'Sometimes, the love of people scares me': The Vijay Sethupathi interview

In this interview with TNM, Vijay Sethupathi speaks about doing a wide variety of roles and his constant wish to do better cinema.
'Sometimes, the love of people scares me': The Vijay Sethupathi interview
'Sometimes, the love of people scares me': The Vijay Sethupathi interview
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I wait for Vijay Sethupathi. He strides in after fifteen minutes. You can’t imagine him without that genuine, friendly and warm smile. “I think 2018 is the most productive year in my career. I did a film with Mani Ratnam sir. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could achieve this. When someone of his stature believes in me, what more do I need,” he begins the conversation.

The actor, who has a packed 2019 with releases like Seethakaathi, Super Deluxe, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy and the much-awaited Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta (where he’s pitted opposite Rajinikanth) -- says he loves it when he keeps himself busy.

“It’s a phase of life where you do back-to-back films. You don’t know why. Instead of questioning, you should simply enjoy and experience it,” he says philosophically.

More excerpts follow:

From enjoying mass popularity to doing films like Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV), there’s been a definite shift in your film graph. Was it consciously planned?

It’s not that I search for extraordinary films, but I try not to disappoint filmmakers who come with fantastic scripts. I don’t have any formula or specific approach. I let cinema happen to me. I don’t care about my image. I simply believe in the script. Also, I like to choose stories that are different from the usual lot -- because of the expectations of the audience. I don’t want to disappoint them.

How was your equation with Mani Ratnam?

He’s a thorough gentleman and a visionary director. I’ve always admired him for extracting the best out of his actors. When I got a call from Madras Talkies, I didn’t think twice. I wanted to do Chekka Chivantha Vaanam for Mani sir, and my character, Rasool.

It’s interesting that you continue to do multi-starrers even at this point in your career.

I don’t see how much screen space I’ve in a film. It’s more about the impact. I just want to be a part of good cinema.

You do an Aandavan Kattalai. You also do a Vikram Vedha.

It feels nice when people tell me they can’t imagine anyone else doing my role. It’s really the character and its individuality. Nothing matters. Without Pushkar-Gayathri, there’s no Vikram Vedha. Without Manikandan, there’s no Aandavan Kattalai. A director’s vision is very important for an actor to shine.

Why do you think people like you?

Sometimes, it scares me. I don’t even know if I am worth their love. I don’t focus on being a star. I think stardom is just a perception of people. Also, when I do a role, I become the character. Natural acting is what I’ve done on screen. I have never shied away from experimenting with multiple characters. Never did I opt for any particular style. I am unable to believe how I’ve travelled in cinema thus far -- from an ordinary guy to -- this stage. I was even rejected for a junior artiste role.

Are you a serious actor?

No, but I take my craft quite seriously. I crave for better roles. That’s how any actor should be. I’ve also done not-so-good films. Siladhu mokkaya dhaan aagum (Some films will turn out to be dumb). But don’t stop trying. I was choosy even as a struggling actor. I didn’t do many ‘big-banner’ films initially.

How do you position yourself in Tamil cinema in comparison with other actors?

This is not a competition nor a running race. I am on my own journey. I don’t know what others are up to. My films are important to me. That’s it.

Tell us about 96 and what made you sign the film?

I’ve known Prem Kumar (the director) for years, and both of us started our career together. Our working style has been casual. I understand his timing as a filmmaker and he understands my range as an actor. There wasn’t too much discussion between us. We spent more time discussing other things. The story of 96 revolves around Ram and Janu -- two high school sweethearts -- who meet after 20 years. What happens after that has been told in a single night. It’s a relatable-mature-love story. Watch out for some fantastic music by Govind Vasantha.

Moving on, what can you tell us about Petta?

I can’t tell you about the film, but I can share my experiences of knowing Rajini sir. His energy is contagious. Once you talk to him, it’s impossible to not talk like him.

Rajinikanth is spiritual. But you don’t seem like a believer.

(Laughs). But he’s a patient listener. He tells me his views, I tell him mine.

What can we expect from you in the years to come?

Good films, better films. I’ll be here as long as the audience want me to entertain them.

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