Vijay Sethupathy: Flavour of the season
With the unprecedented success of experimental and offbeat films such as Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kanom and Soodhu Kavvum, 35-year-old Vijay Sethupathy has become the flavour of Tamil cinema.
He has been getting small roles till recently, but is now one of the most sought after actors.
In this interview, he talks about his career and what success means to him.
You have acted in quite a few films before the last three highly successful films happened. How do you look at the sudden attention and success?
My first film as the main lead was the National Award winning Thenmurukku Paruvakatru by Seenu Ramasamy. After that, for one year, I had no films. The scripts offered to me were not very exciting. So, I waited for the right script, and that was when Naduvula Konjam... happened.
It took one year for Naduvula Konjam... to finish shooting. When it was almost over, I got an offer from Karthik Subburaj to act in Pizza. I had acted in quite a few short films of his. So, when he got a chance to direct a feature film, he offered it to me. Pizza got released before Naduvulla Konjam...
Thenmurukku... released in December 2010 and Pizza, in 2012. So, there was a gap of almost one-and-a-half years between my two releases.
When Pizza was declared a hit, I was really happy. Then came Naduvula Konjam and that too was successful. This year, Soodhu Kavvum released. And, fortunately, it was also successful.
Now to your question about the sudden success, I am happy. After all, it was coming to me after quite a few years.
Image: Poster of Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom
'I don't believe in luck at all'
Today, you are the first choice of any film-maker who wants to make off-beat films....
It makes me extremely happy as I was never a choice of any film-maker till these films happened.
I feel honoured now that new film-makers with new ideas think of me first. They now know that if the script is new and challenging, I am game for such a film.
You are the same actor yet everybody wants you in his film now. Do you believe in luck?
No, I don't believe in luck at all. Yes, I am the same actor but I could prove myself as an actor in these last three films. And the films were successful too. That is the only reason new film-makers want me in their films.
There are many actors like me, and more talented than me in the industry but I was fortunate to have got the opportunity to work in some good films.
How do you look at the initial years of struggle?
I don't look at those days as days of strugg#8804 they were my learning years. They were not the struggling period but a learning period.
When I began acting, I had no knowledge of films at all. I didn't even know enough to comment on whether a film was good or bad after watching it. I was a zero on films.
Image: A scene from Soodhu Kavvum
'I strongly believe that the script is the ultimate'
Then, how did a person who had no knowledge of cinema decide to act in films?
There are many like me in Tamil Nadu who have this desire to act in films. Somebody who took my photos told me that I had a photogenic face. So I thought, okay, let me try acting.
I started learning about films through my friends and acting in small roles in films. With each film, I learnt something and I was growing as an actor and a student of cinema.
Only in the last two films, I started understanding what cinema is and what acting is all about. The success of the last three films has given me some confidence that the films and the path chosen by me are right.
How did you get associated with offbeat, experimental films?
To tell you the truth, I had no idea what offbeat or experimental films were. If a script interests me, I accept it with the belief that it will also appeal to the audience. When I read the script of Soodhu Kavvum, I found it very interesting.
I don't like to compartmentalise films as commercial, offbeat, experimental, art, etc. I look at cinema as an entertaining medium. If the script entertains me, I get the feeling that the film will also entertain the audience.
I strongly believe that the script is the ultimate. If the script is not strong enough, no actor will be able to make a film good. Content is king.
Image: A scene from Soodhu Kavvum
'I only had one desire, that I should not copy any other actor'
One aspect about your acting that has been appreciated is that you underplay emotions. Why did you decide to develop such an understated style?
It just came on its own. I only had one desire, that I should not copy any other actor. I had decided to act in a way that comes naturally to me. Whether that will be a success or not is not in our hands.
How do you decide the body language of a character? For example, your acting as the failed kidnapper in Soodhu Kavvum.
I don't think of body language at all. Once you understand the character, his body language will automatically come to you.
What I do is, I ask a lot of questions about the character before we start shooting, like who he is, what he was doing, where he was born, who his friends are, etc. I store this information in some corner of my brain, and when I start acting, it helps me understand the character.
For every film, the first four or five days are the real struggling period for me as it takes that long for me to understand the character.
This is my simple way of acting. There is nothing great about what I do.
Image: Vijay Sethupathy
'When I see my performance in the monitor in the initial days of a film, I don't like it at all'
How do you overcome those first days of struggle?
There is no other way but to face them. When I see my performance in the monitor in the initial days of a film, I don't like it at all. I hate myself and I get disturbed. I have to go through this in every film.
In those four-five days, I go on asking the director whether my performance is okay or not. That is because I am not confident at all.
After those initial few days, I get into the groove and after that, I love the process of acting.
You look totally different in Soodhu Kavvum. Was it your idea to have such a look?
What the director told me was that Das in Soodhu Kavvum is a 40- year-old man, and that I should not look like a hero at all.
I decided to keep my grey hair and put on weight to look like a 40- year-old man. As Das is a failure as a kidnapper, I decided not to show any attitude and have a failed look. Luckily, everybody liked my look.
Image: Vijay Sethupathy
'I am in one of the satisfying periods of my career'
Are you inundated with new scripts now?
Yes, many people come with very good scripts. But I can't accept any more films now.
I am booked for the next two years. I have signed seven films.
I don't like to make anyone wait for me as I know how painful it is to wait. I waited for quite a few years for good roles and good scripts. I waited for Thenmurukku... to happen, and then another two years for Pizza to happen.
It was one of the worst periods of my life as an actor. No producer wanted to produce a film with me as the hero then. Even after Pizza became a hit, nobody approached me with a script but when Naduvula also became a hit, film-makers started approaching me. After Soodhu Kavvum, there is a feeling that they can count on me.
Waiting is agonising, so I don't want anyone to wait for two years for me.
How do you describe your state of mind now?
I can say I am in one of the satisfying periods of my career.
Image: A scene Soodhu Kavvum