From playing the baby-faced collector who sent a shiver down our spines with his charged performance in "Thalapathi" to lounging on a couch and passing sarcastic comments as the charming Abhimanyu in "Thani Oruvan", Arvind Swamy has had an interesting journey in Kollywood.
An introvert by nature, Arvind Swamy recently took up the challenge of hosting "Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi", a game show on Vijay TV. It is perhaps this drive to reinvent himself that has kept him alive in the minds of his fans despite the long break that he took from films.
The News Minute catches up with Arjun, Abhimanyu and a host of other faces that Arvind Swamy has donned and the battles that he has quietly fought to get where he is.
Did the time away from the spotlight, between now and his first decade in cinema, affect him? Arvind says, “As we grow and experience more, it enriches your life in a sense. People go through various experiences that test you and define you as a person today. More of life has passed by me.”
He points out that he was in his 20s when he did “Thalapathi.” A young man who did not have much of life experience. But growing older and experiencing more have given him different approaches and choices that he can make as an actor.
Time away, Arvind feels, has tempered him. It was director Mani Ratnam who persuaded the reluctant actor to make a come-back in his film “Kadal”. “I asked for two months to prepare myself for the character,” Arvind recalls. “I’m a little bit of a strange guy. If something scares me, I want to do it. That’s my drive.”
And now that he’s back, he’s more involved in the films that he does, getting into scripting and preproduction work. “Lots of interesting things are being done in Tamil cinema and there are a lot more projects I can relate to,” he observes. “Be it “Thani Oruvan” or "Bogan” (his current project), I have put in a lot of work in the screenplay and scripts.”
Speaking on how the industry has changed across the years, Arvind says, “Newcomers are coming up with new ideas. The younger people want to see something new. Lots of material from different parts of the world are influencing the way film is today. Everything from aesthetics to stories has changed. It’s a new generation of moviegoers. Your standards are much higher… I like this time better than the 90s.”
As an actor who consciously looks for roles that are “new and challenging” and doesn’t want to do ones that he can “sleepwalk through”, the Hindi-English film, “Dear Dad”, where he plays a gay man coming out to his son, proved to be exciting.
He says, “It was great of them to come up with a script like that. It was a challenge really, but you decide you’re an actor and the more different you are as a person from the role, the more interesting it is for you as an actor. I don’t want to be in a comfort zone.”
Tamil Nadu enjoys a certain infamy for its worship of movie stars. How does Arvind Swamy feel about all the praise that he gets? He admits, “I couldn’t handle it in my ‘20s. The adulation was daunting. One of the big reasons I decided to stop was because I wasn’t prepared at all. But you need to learn to ignore it. Today, I look at it as love and affection.”
What he loves the most, he says, is to be an observer. That was taken away from him when films like “Roja” and “Bombay” became successful all over the country and he was recognized everywhere.
Arvind doesn’t endorse any fan clubs. “I believe that you should not be obligated to see my film and like it. If you like the film, you should watch it, and if you don’t, you don’ watch it. If you didn’t like the film, you should be free to say it. I don’t want loyalty to come in the way of judgement,” he states candidly.
His views are not surprising, considering how fond he is of breaking the mould. “Let’s say if I get a film that comes up with similar things like last time around, I don’t go with it. I look for something that’s harder and tougher. The pressure was to disprove, it’s the other way around,” Arvind smiles.
“When someone says “How can you play a negative role?” I won’t play it with the standard cliches. The bad guy, the anti-hero is stereotypically smoking, drinking or associated with bad people, that’s what is to be expected. You need to be dramatic, you need to lose your cool. “Thani Oruvan” was one movie that broke all those stereotypes,” explains Arvind, who consciously decided not to use those qualities as crutches in his hugely popular role in the blockbuster.
Not too many know that Arvind Swamy suffered from an injury and was even paralyzed for a while in the period that he’d disappeared from cinema. How were those years of recovery? He says, “I didn’t go into a depression or anything, to be honest. I just embrace life as it happens. We all have our highs and lows. It happens, and you just need to know how to deal with.”
He’d recovered by the time Mani Ratnam approached him. “But I was scared,” Arvind confesses. “You go through so much of pain and you never know when your body will give in. Your mind is stopping you from stressing your body out, you worry about relapsing. Physically I was certified as healthy, but you tend to hesitate. It was one of those things that pushed me to see where it goes.”
What made him choose “Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi”? Arvind smiles, “One, I love quizzing, and two, I didn’t want to do fiction on TV. In “Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi”, I have to interact with people, there’s a lot of listening. It’s quite taxing emotionally, but it appealed to me. It was right out of my comfort zone.”
Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi (2016)
Every time he walks onto the set, he sees new contestants and it’s a new experience. “I understand their issues and challenges. Every other host has been prepared. But I had no preparation time. Prep time was 2 hours before I went live, and I didn’t have a clue as to how to prepare. I met Siddhartha Basu when the training happened, and he said, “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, hosts have trained for two months or three months.” I was thrown into the deep end, which is what made it more interesting," he enthuses.
Unwilling to fit into a template,he pushed himself to experiment with the format and says that by the 6th or 7th episode, he knew what he wanted to be. The show has enabled Arvind to meet people from all walks of life. He recalls a heart-warming episode: “A woman from the fishing community had played on the show and she was the first one to be educated in the family, and she played really well and went on to win a lot of money.”
Arvind remembers another contestant, Muthuramalingam, in his words, "a very smart man". “He came on the show, but it’s after all a show. He got stuck on a question that was easier for a certain class of people, and he couldn’t answer it. He couldn’t meet the minimum guaranteed money. I chose to decide to give him the money personally from my end. Not that I did a great thing, but it took me a good amount of shooting time to get over it. He really fought through life to educate himself against all odds and I wanted to honour that," he says.
How did parenting and work change him as a person? He ruminates, “I was single for 10-12 years until I married again in 2012, so for me it was how I handled it. I thought, everyone has choices to make. And my choices began to revolve around how to spend my time between kids and work. I learned to prioritise. My kids have grown up now, so I’ve gone back to work. As for work, I come from a family of business. After I left the film industry, it was just the idea that you’ve got to do something for a living. Nothing else, really.”
For Arvind Swamy, the primary purpose of a film is to just entertain people. “It depends on what you take away from it,” he says. “I can’t lecture you for two hours and call it a film. When you walk out of the theatre, you’re thinking about what could have been done, how a character could have been better. That’s still occupying your mind, so it’s continuing to entertain you. Whether it’s a film or a TV show, as long as it lingers in your mind, it’s entertainment. “
He will soon be seen in the Telugu version of “Thani Oruvan” and he’s starting two more projects in November.