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HT Interview | Vijay Sethupathi: ‘Producers didn't promote my recent film well despite my repeated requests'

Jun 06, 2024 04:26 PM IST

Jawan, Farzi actor Vijay Sethupathi will be seen in Maharaja now. He talks to HT about his 50th movie, his journey so far and lessons he's learnt.

Tamil star Vijay Sethupathi has made in-roads into Bollywood with a blockbuster Shah Rukh Khan film, a Shahid Kapoor web series and a Katrina Kaif-starrer. Vijay, who is called the Makkal Selvan (people’s treasure) in Tamil cinema, is known for his versatility and ability to enact any role on screen naturally and effortlessly. Be it playing a pizza delivery guy in Pizza, a man with amnesia in Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, a cop in Naanum Rowdy Thaan, a trans woman in Super Deluxe, or a gangster in Vikram Vedha, Master and Vikram, Vijay Sethupathi has proven that any role is cakewalk for him. (Also read: Maharaja trailer released: Vijay Sethupathi has a secret, Anurag Kashyap oozes menace. Watch)

Vijay Sethupathi played the villain in last year's biggest Indian film, Jawan.

Maharaja, his 50th film, is up for release on June 14 and Vijay Sethupathi believes that this is a film which will show a new side of him to the audience, yet again. In this exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, the Tamil star opens up about his career, honing his craft and more.

Maharaja with director Nithilan Saminathan is set to release on June 14. You play a barber who seems to have shades of grey.

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I liked this role and this is something different from what I’ve done earlier. The closest genre this movie is to is probably my film Pizza. There are plenty of surprises in the film and I don’t want to disclose too much because I want the audience to come and experience the film in theatres. I think they will have a thrilling ride.

Maharaja is the 50th film in your career, a milestone. How does this journey feel so far?

I feel like I have just started my career. So far it has been a great learning experience for me with regard to understanding the world of cinema – the people here, the mistakes I’ve made, experiences I’ve had and so on. Right from the story and script; understanding the director, his vision and capability; shooting the film; the movie promotions and release – every aspect is extremely important. Making a movie is not simple – it’s not just about the story. It’s also about who will star in the film and his/ her market, the technicians, and so on. One needs clarity and vision to execute a film. If you see recent films like Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, Manjummel Boys and Premalu, it’s not just the story, it’s about how well-executed they were by the filmmaker. The story is the foundation but how you execute it is so important. A film of mine released recently and the producer didn't do any movie promotions despite my repeated requests. All this impacts a film. So yes, a lot of learning for me so far.

Don’t you think that only a certain star could have performed a particular character well?

I think of it this way - the reason why I performed so well on screen is only because of the director’s story and the guidance he gives me during the performance. If the actor understands exactly what the director wants, then everything falls into place beautifully. Whatever it may be, the inputs come from the director and that is vital for an actor’s performance. Just because a star acts in a movie, it doesn’t mean the movie will be a hit – every single aspect that goes into making the movie right from the scripts, dialogues, the way they shoot, etc, is integral for the film. You take any big film as an example – you can never say that the movie was a blockbuster only because of the star.

Every role you’ve done you become the character, it’s very natural on screen. Do you do any homework at all for your roles?

When a director narrates a story to me and I like it, it constantly plays on my mind. I might find references in daily life and it starts to register. Over time, the distance between the role and story starts decreasing and I get more involved in it emotionally and mentally. I keep having discussions (often random) with the director – it’s not mandatory you understand the story right away, it’s essential you understand the director. Then you’ll automatically understand the story. That’s the homework I do. And homework is not just body language and learning the dialogues – you need to understand the core of the character. Sometimes a skill may be required for the role – like in Maharaja, I’m a barber. So, I’d practice cutting hair to hone that skill.

Having completed 50 films, what makes you still passionate about acting when you wake up every day?

Every day when I stand in front of the camera for a shot, every shot is new for me. Every single shot is new for me, every story is new for me. I never feel it’s a story I’ve done before or a shot I’ve done before. While shooting for Maharaja, I was shooting simultaneously for another film as well. When I was shooting for Viduthalai, I was also working on a web series. Everything is fresh for me. For instance, I’ve worked in Viduthalai 1 and am shooting for Viduthalai 2. It’s the same film and character but I feel it’s fresh and new for me.

How do you push your boundaries as an actor?

I believe I have only now begun to understand the craft. In the last few years, I’m in search of something more and have started digging deeper into the craft. Earlier, I’d read the dialogues a few times and be ready for a shot but now I take my time, check the flow, do rehearsals, and so on. I’ve always been responsible but now I think I’ve become more responsible towards my craft. My respect towards my craft has increased multifold now and I’m very happy when I’m on set and when I have to go for shoots. I have also cut down on the number of films I’m doing each year.

So, you’re enjoying your career more now than at the beginning?

Yes, you’re right. The films are the same but the way I am approaching films now has improved and become better. For any change in perspective, it is not just one reason, it is a culmination of many aspects and experiences with time. Going forward, I’m taking a far more responsible approach as I’ve become highly passionate about cinema. Now, I read a lot more, watch a lot more films, take time out for myself, learn new things… I’m actually learning music now – singing and the piano. And I’m doing it for myself. I think all this will make me a better actor too.

Do you see yourself directing a film one day?

That desire has been there for a while. I am paying a lot more attention now to lighting, cinematography, direction, etc. Hopefully, it will happen one day.

If you could give some advice to someone dreaming of becoming an actor, what would it be?

A lot of people here think that after doing an acting course, they can just become an actor. They think it’s like doing a degree and becoming a doctor or engineer. An acting course gives you information but what you make of it afterwards is what matters. Acting and success don’t come overnight – it can’t be a short-term goal. If the knowledge I have about acting today is 20 %, when I first became a hero, it was just two per cent. This is a process and once you get into the profession, it requires a lot of dedication and hard work. If you think you’re an actor just because you did a course, then your learning stops. You need to gain experience and it’s an ongoing learning process throughout your career.

How do you take criticism – from critics and the audience?

When some people share criticism, I feel it’s valid and with some others, it’s not as they’ll have a very different perspective due to lack of understanding. When critics go to review a film, their intention is to do a critique of the film and they view it in that perspective. With regard to the audience, they go to enjoy the film so I think it’s important to listen to them and take it seriously – whether positive or negative.

All the films I do I believe are quality films – if the film is not a quality film, then I am not the reason. Every film and role I have taken on or take on, I’m sincere, responsible, dedicated, and put in 100 % effort and hard work. For instance, I don’t come late to set or tell the director to change the scenes on set. The director is the captain of the ship and I treat him with utmost respect, even if I don’t like him personally. He is the one who has the vision for the film, right from the script to its completion and release. How a film does is not in my hands.

You receive a lot of praise for your work from the audience and colleagues. But do awards matter to you?

Sometimes. When there are award functions and you win an award, it is very satisfying when people talk about your film and how it made them happy. This makes me happy – it’s celebrating your work as a community.

Do you have a list of stars that you want to work in Tamil cinema?

No, I think I’m fatigued by those kinds of films. This is because I’ve had some good and bad experiences in the Indian film industry. When you sign on a film with another star, you obviously know what you are signing on for in terms of the role. But sometimes no matter how hard you’ve worked and done well, there’s very minimal value given to this at the end of the day. Because you contribute to the film as much as the star but no one talks about it.

You’ve said you don’t want to play villain roles anymore.

Yes, I first said this during the promotions of Merry Christmas that I don’t want to play villain roles and guest roles going forward. I have turned down many such roles in recent times. When you do multiple roles in the same space (antagonist), then there are also limitations and comparisons to your earlier films and performances.

Shah Rukh Khan said he learnt a lot from you during Jawan. Was there anything you learnt from him?

I learn something from everyone. What I learnt from Shah Rukh Khan is that his energy levels never go down. One day, during the shoot, he was unwell but you just can’t figure it out unless he tells you. That’s an amazing quality he has. He shared a lot of things about me which I felt very happy about. Even what Rajinikanth and Vijay have said about me makes me really happy. I felt happy that they noticed so many aspects about me and my performances.

96 was a beautiful romantic story where the audience saw a different side of you. When is your next romantic film coming up?

I love doing romantic films and I’m searching for a good love story. But I’ve not come across the right love story yet. Hopefully soon!

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