"I’m not even sure I’m the villain"

You must be getting bombarded with phone calls congratulating you on your performance.

Like you won’t believe. I didn’t sleep at all on Wednesday night (the day of the film’s release). What’s interesting is, this isn't my first or second film. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. So, all this praise is very interesting.

What do you suppose you did differently, this time?

There’s a line I say all the time: “ Fire-la pora varaikkum, fire irukkanum.” I’ve always been consumed by a certain fire for cinema. But I often don’t get enough fodder for this fire. This time, I did.

Vignesh Shivan and I were on the same page from day one. He gave me plenty of freedom to interpret my character. For instance, that whole bit at the end where I look out of the window, while Vijay Sethupathi is talking to me, was my idea. Vignesh was gracious enough to accept it. There’s another scene that has Mansoor Ali Khan confronting me. As we all know, he’s quite a flamboyant actor, and so, I decided to underplay my performance. Mansoor was initially upset that I wasn’t really reacting, but then, Vignesh again understood why I was doing it.

I guess I also knew how to pitch these ideas to him. It’s important to never start a suggestion with, “I have a great idea…” K. Bhagyaraj taught me this. When assisting him, we were always encouraged to start talking about an idea with the words, “ Kuppayaa oru idea irukku…” I didn’t quite start off like that when talking to Vignesh, but you get what I’m saying.

How are you as a director? Are you as accommodating as Vignesh was?

Well, I have a bit of an ego as a filmmaker. For instance, Thambi Ramaiah, who did an important role in my last film ( Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam), is a great performer; yet, I requested him to underplay his part a bit. When I’m making a film, I want my actors to do their roles in a way that they can’t ever repeat in their other films. That’s my ego. Actress Soundarya who did a role in my Ivan, told me after the film that she may as well quit cinema. In her words, “I don’t think I can act any more than I have done for this film.”

As an actor, I try to give my directors that same quality.

Surely, this isn’t the first time you’ve been approached to play villain?

(Laughs) Definitely not. I’ve generally refused. I ask a couple of questions when a director approaches me: do I have space to play with my character? Does my character have life?

In Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, I’m not even sure I’m the villain, as you call it. You could make a case for my being the hero. Vijay Sethupathi’s trying to help his woman; I’m trying to help mine.

But you do murder a few people along the way.

Hey, if you walk, you’re bound to step on a few ants. (Laughs)

Fair enough. While you’re undoubtedly happy about all this appreciation, does part of you wonder why some of your other films — that you probably put in more effort into — went unnoticed?

Definitely. It’s like everybody recognises that I’m an actor only after the release of this film. I can, with confidence, tell you that I was an actor even before Naanum Rowdy Dhaan.

People sometimes seem to seek validation before appreciating somebody. Nevertheless, I’m happy about all this praise. In fact, a group of Muslim women took photos with me, when I was returning home from Express Avenue the other day. That was quite new for me.

Seeing how people have responded to your role, perhaps you should consider acting in more films?

I see what you mean. I got a similar response for my role in Masss. I would have acted in more films if it were only about the money. But for me, it isn’t. All the money I’ve made from films — as everybody knows — I’ve put back into films.

Directors are surely going to approach you with similar roles now?

Oh, they will, but I’ll refuse. I’ve never been one to go with the flock. I’m already listening to other scripts, and they are nothing like Naanum Rowdy Dhaan. Meanwhile, the director in me is getting restless too. I have a script, and I’m in talks with producers about it.

For the moment though, I’m just happy that I played a villain that people were rooting for. As A. L. Vijay told me after watching the film, “Nobody wanted your character to die.” This kind of support is rare for a villain; it is the sort of backing legends like Amjad Khan and M. R. Radha received in the past.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 2:19:52 PM |

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