Silver screen's valiant hero

It's perilous for the print media to even attempt interviewing a star before or after a filmi function. “Just five more minutes,” they assure you every hour. “You're first in line,” we are told, probably expecting an ecstatic jig. But when Arjun Sarja walks up in his typical swagger and apologises profusely, your nerves calm down. “It happens,” you murmur before whipping out your recorder. Excerpts from an interview:

I'm sure you're still passionate about the process of filmmaking. What what about all these frills like the promotions and posing for endless pictures?

If you're wondering whether I'm bored, well it's become a part of the process. When we make a good film it has to be promoted well. People have to know what's in store.

I've heard it's very difficult to get you to do a Kannada film.

Not true. I'm acting in all the languages and what excites me is still the story. I'm very possessive about my language and if I do a film here it has to be good. I was excited about “Manjunatha” because it was devotional. I've received umpteen offers but it was the same stuff. I was waiting for something exciting when I was offered “Prasad”. The role is contrary to my image of Action King.

Were you confused as a youngster? You trained to become a police officer, then after watching “Enter The Dragon” you wanted to do films. Can you tell me something about that phase?

Yes, yes I wanted to become a Police officer and you're right I watched ‘Enter The Dragon' and was shouting in the theatres. Bruce Lee was my first hero. I learnt karate and still wanted to become a cop because in those days Sangliana was a hero and they said he knew karate. I was pulled into the film industry because my father was an actor. My father clearly told me to enter only if I thought I could achieve something. I was not a trained actor. My only plus point was my physique and that I knew karate. I pulled along for a decade after which my films started flopping in Tamil and Telugu. Nobody offered me a role. I was sitting idle for one year. I had observed directors and had literally worked as an assistant director. I decided to direct a film. People laughed but I produced directed, composed fights and acted in “Sevagan” which turned out to be a hit. I learnt a lot about planning and that was the turning point in my career.

I'm curious about one thing. Did it affect your psyche when you watched your father getting bashed up repeatedly on-screen?

You're right. It definitely did affect me. There was this movie “Sipayi Ramu” in which Raj Kumar beats up my father. I jumped up and shouted, ‘Why are you beating him'? My mother tried to restrain me, but I was emotional. I used to convince my friends that my father could beat up anyone in real life.

Is that why you wanted to become a hero?

Not really. People say I've maintained my physique which is only because of my father. He was a ‘pehelwan' and was a physical instructor at Fort High School. He also taught English.

At a certain stage you shared screen space with Kamal Hassan in ‘Kurudhipunal'. Were you getting tired of doing the same thing?

The common perception is that I requested Kamal for that role but that's not true. I've never approached anyone for a role. I'm a big fan of Kamal. One day he called me and offered me the role. He said he wanted to narrate the script but I replied that even if it was one shot I was doing it. What attracted you to ‘Prasad'?

I've done enough action and running around trees. When I watch a performance in a good film the actor in me says I could have done better. I was just doing what the public and producers wanted because the stakes are high. You'll realise why I did the film after you watch it. I have acted in and directed a film called “Vedam” in Tamil which is similar. I've always wanted to do something different. Unfortunately, such movies have failed and I'm back doing the same stuff. “Rhythm” won acclaim but making a choice is sometimes confusing.

So it's no longer about money.

Money is always a part. If you do something good money follows. It's the choice that's difficult.

You directed when you were very young and also got married without bothering about your image.

It never struck me that my image would be hampered if I got married. I was 29 when I first directed.

Are you planning something big in Kannada?

Yes, I am planning something fantastic in Kannada. Nobody has tried it here. I want to make a period film about Chitradurga. I'm reading a book now written by Ta Ra Su. I will direct and act.

With the kind of image you have and the films Mani Ratnam makes, did you expect him to sign you?

Let me tell you something. Right from the beginning I've never worked with big directors nor have I approached them. I've sustained and won awards. Today Shanker is a big director but I refused ‘Gentleman' when it was first offered without listening to the script. I was frustrated in those days and the industry had labelled me as jinxed. I had sold everything I had to make “Sevagan” which proved to be a hit so I felt I didn't need anyone. Shanker persisted and I did “Gentleman”. In the last few years directors like Bharathi Rajaa have approached me. Now Mani called and said there was an interesting role. I heard the narration and am doing his film.

Recommended for you