Riding high on both commercial and critical success, Vijay Sethupathi is busy like never before—with back-to-back films—Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, 96, Seethakaathi, Petta and recently-released, Super Deluxe. From drama to action, there is nothing that Vijay Sethupathi has not explored. “I want to be part of a good film. It should have a good story. There should be something about it. A good role should make me stay awake at night and challenge me. For example, when I signed my first project, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up around 4.30 am and went to the gym. But that film got dropped and I have lost the excitement of hitting the gym,” he smiles.
For Sethupathi, acting is more of a journey into unexplored terrain. “Some like Seethakaathi are soulful. Others (commercial films) are convenient. But you grow in these journeys subconsciously,” he says.
The actor wasn’t sure how to pull off the role of Shilpa, a transwoman, in Super Deluxe. “I was nervous on the first day of the shoot because I had worn the sari, the wig, the coolers and the makeup. Still, I sensed something was missing. I didn’t know what went wrong, but I couldn’t be Shilpa. I did everything I could, but things weren’t working out,” Vijay Sethupathi recalls.
That was when Thiagarajan Kumararaja had announced a break in the schedule. “That really got me worried. I asked Kumararaja if he was going to replace me with some other actor, but he promised me that he won’t. Any director in his place would have gone for someone else. It is nice of him to trust me,” adds Sethupathi.
On the second schedule of Super Deluxe, Vijay Sethupathi had a better understanding of his role. “Post-break, we started shooting, and things seemed a lot better. Someone on the sets told me to walk with my feet close together and fixed my posture,” says Sethupathi. Speaking about his character, he adds, “Kumararaja wanted my role to be in a specific way. Shilpa is not like any other transgender woman. You can’t find her on the streets, but only in Super Deluxe.”
Super Deluxe is a film with a lot of heart, says Sethupathi. “Shilpa is pure and mature. She is a thozhi I never had. Ivalo naala naan dhaan vaadhiyaar-nu nenachen, but this time, Shilpa became the teacher. She taught me sensitivity, among other things. When you try to be a character, it has the potential to change you as a person. It is a quality that an actor must possess. If not, acting would become a mere deception. An actor should be aware of the society, and what is happening around him,” he says.
After essaying Shilpa, Vijay Sethupathi says he realised womanhood is nothing short of a blessing. “It took one-and-a-half hours to put makeup and everyone at home would watch me prepare for the role. But my daughter didn’t like to see me as Shilpa,” he smiles.
How does Vijay internalise his characters? “For a scene, I took nearly 50 takes. Indha one-take-actor ellam summa. Craft is important, but I don’t go by the prevalent notions about it. Also, there is no such thing as method acting. I go, act and I come back. And, I don’t believe in homework. En vaazhkaila naan naana irukarthuku homework pannala. I understand my characters, and I believe they exist. I simply stay true to my roles and I am happy to be in this space,” he says.
The conversation veers to Kumararaja. “I don’t perform to impress anybody, let alone the director. But Kumararaja is an honest filmmaker. He is full of ideas and his basic strength is detailing—be it visuals, the art or the music. I was extremely happy that I got to work with someone who extracts the best out of an artiste. Padam paatha apram, the audience, unanimously, will remember one name: Thiagarajan Kumararaja! An actor-director relationship should be like that of a couple. Filmmaking is always a collaborative effort. Two of them need to be in sync with each other,” Vijay Sethupathi tells us.
Has your criteria for selection of roles changed over the years? “Maybe yes, maybe not. But I am lucky to have got these many varied roles and I am enjoying it. In my head, I am clear about the films I want to do. There are good stories everywhere, but namma kannula adhu padanum. I am not in a race. The passion for the craft drives me. I believe the characters should outperform the image of an actor, and I don’t want to be known by the characters I play,” Sethupathi shares.
How does he enjoy being a television host? “Namma Ooru Hero talks about unsung heroes in the society. There is so much negativity around us, and the show brings them to the spotlight. They are the ‘real heroes’ and the response has been phenomenal,” Vijay Sethupathi says.
What’s next? “I am penning dialogues for Sanjeev’s next, featuring Vikranth and Vishnu Vishal. I am a lazy writer, and I can’t write. I have got someone who records whatever I say and then the team transcribes. As for acting, I have Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, where I play a Tamil-speaking guy, and I am a part of Marconi Mathai. It is hard to turn down offers. Ennala ‘no’ solla mudiyadhu. Anbu thollai naraiya iruku,” he grins.
How about playing negative roles? “I don’t mind playing a character like Jithu (in Petta) again. Negative traits illadha manishan-ay illa,” Vijay Sethupathi signs off.