Vijay Sethupathi must stop saying yes to every film that comes his way: A fan writes

Even his biggest fans would agree that Vijay Sethupathi needs to think some more about his film choices, instead of saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes his way.
Vijay Sethupathi wearing a sherwani in Annabelle Sethupathi still
Vijay Sethupathi wearing a sherwani in Annabelle Sethupathi still
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Can there be such a thing as too much Vijay Sethupathi? The answer would have been a resounding ‘no’ had the question come up a couple of years ago. Vijay Sethupathi’s rags-to-riches success story, his anecdotes about how he used to play cricket during the day to keep up the pretence to his family that he was finding work in cinema, his generous gestures to producers in trouble, his willingness to give newbie directors a chance, his candid interviews – have all endeared him to the audience, winning him the title of ‘Makkal Selvan’. While such monikers are often bestowed to consciously build up a star’s image, Vijay Sethupathi’s title seems like an organic choice. He well and truly is the people’s star.

Most male stars in Tamil, post the Rajinikanth-Kamal era, have followed a certain pattern as they established themselves in the film industry. They started off doing romantic roles, playing the angry young man occasionally and catering mainly to young audiences by amplifying their aspirations. When stardom came their way, they took on the mantle of offering advice to the audience, from how women should dress to what politicians should be doing. As they grew older, they focused mostly on action films that showcased their masculinity to an advantage, throwing in family dramas once in a while. If they harboured political ambitions, they also included a good amount of political and social messaging in their punch dialogues.

Vijay Sethupathi was refreshing in his refusal to fall into predictability. The films that made him popular with the audience were small, quirky outings that depended on content and not star value – Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, Soodhu Kavvum, and so on. VJS was precious in these films, his hilarious, genial personality shining through. In later films like Orange Mittai, Aandavan Kattalai, Dharma Durai, Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, he showed his variety as an actor. He was not only capable of being the funny guy, he could do irony, poignant silences. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan isn’t a great film, but if it is still remembered fondly by the audience, it has to do with the enviable chemistry that VJS worked up with Nayanthara, who was the superstar of the film.

By the time Vikram Vedha came by in 2017, VJS was already the audience’s beloved. We were willing to forgive him for occasional lapses like Rekka, his stardom unaffected by scathing reviews. With Vikram Vedha, however, VJS not only conquered the audience all over again, his message to the film industry was clear – he was bankable in any role, not just as the hero. People loved to watch him on screen and he wasn’t going to limit himself to being a one trick pony.

At first, this was exciting. Even when VJS did films like Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren and Junga that were just outright terrible, he gave us a Super Deluxe or 96 that were exceptional. Who else could have played Ram with the charm and vulnerability that VJS did? The actor in him was still trying, experimenting when he did a Seethakaathi. But here’s the thing – the ‘experimentation’ isn’t working so well any more. If we watched VJS films earlier for the sheer unpredictability and entertainment value, we now sit through with gritted teeth only because we continue to love him on screen.

Watch: Vijay Sethupathi in 96

One cannot help but wonder how he’s choosing his films. Clearly, it does not seem to be based on the script, considering he did Junga and 96 in the same year. He is here, there, everywhere, acting in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam (oh dear lord, what made him sign the mammoth bore Marconi Mathai for his debut in the industry?!), appearing in cameos and now on TV. This would never have been cause for complaint if these films and shows were half as good as his best films. But the thing is, Vijay Sethupathi seems to be bored. His USP was that he would more or less speak like himself and act like himself but still make the role work on screen. So when he’s bored, it shows. Like it did in Annabelle Sethupathi that he seems to have slept through, or Masterchef Tamil where the scripted humour just doesn’t work. Tughlaq Durbar was mildly entertaining because of its premise but the originality stopped with the idea of VJS battling his alter ego. As for Laabam, the agonised reviews speak enough.

This is not an effort to write off Vijay Sethupathi. That would not only be unfair but downright stupid. Ka Pae Ranasingam with Aishwarya Rajesh was one of the better films that came out in the pandemic-struck 2020; his willingness to share screen time and think about the film as a whole, despite being a big male star, is obvious. In the 2021 release Master, he played the antagonist opposite Vijay, and his Bhavani pretty much upstaged maverick professor JD.

But even his biggest fans would agree that VJS needs to think some more about his film choices, instead of saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes his way. At least, that’s what it looks like to those of us sitting on this side of the screen. Yes, it’s great that he seems to be a wonderful, generous person who wants to give opportunities to newbies, struggling directors and producers, but he also has a responsibility towards the audience. People who invest time and money in watching his films because they believe in him.

The audience is with Vijay Sethupathi because of his unpredictability. He must remember not to take that adulation for granted. Can there be such a thing as too much Vijay Sethupathi? Not if it is the VJS we originally fell in love with.

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