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, âAs 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.â
He points out that he was in his 20s when he did âThalapathi.â 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 âKadalâ. âI asked for two months to prepare myself for the character,â Arvind recalls. âIâm a little bit of a strange guy. If something scares me, I want to do it. Thatâs my drive.â
And now that heâs back, heâs more involved in the films that he does, getting into scripting and preproduction work. âLots of interesting things are being done in Tamil cinema and there are a lot more projects I can relate to,â he observes. âBe it âThani Oruvanâ or "Boganâ (his current project), I have put in a lot of work in the screenplay and scripts.â
Speaking on how the industry has changed across the years, Arvind says, âNewcomers 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. Itâs a new generation of moviegoers. Your standards are much higherâŚ I like this time better than the 90s.â
As an actor who consciously looks for roles that are ânew and challengingâ and doesnât want to do ones that he can âsleepwalk throughâ, the Hindi-English film, âDear Dadâ, where he plays a gay man coming out to his son, proved to be exciting.
He says, âIt was great of them to come up with a script like that. It was a challenge really, but you decide youâre 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 donât want to be in a comfort zone.â
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, âI couldnât handle it in my â20s. The adulation was daunting. One of the big reasons I decided to stop was because I wasnât prepared at all. But you need to learn to ignore it. Today, I look at it as love and affection.â
What he loves the most, he says, is to be an observer. That was taken away from him when films like âRojaâ and âBombayâ became successful all over the country and he was recognized everywhere.
Arvind doesnât endorse any fan clubs. âI 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 donât, you donâ watch it. If you didnât like the film, you should be free to say it. I donât want loyalty to come in the way of judgement,â he states candidly.
His views are not surprising, considering how fond he is of breaking the mould. âLetâs say if I get a film that comes up with similar things like last time around, I donât go with it. I look for something thatâs harder and tougher. The pressure was to disprove, itâs the other way around,â Arvind smiles.
âWhen someone says âHow can you play a negative role?â I wonât play it with the standard cliches. The bad guy, the anti-hero is stereotypically smoking, drinking or associated with bad people, thatâs what is to be expected. You need to be dramatic, you need to lose your cool. âThani Oruvanâ was one movie that broke all those stereotypes,â 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 heâd disappeared from cinema. How were those years of recovery? He says, âI didnât 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.â
Heâd recovered by the time Mani Ratnam approached him. âBut I was scared,â Arvind confesses. âYou 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.â
What made him choose âNeengalum Vellalam Oru Kodiâ? Arvind smiles, âOne, I love quizzing, and two, I didnât want to do fiction on TV. In âNeengalum Vellalam Oru Kodiâ, I have to interact with people, thereâs a lot of listening. Itâs quite taxing emotionally, but it appealed to me. It was right out of my comfort zone.â
Neengalum Vellalam Oru Kodi (2016)
Every time he walks onto the set, he sees new contestants and itâs a new experience. âI 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 didnât have a clue as to how to prepare. I met Siddhartha Basu when the training happened, and he said, âI donât know how youâre going to do this, hosts have trained for two months or three months.â 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: âA 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.â
Arvind remembers another contestant, Muthuramalingam, in his words, "a very smart man". âHe came on the show, but itâs after all a show. He got stuck on a question that was easier for a certain class of people, and he couldnât answer it. He couldnât 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, âI 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 Iâve 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 youâve got to do something for a living. Nothing else, really.â
For Arvind Swamy, the primary purpose of a film is to just entertain people. âIt depends on what you take away from it,â he says. âI canât lecture you for two hours and call it a film. When you walk out of the theatre, youâre thinking about what could have been done, how a character could have been better. Thatâs still occupying your mind, so itâs continuing to entertain you. Whether itâs a film or a TV show, as long as it lingers in your mind, itâs entertainment. â
He will soon be seen in the Telugu version of âThani Oruvanâ and heâs starting two more projects in November.