In his first stint, post Roja, Arvind Swami was slotted in a certain type of role. But, in his second coming, he has experimented with roles and directors. We got Siddharth Abhimanyu in Mohan Raja's Thani Oruvan and Varadhan in Mani Ratnam's Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, among others. Excerpts from a conversation between Arvind Swami and Baradwaj Rangan.
While acting in Roja, did you ever get an inkling that it would be such a national sensation?
Not at all. Because, I'm not from the movies and I did not want to be a star… I was just enjoying the experience of it. I knew we were doing something extremely nice and interesting. I didn't even understand the economics of what was going to happen or what could happen.
I have a question about the Rishi character in Roja. This guy gets kidnapped, and the Kashmiri terrorists set the national flag on fire, he jumps on it and extinguishes it. When I ask Mani Ratnam in the book about why Rishi does that, because I would think that this character is clever enough to not incite the terrorist in such a obvious manner, and he said, "It's this character's way of saying fuck you to the terrorist." How did you see that?
I loved that scene, I felt it. My dad was a part of the freedom movement towards the end. We would watch the Republic Day parade, there would be a sense of patriotism. He has helped people during riots, that were either pre- or post-partition in Calcutta. There are a lot of people who would come and fill me with these stories about how they were saved by him, so it was very inspiring to me. So my sense of patriotism is very hard coded. So, when the scene came, I loved it. This is what I would have done too.
Which character you've played is the closest to you in real life?
I think there's a bit of me in everything.
Even Siddharth Abhimanyu (Thani Oruvan)?
Yeah sure, maybe, his confidence or attitude. But, actually, now I try to separate it in a lot of ways. I try to think how I would think as that character, I kind of internalise the character so much that I do things very differently from how I would do it.
I'm talking about something like you read the script and you were like 'Oh my god, this is just me'. Has that ever happened?
Not even with Roja?
Never, never (laughs). I wouldn't go to a village in search of a girl to get married. Not that it's a bad thing, I'm just saying.
Let's talk about the films that you did in Malayalam, Hindi and Telugu — Daddy, Mounam and Saat Rang Ke Sapne. How was it like working in a different language?
I did Daddy because Santosh (Shivan) was there. It was his production and his brother Sangeeth was directing it. He asked me if I would do his film, and I agreed. We finished the film in 18 days, which meant we would start early and go on till 1 in the night. Thalapathy was like that. Mani was at his craziest at that time, in terms of work timing. My first day of work started at 2 in the morning and went on till the next night, so I thought, okay everybody works like that. But that was a great learning for me. When setting up a global business, I used to work 18 hours a day, and never felt tired. You think that's how you should work.
Was picking up languages easy?
I have a learning disability when it comes to languages. I don't like speaking other languages, it didn't bother me then but it bothers me now. See, I did Bombay, and it was a national hit, and the next film I signed up was with Bharathan, and it was not even a Tamil film. A lot of people were like, what is wrong with you, you should do Hindi. I liked the story and I wanted to work with Bharathan. I think I was curious about learning from people who I've heard great things about. Bharathan, Santosh, Sangeeth, Balu Mahendra Sir, I wanted to just learn at that time, not act. I wanted to learn the craft.