In an industry as fickle as cinema where an actor is only as good as his last film and his longevity hinges on box office returns, milestones in the form of number of films are not that easy to attain.
The regular entry of new faces keeps the veterans on their toes and if they fail to deliver, they might have to face a dearth in offers. In such a situation, an actor like Arjun Sarja has been holding his own and his 150th film Nibunan where he plays a sleuth stricken by a rare disease has been doing brisk business in theatres in Tamil Nadu.
What is more creditable in Arjun’s case is that most of his 150 films have been in Tamil though the actor himself hails from neighbouring Karnataka and initially worked only in Kannada films. Son of a well known character actor in Kannada, Shakti Prasad, Arjun set his sights on a career in cinema quite early. As a fitness freak. he boasted of a well sculpted body with dashboard abs even while pursuing his education in school and college.
An abiding interest in martial arts too was to serve him well when he embarked on his film career. The actor’s career, however, proceeded in fits and starts and a hit would bring producers flocking to his doorstep while a flop would find him out of work.
One of his earliest hits was a nondescript film Shankar Guru made by the illustrious production house, AVM. On the lookout for a fresh face, AVM settled for Arjun largely relying on his dancing and fighting abilities and he did not disappoint. A number of film which followed had Arjun in roles that had little emotional content but plenty of action. This earned him the title of ‘Action King’ and also a frenzied fan following largely among the youth who savoured his stunt scenes and his quicksilver reflexes.
Two films with director Shankar really set Arjun on the fast track and made him a force to reckon with in Kollywood. Incidentally, the first of the two films, Gentleman marked Shankar’s debut and Arjun had almost turned down the role. The film which had Arjun taking on the education mafia had its quota of stunt and song sequences and AR Rahman’s musical score too was one of the major highlights.
The striking transformation of a humble and pious person from a village into a brutal avenger happens because his younger brother commits suicide after failing to land a medical seat. This was the crux of the film which had a phenomenal run at the box office.
The duo came together once again in Mudhalvan which had the fanciful theme of a layman being handed over the reins of office in a state as a CM for a day. Although this film did not pack as much punch as Gentleman, Arjun dominated the frames in a meaty role and the film also fared fairly well at the box office.
Arjun jumped at the opportunity to share screen pace with Kamal Haasan when the latter offered him a role in his home production Kurudhi Punal, directed by cinematographer, P C Sriram. The film, a remake of Govind Nihalani’s Drohkaal featured Kamal and Arjun as tough cops on the trail of a terrorist outfit. The film offered the actor good scope to display his acting skills as well.
Arjun was able to shed his ‘Action King’ tag in a few films where he essayed soft , emotional characters and one of these films which caught the eye was Rhythm, directed by Vasanth, which also featured Meena as the heroine. Arjun played a lensman who develops a soft corner for a widow, the common thread that links them being the fact that they had lost their spouses in the same train accident.
The actor has also played roles with shades of grey in Prabhu Solomon’s Kannodu Kaanbathellam and Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. Perhaps his finest performance to date was in the Kannada film Prasad, the story of a middle class father with a deaf son. The film not only won critical acclaim but Arjun also bagged a state award for Best Actor and the film was screened at the Berlin International Festival.
The veteran actor has also directed a number of films and though all of them did not hit the bull’s eye at the box office, a few of them with nationalistic themes like Jaihind, Jaihind -2, Thaayin Manikodi etc. registered well with the audiences. But a number of potboilers like Ezhumalai, Parasuram, and Madrasi which he helmed created very little impact.
The devout Hanuman devotee reveled in the title role in the Telugu film Sri Anjaneyem directed by Krishna Vamsi and has also been a part of devotional films like Sri Manjunatha in Kannada.
A noteworthy fact in the actor’s latter day films is that he began to play his age. This was evident in films like Attahasa (Kannada), the Veerappan story where he was cast in the role of DGP Vijayakumar, the top cop who wrote the final chapter in the Veerappan saga, and Nibunan his 150th film.
Arjun now has no dearth of assignments but remains keen to sort the wheat from the chaff ,choosing only roles that offer him ample scope to exhibit his histrionic talents. His daughter Aishwarya works in Tamil films and his nephews Chiranjeevi and Dhruv Sarja are busy proving themselves as heroes in Sandalwood.