Vetri Maaran’s films reflect life: actor Pasupathy

He has done it all in the Tamil film industry. He has played the hero, villain and character roles over a long career. But, says Pasupathy, this variety has also been his undoing

October 05, 2019 03:21 pm | Updated April 21, 2020 04:14 pm IST

Actor Pasupathy in a still from ‘Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu 2’

Actor Pasupathy in a still from ‘Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu 2’

Pasupathy does not give interviews, nor does he indulge in movie promotions.

He is isolated from this hustle-and-bustle world — a quality that has ruffled feathers and earned respect in equal measure within the Tamil film industry. He is cut away from Kollywood; he lives 40 kilometres from Chennai in Periyapalayam. There is a reason, he tells me. For, he gets a panic attack amidst crowds and strives for his own space both in private and professional life.

When he finally agrees to meet me at a quaint café in Alwarpet, the occasion that brings him to Chennai is Asuran , the Vetri Maaran film with Dhanush in the lead that is based on the novel Vekkai (meaning: Heat) written by Poomani.

Pasupathy plays Mama, a significant character and a pillar of strength to Sivasamy (Dhanush) and Chidambaram (Ken Karunas). Asuran was “destined to happen” for him, says Pasupathy, who was offered roles twice by Vetri Maaran — first in Polladhavan (a role which was bagged by Kishore) and next in Vada Chennai (he was given an option to choose between Samuthirakani and Daniel Balaji’s roles).

Actor Pasupathy

Actor Pasupathy

“I went into depression when Sullan (Dhanush’s 2004 film) bombed at the box office. The character Vetri told me was something similar to what I had played in that movie. I was not in my senses when I heard the script, and was wary of Vetri’s style since he was new,” says Pasupathy.

Cinematic identity
  • Pasupathy is of the belief that Malayalam filmmakers have identified what he likes to call it “their” cinema, and that Tamil filmmakers are still struggling. He says he was completely floored by recent Malayalam movies like Unda and Sudani From Nigeria . While he liked Super Deluxe , he lists Pariyerum Perumal and Merku Thodarchi Malai as his recent favourites.
  • Pasupathy awaits the release of Arasiyalla Ithellam Satharanamappa . He has also signed on to appear in a movie each in Malayalam and Telugu.

But he admits that he was “wrong about Vetri Maaran” after he watched Polladhavan . “I rang him up and apologised. I told him how much I loved the film and that I missed my chance.”

He says he has great respect for filmmakers like Vetri Maaran and Vasantha Balan, known for their strong cinematic language and for adapting novels into a movie format. “There is a search for life in every novel. Likewise, these are directors who ‘search’ for strong content. That is why their movies reflect life and that is why their movies are different,” he says.

Promising start

Pasupathy’s entry into cinema was by accident, and much of the credit goes to veteran actor Nasser. Having built a solid base for acting at Koothu-P-Pattarai between 1984 and 1997, Pasupathy flirted with the idea of becoming a director and consulted Nasser, who, in turn, suggested that he act instead.

Pasupathy with Kamal Haasan (L) in a still from ‘Virumaandi’

Pasupathy with Kamal Haasan (L) in a still from ‘Virumaandi’

“These days, people join theatre groups with a sole purpose to work in cinema. But in our times, things were different. We had a deep admiration for theatre,” he observes.

Pasupathy looks up to Nasser, who also started his career as a theatre artist. It was through Nasser that he got a minor but noticeable role of a militant in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (2002). Even before that, Pasupathy was introduced to actor Kamal Haasan with whom he worked in three films starting with the uncompleted Marudhanayagam in 1997.

Had it been shot and released, the film would have changed his fortunes. But he had to wait until Virumaandi (2004), wherein he mesmerised the audience as the manipulative Kothala Thevar, for his shot at fame.

Until Virumaandi , Pasupathy was out of work for nearly eight months, despite receiving rave reviews for his performance in Dhool (2003). He was flooded with offers the moment Virumaandi was announced with a poster featuring him, Kamal and Napoleon.

Pasupathy with Priyanka in a still from Veyil

Pasupathy with Priyanka in a still from Veyil

“Kothala Thevar could have been anyone. But Kamal sir entrusted me with the role. In fact, he didn’t discuss much. He narrated the story and asked my opinion. I said it was great. He replied, ‘Good, come to the sets next week.’”

Working with Kamal Haasan a masterclass in acting, says Pasupathy. “He usually explains the depth of the scene and leaves it to you. He is not someone who pushes his actors to extremes, and gives them their space. Of course, he won’t leave you without getting the right output,” he adds with a laugh. (Pasupathy got his validation from Haasan, the director, even before the film released. He recounts a quote of Kamal from an old interview of his, where he had said, “More than a film, Virumaandi is a nadippu thiruvizha (performance festival). There are some great actors in the movie.”)

Image trap

Virumaandi did have a negative impact on Pasupathy, who was largely typecast in villain roles in movies like Arul , Madhurey and Sullan (all 2004). Which is why he disagreed with the director when he was offered Thirupaachi (2005). Instead, he insisted that he play the negative roleed it “subtly” with just two words: ‘Pattasu’ Balu, his character’s name.

Pasupathy (R) with Aadhi in a still from ‘Aravaan’

Pasupathy (R) with Aadhi in a still from ‘Aravaan’

“It became exhausting after a point. Post Virumaandi , I met Kamal sir and told him that I wanted to quit cinema. He assured me that things would get better and 10 days later, I was offered Mumbai Express .”

It is Pasupathy’s unusual graph — from a deadly Kothala Thevar to a rapturous Chidambaram in Mumbai Express — that fascinated Vasantha Balan, who wanted to find a middle ground. That happened in Veyil (2006), a raw and violent film that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Pasupathy agrees that the movie gave him a new dimension even though Balan almost burned bridges with his producer (director Shankar) while casting him in the lead role.

Life of an actor
  • Polladhavan is not the only illustrious miss of his career; he adds Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam (2011) to the list. He was supposed to play the role of Sampath in Kumararaja’s National Award-winning film. “I couldn’t understand heads or tails of that movie. In fact, he (Thiagarajan Kumararaja) retained my name as the character’s name in it,” he adds.
  • About his acting technique, Pasupathy says he spends a lot of time understanding the character and drawing emotions from the written material. Does this come through experience or the character description?
  • “A bit of both. You have a script that speaks for itself. My job is to think in the character’s shoes. Sometimes, the directors are precise with details. Mostly they will leave it to you. But that’s my job, right?”

Though Veyil was a blockbuster, no producer queued up outside Pasupathy’s office. “That is when a friend told me that filmmakers didn’t know how to handle me. I was neither a hero nor villain, or a character artiste,” he says. He namedrops Vijay Sethupathi as an example and adds, “He has achieved it. He has become an actor who cannot be boxed in one category.”

I ask Pasupathy if he thinks he is underrated in spite of pulling off a myriad of characters, and he receives it with a smile. “My job is acting. I get my work done and leave. If the audiences don’t celebrate my work, that is their issue not mine.”

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