'I am Vijay Sethupathi in every role'
The actor gets contemplative as he opens up to CE about Vikram Vedha, his latest flick with Madhavan
It’s a question actors are often asked: What would they be if they hadn’t become actors? In the case of Vijay Sethupathi, it’s obvious. A quick exchange with him and you know he would have made for a pretty decent philosopher. His responses are thoughtful, and it doesn’t take much for him to get pensive. “The greatest thoughts in the world aren’t manufactured. They are simple lines,” he says, and shares some of the offhandedly-uttered, deep lines by Vedha, his character in Vikram Vedha.
He enacts one, and his speech quickens to match Vedha’s rate of speech: “Muttai odanjidchu, muttai odanjidchu nu polambitte irukka koodadhu. Odanja muttaya omelette pottoma, saaptoma nu irukkanum (Don’t fret about a broken egg; make an omelette of it).” He remembers another: “Life na prachanai vara seiyum. Appo dhaan adutha kattathukku poga mudiyum (Obstacles present you with the chance to evolve in life).” No wonder then that Vijay Sethupathi thinks Vedha is among the roles closest to who he is as a person.
There was little he had to do by way of preparation, and in any case, he doesn’t believe in the idea. “If I overthink my performance, I’m scared I’ll end up looking plastic.” He is dismissive of the need for minor changes in body language for different roles. “I play every role like Vijay Sethupathi…as a policeman, as a gangster, as a fraudster etc. It’s what you do in a scene that defines you, not how you look.”
But he adds little things of value to the scenes he’s part of. “For a chase scene, I felt it would be good to have a branch to step over. I felt it’d be a decent symbol of the argument I’m having with Maddy’s character,” he says. “I don’t care that the audience may not recognise the symbolism. As long as they like the taste of the food, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know the ingredients that went into its making.”
He isn’t a fan of walking or talking differently to make each role seem different. “If I focus on those aspects, I fear losing out on the main stuff. I’m talking only for myself here.”
And these are disclaimers he uses in the conversation. He’s ever careful to not talk on behalf of someone else. Like when he refuses to wonder why no Tamil filmmaker has considered making a film based on the Vikram-Vedalam stories. “Let’s talk about the fact that Gayathri-Pushkar have now done it. I read the stories as a child, and for the longest time, I remember being fascinated by the image of Vedalam sitting on the shoulder of king Vikramaditya.”
The Vikram-Vedalam stories are exercises in morality and ethics, and the film itself, crafted in similar style, is an argument against distinguishing people as black and white. “That’s the firm conviction of Maddy’s character, Vikram. But Vedha knows that every time you decide to do something, a part of you always says no. It’s a conflict within each man. That’s what the film’s about.”
It’s good for Vijay Sethupathi that he could relate a lot to Vedha, for, the actor has a tendency to be influenced by the characters he plays. “I don’t just enact the dialogues. I have understood Vedha’s motivations, his character and his way of looking at life. So, his worldview affects my life on some minor level, at least.” And that, he says, is the beauty of films. “We are forced to move on from one set to another, from one story to another,” he smiles.
In Gayathri-Pushkar’s last film, Va: Quarter Cutting (2010), Vijay Sethupathi played a part as a junior artiste. He’s today of bigger stature than the director duo. He is non-committal about it, and says, “I loved that film’s ideology, and over the years, I’ve become great friends with them. If someone told me they don’t like Gayathri and Pushkar, I’d judge them in a heartbeat.”
It has been a while since Vijay Sethupathi felt such feverish excitement about a film. “It’s a story about how all of us have gray shades. We all behave differently in the presence of different people. Vijay Sethupathi-um appadi thaan.” I suppose it’s only fitting that he ends the conversation on a reflective note.