In his upcoming film Junga set for release on July 27, Vijay Sethupathi plays a stingy don on a mission. A substantial part of the film has been shot abroad. After the quirky but underwhelming Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren, this will be the actor's second release of the year.
Sethupathi is an interviewer's delight due to his thoughtful replies and genuine insights. He draws on his life's experiences and conveys his ideas with clarity. We discovered all this and more, in this interview with the 'Makkal Selvan'.
While producing Junga, were you also the creative producer along with taking care of the usual logistics and practicalities?
In all my films as an actor, I collaborate with the director closely on the content. That's a part of my job. With Junga, we readied the film and presented the first copy to Arun Pandian sir, who then came on board. The film has exceeded its budget but I'm sure that Arun sir will present it properly to the audience.
You are back with Gokul, the director who gave you the memorable Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara
I trusted Gokul when he said that the character will suit me well. Like in all my films, it took me some time to get into this character as well. 'Timing' is the key when it comes to comedy. If it doesn't work, it'll be clearly evident on screen. Gokul's films have a unique, peculiar comedy style and timing sense. Sometimes I laughed during my takes and we had to go for retakes.
Just recently you made your foray into Twitter. Do you see it as a means to promote yourself and interact with your fans?
The main purpose was to avoid imposters. There is needless miscommunication and a lurking danger of things going wrong. I don't go overboard with praising people and films, but that was happening in my fake Twitter handle. Sometimes there were some good thoughts posted too and when people called me to appreciate, I had to explain myself that it wasn't me and that I didn't deserve that credit. Even when I clarified on my official Facebook account, it didn't serve the purpose. So I opened my official Twitter account as a medium to update information; it's not necessarily for promotions. When people request me to tweet about their films, I don't hesitate. Cinema has given me this identity and now I don't mind giving a platform to people who need it.
What's your take on the thriving web series medium?
It's another platform to reach people. The content decides the duration and a web series running to many hours is a good option when you are dealing with epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. People are always on their phones and during their daily travels, they conveniently catch up on web content. If I can work out my schedule, I intend to explore this medium too. I have no restrictions!
Some people opine that the habit of going to cinema theatres will gradually die and that people will totally move to web content. What's your take on that?
Not at all! It's like how we still go to hotels despite having the best possible home-cooked food from our mothers. Man is a social animal and he loves co-existing, laughing and reacting together in a controlled environment. He is addicted to interactions with other humans. We have to see the outside world. People need a neighbour at least to fight! That's why theatres and malls thrive. And, cinema is the cheapest entertainment that people have.
How do you see your rapidly expanding fan base?
With great power, comes great responsibility. It gives me immense happiness that people love me to this extent. I can't put it in words. I accept all this love gratefully with tears in my eyes.
Some big heroes refrain from smoking and drinking on screen in order to avoid setting a bad example to their fans. As an upcoming mass hero, what's your take on this?
If something bad has to be shown on screen, you have to! In the 80s and 90s, smoking and drinking were celebrated and glorified on screen. Nowadays, we don't walk that line and the censors are also very strict with their rules and restrictions. If the character demands certain traits, we have to show them. I believe no actor does it just for the 'style' factor.
Do you feel that cinema is a soft target for politicians who voice out against actors smoking on screen?
We are clearly showing that smoking and drinking are bad, with all the statutory warnings. We are not encouraging any of these habits. People already know the ill-effects of these substances but they still do it daily. Instead of targeting cinema, some other key measure has to be taken. It's a good thought and a valid question but where is the solution? Even I can ask such questions! Instead of getting into blame games, it's their responsibility to look for practical solutions.
After collaborating with many young directors, you recently worked with the legendary Mani Ratnam in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. Can you talk us through the process of working with the director?
Just like a newcomer in his/her first film, Mani sir works with a great amount of enthusiasm, speed and intent. He is someone who understands the language of cinema and knows to present grandeur on screen. He loves his actors and is profuse in his praise when he sees good work. According to me, 'taste' is the most important thing in cinema and Mani sir still has oodles of that. There is so much wisdom, intelligence and experience to gain from him.
Did you work on scene-level improvisations even in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam?
Yes, Mani sir gives complete freedom to his actors. He patiently feeds all the necessary information to us ahead of a scene and welcomes our inputs. Like with any other director, I was creatively proactive during the shooting of Chekka Chivantha Vaanam as well.
You've worked in many multi-starrers over the course of your career. Does it enrich your thought process while working with multiple creative minds on a film?
Yes as you said, it is definitely an enriching environment while working in multi-starrers. Each person thinks in a certain way. A mature actor shouldn't bring his ego while working in such films as there is a lot to gain by the exchange of ideas and thoughts.
When I was in college, my friend took me to a mosque where there was a conference involving Muslims and people from other religions. A Muslim man told that when two people exchange 1 rupee each, they'll still be left with just a rupee each. Whereas when they exchange 1 thought each, they'll be left with 2 different thoughts. It was a very good insight and has stayed with me ever since. Exchange of thoughts, love and wisdom is the key to progress in life. Egos shouldn't be brought into the mix.