavvum, Vijay Sethupathi is in no mood to play it safe.

On the contrary, he has already handpicked eight vastly different films he will act in for the next two years and stopped listening to fresh scripts. “How can I now decide what I will feel like after two years. So I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or make them wait for me. If the script is good, it won’t need me anyway.”

When Dhanush went up on stage to collect his Best Actor Award (Popular) at South Indian International Movie Awards, he said he was sure Sethupathi would win it next year. Five minutes later, Sethupathi walked up to pick up the Best Actor (Critics) award.

Later that night, at an after party, Dhanush tells this writer: “Just wait and watch, he will become bigger than me.”

This year alone, Vijay Sethupathi has three more releases lined up (he has already finished shooting them). Idharkuthaan Aasaipattai Balakumara, a “romantic torture comedy” directed by Gokul releasing on October 2, a buddy movie called Rummy directed by Balakrishnan end-November and the most awaited Pannayaarum Padminiyum based on the cult feel-good short film, directed by S.U. Arunkumar, (a film he considers very close to his heart) to be released in December.

The look he’s sporting is for Sangudevan, directed by Sudhakar where he plays a lorry driver, a trustworthy loyal aide who is betrayed by his mentor. After which, he will start shooting for Idam Porul Eval with Seenu Ramasamy, Vanmam directed by Jayakrishna, Vasanthakumaran directed by Anand Kumaresan and Mellisai directed by Ranjit.

Barring Seenu Ramasamy and Ranjit’s films, Sethupathi has only picked first time directors.

“I picked them out of 80 scripts I have heard over the last few months. If the script is good, the protagonist will automatically be a well-defined character,” he says rubbing the side of his fist against the Sangudevan meesai.

“After listening to the character, I work on the look and live with it for a few days. The quirks emerge automatically when you live with the character... Like how I keep twirling the moustache with my fist.”

Flashback

Originally from Rajapalayam, Vijay Sethupathi came to Chennai when he was in Class 6 to do his schooling in MGR Higher Secondary School in Kodambakkam. He took up the Commerce stream only because he didn’t want to do engineering and because, well... all his friends were joining D.B. Jain College.

He did a series of odd jobs for pocket money: Salesman at a retail store, cashier at a fast food joint and a phone booth operator.

One week after he finished college, he joined as an account assistant at a wholesale cement business. “I couldn’t clear CA or ICWA foundation even,” he laughs.

He had to take care of three siblings (“anna, thambi and thangachi”) and moved to Dubai as an accountant only because it paid him four times more than what he was making in India. In those two years, he fell in love. Online.

“It was about ten years ago that I took a flight back home from Dubai to marry my girlfriend. Now, life has come a full circle going to Dubai to pick up a Best Actor award.”

After a brief stint in the interior decoration business with friends, he joined a marketing company that dealt with readymade kitchens when he saw Koothupattarai’s poster.

“I asked Jayarao sir how can I become an actor? I can’t even do mimicry. He said: That’s good. You won’t imitate anyone. Whatever comes out of you will be original. But I don’t need actors now, he said,” recalls Sethupathi.

So he joined as an accountant with Koothupattarai in 2004.

“Muthusamy anna always said acting cannot be taught. But actors can train themselves by observing.”

He gave an audition for Pudhupettai and landed a role. And his first onscreen dialogue was to Dhanush himself.

Sethupathi landed a lead role in Penn, a TV serial directed by J.C. Bhaskar in 2006. “I then played villain in a Kannada film called Akkada (unreleased) and looked to do character roles (2007-2008). But nothing exciting happened until I got Varnam, my first big role in 2008... and then Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu.

In 2009, the reality show Naalaya Iyakkunar spawned new directors. He did Thuru, Raa Vanam, Petty Case and Neer with Karthik Subbaraj and shot for Nalan Kumarasamy’s Sutru for Vijay TV and Manikandan’s Wind.

On March 31, 2010, Seenu Ramasamy, director of Thenmerku Paruvakaatru handed him a bound script and asked him to read it. “After three days, he called and asked: How is the script? We discussed for an hour. He asked me if it would do well. I said: I am nobody to say whether or not it will do well but I can tell you it will be an important film.” It won three National awards.

He auditioned for Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom in May 2011, started shoot in July and finished by December. It was only in March 2012 that Karthik Subbaraj met him with the script that made his career: Pizza

“I had to act alone for nearly forty minutes in the film with no one else. So I insisted on a 10-day acting workshop with Thambichozhan from Koothupattarai to get into the mood.”

Influences

“Everything I learnt about films was from Manikandan who made Wind, Karthik Subbaraj and my friend Anand Kumaresan who watches every film first day first show...and then Nalan, during Soodhu Kavvum.”

He loves watching animation films. Madagascar is his favourite.

And actors?

“I love Prabhudeva Sir, he is very underrated. I love the old Rajni films Mullum Malarum, Johnny, 16 Vayathinile... Today, Dhanush.”

We tell him what Dhanush said about him. “That just shows his greatness and maturity as an actor. You need a big heart to say something like that.”