Edited excerpts from an interview between Arun Vijay and Vishal Menon:
We've been following your career for a long time, but it seems like something really exciting happened post Gautham Vasudev Menon's Yennai Arindhaal. Can you describe what took place during the making of the movie to bring about this change in you?
I needed a director who could tap my true potential, something many others before couldn't do. After Thadaiyara Thaaka, a film that got very well noticed, the graph slowly started changing. That's when Gautham sir watched my movie and felt I could do much more. But, Yennai Arindhaal was a crucial decision in my life. I hadn't done a negative role before that, and you know how actors get typecast here. 'What if something goes wrong?' I would have to start again from scratch. That was running in my head. But Gautham sir's confidence helped. I needed to really work hard to be able to match Ajith sir's screen presence. I gave my 200% and it worked. I needed that reach and visibility. 'Did he have so much in him?' – that's what people started saying. From there, people started liking me and wanted to see more of me. But, they kept saying I would get typecast. I waited and did Kuttram 23, where I played a cop and that worked as well. That gave me confidence.
So, what do you think went wrong before this phase? Were you just not getting the right kind of opportunities?
Yes, of course. I guess, I didn't realise my own strengths. I didn't push myself hard enough. In the films that followed YA, I realised I should do more. When you think out of the box, things start working. Ajith sir told me how things started changing for him once he did Valee. So, I wanted to do something different.
Is it something that happened internally, or did you have to wait for someone to tell you that you could do more?
It should happen internally. The things I've had to face have taught me a lot. I've matured as a person over the years. Now, I feel I've matured as an actor as well. How I look at films now is very different. All that happens internally, with time.
Is that why you use the word cautious when you describe your script selection process?
Exactly. I don't want to go back to that phase. I have made mistakes. I have trusted a few scripts and they didn't work out well. There were other factors too for their failure, but I believed in certain films and they didn't do well. For instance, Jananam. For two years, I would go stand outside the lab hoping the film would release that week. That phase taught me a lot.
When someone comes to you with a script, how you do approach it now?
I solely decide what I'm going to do. A lot of people offer suggestions but the final call is mine. Now, I'm more confident, because I know there are takers for films where we are trying something different. People don't care too much anymore for formula films. If the same offers had come to me 10 or 15 years ago, I would have gotten scared and said no to them.