It’s almost midnight on October 13, but actor Vishal, who has of late become more popular for his off-screen heroics, is still busy holding meetings and convincing prospective voters. A person closely associated with his ongoing campaign to win the elections at the South Indian Film Artistes Association, or the Nadigar Sangam, tells us that he has been running high fever, but he is still soldiering on. Back in Chennai, after a marathon campaign from Trichy to Ramanathapuram to Hyderabad, Vishal finally returns our call for a candid interview, and leaves no question unanswered.
How has the campaigning been so far, what has been the response from other actors?
What we have heard from people all over Tamil Nadu is disturbing because we have heard only grievances. They were happy that we are standing for elections, after all they have not had fair elections in the past ten years. They are happy that youngsters have come forward for change, but their grievances are in large numbers.
What are the kinds of grievances?
They have been sidelined. They have been left in the lurch. They have not received any pension. I met people old stage actors, some more than 75-years old. They have been in theatre for 40 years. Now they are living in old-age homes. They don’t have any kind of recognition. It has been a sorry sight. That has kicked up our revolution even more.
When did all of this start? When did you decide that you will take this up as an issue?
It started with the building. That’s where people like me and Arya have learned dancing. So we just wanted to know what was happening, what was the status. At that time I did not think I was going to start a revolution, I just thought if I ask a question I’ll get an answer. But there were no answers. That’s when we decided we need to do something.
Senior actors need to meet the younger lot. Like Kamal sir should meet us younger actors and tell us his career experiences. We don’t have a place and forum to do that. So we wanted to have our own building. Then others joined in, and now it is big.
How confident are you of victory?
People want a change, they are with us. It has picked up in a big way and it is very encouraging. It’s high time, high time, we take stock of the situation all the senior drama actors and do something for them.
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Simbu had a press conference and he has hit out hard against you. What’s your response?
Nothing, (laughs) Nothing. I don’t want to respond.
But there must have been some reaction from you when you listened to him?
Well I had a hearty laugh, that’s all. I saw his speech. It is not like I am mocking him or anything. But it’s that person’s point of view. We know what we are fighting for.
Do you think he was being too dramatic?
I leave it to him. Whatever he said, I don’t want to react. I don’t intend to react. I have enough in my hands now. I will march forward.
Sarath Kumar has slapped a defamation case against you, is it the outcome of your popularity?
I am really surprised at the contents of the defamation suit he had filed because I have evidence to show that I only said what the court said. I have nothing against Mr. Sarath Kumar as a person. It is against the President of the Nadigar Sangam who happens to be Mr. Sarath Kumar.
Do you think they are getting personal?
Of course they are, they bring in the caste, or religion. But I will not waste time in responding to it.
Do you think you are splitting the industry? Are you justified in doing so?
The producers’ council had elections. Directors also had elections. Were they splitting the industry? Why is it that for actors alone there should be no democracy? Elections are there for every organization. Does it mean that Sarath Kumar sir has to run the Sangam forever?
There have been some reports that they wanted a compromise with you, why didn’t you take it up?
Why should we take it up? For three and a half years that is what we have been asking them. What did not happen in 1000 days, they want to do in the last 10 days. What compromise? What do they want to do? And now so many stage artistes have reposed our faith in us. Elections are the only way. There is no question of compromise.
How do you respond to allegations that there is politics behind your campaign, you are after all close to Udayanidhi Stalin?
Let me tell you, Kushboo who represents Congress is rooting for me. Udayanidhi and Arulnidhi (linked to the DMK family) will definitely vote for me. Anandraj, Ritiesh, Manobala and others who are linked to the ADMK are also rooting for me. There is no political angle here.
Do you think the ADMK announcement that their members should not take any side was a major boost for you?
100%. I respect the decision because it was in the interest of their party. Backing off was a good thing.
Ten or fifteen years later, do you see yourself in politics?
(laughs) No. No, no. Right now it is only for the cause. We want to bring about change. Mark my words. Nasser sir’s vision is brilliant. Trust me we are going to do phenomenal things.
There have been murmurs about a personal angle in this, because you are also involved with Varalakshmi, who is Sarath Kumar’s daughter. How has this affected you personally?
It has affected me personally in the sense that I have not been to the gym in the past three months. I have taken a lot of days off from shoot (laughs). To be really honest, if I had to do this over a personal issue, I would not have got so much support. Why would Nasser sir support me?
But has it affected your personal relationships?
No. We are all matured enough. We are standing up for a good thing. Everyone will understand. Everyone should understand.