Listening to Vijay Sethupathi speak about cinema, choice of films and life can be cathartic. “I never had expectations from my films. What matters is whether I am part of a film that I am happy with or I am proud of,” he says. The man, whose work is synonymous with a grounded approach to his craft, sips a cup of black coffee and indulges in a quick chat. In his inimitable style, Sethupathi adds that he treats “success and failure, profit and loss, happy occurrences and unhappy ones just the same.”
Excerpts from a conversation:
Sindhubaadh is your third film with SU Arun Kumar after Pannaiyarum Padminiyum and Sethupathi.
After the success of Sethupathi, Arun and I wanted to work together. I share a special bond with him. He is like my brother. I knew the outline of Sindhubaadh even before he had narrated it to ten other actors. It has a beautiful emotional connect between the husband and wife characters. Somehow, the project didn’t take off and I didn’t know why. Then, I myself thought of doing it. To be honest, Arun didn’t tell me the full story until I started dubbing for the film. Another reason I was excited for Sindhubaadh is Yuvan Shankar Raja. Though I am an ardent fan of Ilaiyaraaja sir, I have a liking for Yuvan’s music.
Tell us about working with your son, Surya.
For a long time, I tried keeping my family—particularly my son and daughter—away from stardom and films. Bringing Surya on board was never my decision. Arun wanted to cast him after watching him in Naanum Rowdy Thaan and felt he would be apt for this role. But as a father, I was apprehensive and told Arun to rethink—because my wife and I still thought he was not all that mature to handle fame and pressure as of yet. I suggested for an alternative—but Arun was stubborn that we retain him. I yelled at Surya, a couple of times on the sets, but Arun was patient. Surya likes Arun and it’s vice-versa. (Grins)
As a parent, were you not bothered about his studies?
I think life lessons are more important than grades and marks. I tell him life is beyond books and classrooms.
Your daughter is also a part of your next, Sangathamizhan.
She plays a small role. My daughter shouldn’t feel bad that I am letting only my son act, no? (Smiles)
In one of your early interviews, you said you weren’t “exactly concerned about numbers.”
Yes, I hold the same approach even today. I choose a film, act and move on. As an actor, I satisfy my director and give him what he wants. My films mean more to me than the numbers.
How easy or tough is it to “move on” and treat both success and failure just the same as you mentioned?
I believe it is the state of mind. Sometimes, it is hard to tell why a film bombs. Adhu namba kaila enna iruku? Yes, some of my films have been average grossers, but they were not terrible. I am not a bad actor, okay? Naan avlo laam mokkai illa… (Laughs)
The last time, in an interview with us, you told there was nothing called method acting. But your acting seems effortless.
Simple things are often tough to comprehend. Only I know how much effort I put in to make things look effortless. At the same time, I am conscious that I don’t overdo. With each film, I analyse as to what I could do differently from my previous outing so that the audience would enjoy. All these were my learnings—the result of my seeking and questioning. See, acting is reacting. But it is necessary to be aware of what is happening around you. The better understanding you have of yourself, the easier it becomes. And it reflects in your work. It’s not easy to explain the process.
What makes you pick up a script and reject another?
It’s largely the story. I enjoy being a character. When you start living it, you internalise how that character thinks, behaves and responds. I make it a point to understand my characters’ intentions and their ways of looking at life.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being Vijay Sethupathi?
I am the same (Vijay Sethupathi) in every film. I don’t know to imitate others. Enaku adhellam varaadhu; theriyadhu. (Smiles)