Cinema

Looks don’t matter, roles do

A still from Orange Mittai  

Not many actors can please the classes and the masses with equal ease. The classes see in Vijay Sethupathi a performer who transforms into the character, and the masses identify with his fairytale ascent to stardom. And five years after his journey as a lead actor began, Vijay still can’t believe how far he has travelled.

“I’ve never consciously done ‘safe’ commercial projects; luckily, they have done well,” says the actor, who clocked yet another hit last week — S.P. Jananathan’s Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai. He played the portly drunkard hangman Yamalingam who rises above drudgery for a higher purpose. “ Purampokku was one of those rare films made just like it was narrated…” Over the years, Vijay has taken on drastically different roles — a smart pizza delivery boy, a boy-next-door with memory loss, a greying kidnapper, a village driver — but he hasn't focussed much on his look. “One of my biggest drawbacks is my inability to maintain my physique. I put on weight for Soodhu Kavvum, and never managed to shed it. Luckily, that look suited a few films, including Orange Mittai. But I believe any character will turn believable based on how the director envisions it and how someone essays it. It’s all teamwork.”

Vijay, who is now working on Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, says he’s never planned his life. “Planning bores me. I like to go with the flow. Being whimsical is nice, occasionally. It keeps things fresh, there’s no expectation.”

Vijay pauses when he speaks of the burden of expectation. “The very expectation that an actor loves to experiment becomes a shackle that is difficult to snap out of.”

Over the past few years, Vijay has worked at breakneck pace, moving from one set to another. He rarely craves a break. “If I spend 10 days at home, I’ll be dying to get back to the set. I love the thrill of a good dialogue, the buzz of shooting.” On off days, the actor spends time with his son (10) and daughter (7). He takes them for late-night rides, revelling in the joy of a non-judgmental relationship. “In some years, my children will grow up and there will be no memory to hold on to. I want to enjoy them in this phase of their lives,” he says. Vijay is also fiercely protective of his family. They don’t appear in the public eye. “They can still go to the market without anyone staring at them. That’s great freedom. Why deprive them of it?” he smiles.

Vijay has films in various stages of production. There’s Orange Mittai, his maiden production venture, Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, Nalan Kumarasamy’s next (the title is not Eskimo Kadhal, he clarifies), Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi, Mellisai… most of them with young directors.

The directors have created the star called Vijay Sethupathi, and the actor is grateful of their contribution. He’s also deeply appreciative of Balaji Tharaneetharan, who created the hugely popular Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. “I felt people would be bored by the repetitive dialogues. But Balaji felt otherwise. I was happy I was wrong.” And in between hits, the actor also lends his name to projects that have to be made. For instance, a gem like Pannnaiyarum Padminiyum. “Cinema has helped me, and I feel I am now in a position to make some films possible.”

Many wonder how Vijay cherrypicks winning projects. There are three stages before he signs up for a film. An initial five-minute narration. If a director passes that stage, a half-hour story session follows. If impressed, the actor discusses the entire script. “No, I need not be hogging the limelight in the script. For instance, in Idam Porul Eval, my dialogue hardly exceeds a page. I’m an observer in the film. But I loved the attitude of the character.”

So, is Vijay happy with his progress in the industry so far? “The day I became a hero, my dream was realised. Everything else is a bonus. But yes, one thing I still love hearing is the applause that echoes inside the theatre. It proves that you did your job well, after all.”

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 11:07:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/vijay-sethupathi-looks-dont-matter-roles-do/article7264170.ece

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