Vijay Antony on ‘Pichaikkaran 2’ and listening to the audience ‘inside him’

The composer-actor-director gets candid on how he gets the ‘masala’ entertainer genre right, shaping ‘Pichaikkaran 2’ from the original’s success, and getting back in touch with the musician inside him

May 16, 2023 04:56 pm | Updated 06:01 pm IST

Vijay Antony in a still from ‘Pichaikkaran 2’

Vijay Antony in a still from ‘Pichaikkaran 2’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When Vijay Antony speaks to me ahead of the release of Pichaikkaran 2, the time is around 3 a.m. in the wee hours of the morning. One naturally can sense a bit of tiredness in his voice — the CGI work for the film took some time, he says — and yet the conversation that follows brims with positivity, as he digs deep to let us make sense of everything about him. He even uses the timing of this interview as an allegory of how he looks at himself. “We are both respectful of each other’s time, and we don’t want to push this to tomorrow... another day full of uncertainties. I am sincere and truthful about this particular moment.” This is what he believes is the reason for his success. “I am not great at direction or music or anything; I just put in my effort sincerely, and I am confident that I will fight to the extreme when complications arise.”

On how self-confidence is his biggest asset

Vijay has been vocal about how he feels more positive after his recovery post an unfortunate boat accident while shooting for the film. But the unshakeable self-confidence he speaks of has always been with him, be it when he was Francis Antony Cyril Raja (which was his official name) or when he composed music for television as Agni, or when he entered films as Vijay Antony. “I wasn’t even eligible to attain the things I did, but I was confident and that gave me everything I needed; even now it fetches me whatever I need.”

This seems even more intriguing when he attributes it to his script selection. He says he never pays conscious attention to see how cinema — the genre of masala entertainers in particular — changes over time; something you would assume is the reason behind a Thimiru Pudichavan (he even seems surprised when I say I liked it). Vijay credits the audience ‘within him’ for all the right calls he has taken. “The minute I start talking about doing something for the audience, I become someone else who works for them. It becomes like a transaction between an artist and a consumer.”

So, how does this audience inside Vijay Antony evolve? Pichaikkaran 1 was released pre-pandemic; with everything that the last few years have done to cinema, did he consciously keep an eye on how cinema consumption has changed? “No. Our minds begin to think in different ways at different times. A young man doing a rom-com now won’t do it the same way after 50 years; he will do it based on all that collective experience in cinema.” Vijay speaks of the certain instinct that we as members of a collective society possess. “I am a part of this society and so the evolution as an audience happens organically... based on that experience I do films. It’s not for someone else, but for myself.”

On donning many roles and why he doesn’t call himself a ‘star’

What benefits this modest storyteller in Vijay is the many technicians in him, he says. “I demand a lot from myself when it comes to music composition, film editing, or sound engineering.”

Since he assumes all these roles and knows what an impactful scene requires, it gets easier to get the best out of each of them. Artists dabbing into multiple art forms are known to reserve one for their personal needs. But for Vijay — who does music, sound engineering, writing, direction, and film editing — everything about cinema has become his duty to perform in.

“For example, if you love a dish, the owner of the restaurant will be very happy to know that. But are you sure the cook who made it looks at cooking, day in and day out, as an enjoyable process?” Once something becomes a job, it loses itself as a passion, he says, adding that the result of doing the duty sincerely becomes the identity. Passion, he adds, is momentary to him. “Also, I don’t think I need to do anything specific to get mental peace. Performing my duty well puts me at ease.”

Regarding cinema as just a profession is also why Vijay never likes to call himself a ‘star.’ “I’ve been practising a field of work for so long, because of which it comes quite handy to me; it has a lot of demand now, so I’m getting a lot of attention. If I feed anything more to this fact, it becomes an incorrect portrayal of reality.” He also doesn’t wish to take a lot of credit when he knows that as an actor he’s just a tool used by someone else to tell a story they gave birth to. “I am not putting myself down by saying this, nor do I think I am bigger than anyone else.”

A still from ‘Pichaikkaran 2’

A still from ‘Pichaikkaran 2’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On making a sequel to a blockbuster

Pichaikkaran 2, which is releasing this week, is the sequel of the 2016 film following a billionaire who leads a 48-day-long secret life as a beggar (as a religious propitiation) to save his dying mother. The sequel, on the other hand, has a whole new story to offer. Vijay is aware that a section of the audience would be expecting a film similar to the first one. “But I can’t make another Pichaikkaran 1. They’ll hate it for being so similar to the first one, and making an entirely different film won’t render any comparisons. Expecting a Pichaikkaran-like film is not their mistake, so I have to do something different while also satisfying them.”

To do that, Vijay says he retained a few elements that made the first film connect so well with the viewers. “The emotional beats, for instance, is something I ensured this project has too. The original Pichaikkaran’s idea — in a world where even a little money can change people, a rich man hides his wealth and shows so much compassion — worked because of the writing of these emotional beats.”

When Vijay saw how the story turned out to be, he was so elated that he even went on add the tag ‘Blockbuster’ to the promo materials. “I did that as one among the audience, not as a creator.”

Concert in the offing for fans of his music

Meanwhile, fans of Vijay’s music now have more reasons to celebrate. Since the pandemic, many music composers have been organising concerts at their fans’ request; Vijay’s fans were one of the first. “I didn’t believe it, then but I have realised that people have been ardently asking for it.”

While he says that this might be the reaction to the actor in him who has been doing films regularly, he speaks of a realisation that’s been brewing in his mind. “I used to doubt if people liked my music because I never learnt it professionally, and only started composing to survive. But now I realise that my compositions have resonated with them.” He adds that since he no longer struggles to earn a name as an actor, and only works towards retaining it, he can focus on music again, something the audiences have been asking for. “I am thinking of putting more effort into it and I believe the quality of my music will be more mature henceforth.” As for the concert, the works will begin after three-four months with an aim to host one later this year.

Vijay concludes saying that he never desired to make something happen in his career. “Now that I have become a filmmaker and because I am confident that Pichaikkaran 2 will get me a good reputation as a director, I want to scale up and I have plans for that.” Does he have a story ready for his next directorial? “No, but I know that I will get it. I just have to simply sit and think.”

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