Arvind Swami: I’ve had ringside seats to watch elite filmmakers in action
The actor discusses his latest release, Bhaskar Oru Rascal, and shares the secret behind his swag, in what he considers his second innings in Tamil cinema
Arvind Swami was MIA from the industry, till he made a dramatic return in Kadal (2013), coaxed by his mentor Mani Ratnam. But it was Jayam Raja’s Thani Oruvan (2015) that catapulted the 47-year-old back in the limelight — his suave, cunning portrayal of playing the anti-hero earning him a firm place back in the audiences’ hearts. We chat with the actor on his latest release Bhaskar Oru Rascal and his journey in the film industry, so far.
Recently, you spoke about not being a believer in legacy. How much does this rational approach get in the way of being part of a superstitious industry like cinema?
I think everyone likes to think they are rationalists. And I’ve never really made a big deal of being an actor. It’s just another occupation. In the industry, they follow some religious practices, like launching a film with a puja. What’s the big deal though? It’s all about the team, for me. I’m losing nothing by taking part in it.
In this second innings as an actor, you seem more assured, and exude a certain swag.
It’s probably because there was a break of almost ten years in between. All the life experience I garnered during this period has helped my work as an actor evolve. As for the ‘swag’, for Bhaskar Oru Rascal, we felt it was necessary — just like it was for Bogan. Interestingly, they said that I brought in this ‘cool’ quotient even when Roja was released.
What was the motivation to pick up the remake of Mammootty’s Bhaskar the Rascal?
I could see the potential of the story to entertain. I wanted to work with the director Siddique, who has a great sense of comedy.
After you did Dhruva (the Telugu remake of Thani Oruvan), you spoke about the monotony of doing the same role, and the futility of changing a successful story. How did you avoid such pitfalls in this remake?
I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t change something just for the heck of it. I saw the Mammootty film once, and think I’ve played the role in my own way. The love story didn’t seem too convincing in the original, and so, we have made a few changes in the remake. Director Siddique may think of this as an improved version.
This collaborative approach you bring to the table seems to be a big part of your films in the second innings. Are all directors receptive?
With Bhaskar..., Siddique was well aware of any improvisations I was trying out. With Thani Oruvan, yes, we had a concept of a villain, and we developed the character together. My process of doing films has evolved. I ask the director plenty of questions to understand my character. It’s not about taking credit as a co-creator; it’s just trying to do my best as an actor. I do that with everyone, including Mani Ratnam with whom I’m doing Chekka Chivantha Vaanam.
Having seen the industry from the 90s, do you think there’s a lot of pressure today to be cautious with content? An adult-certified film ran into trouble when some sections demanded a ban.
Directors do films they like. I act in films I like. The audience watches films they like. Who are these people who seek bans? If a film has been censor-certified, I don’t think it’s right to try to stop it from being screened.
In this second innings of yours, you have also been quite vocal on social media. In the Naragasooran issue, for instance, you took the side of Karthick Naren.
I felt someone was wrong there. I felt it would be right to react. Generally, I don’t like to intervene in such matters. But here, I was a part of the team and knew what had happened. It seemed right to step in.
Coming back to films, are you happy with the variety of work you have done since Kadal?
I think so. I played a pastor in Kadal, and you could say the streak of goodness in my characters from the first innings continued. In Bogan and Thani Oruvan, there was a chance for variety. In the former, I got to play the title role too. And now with Bhaskar..., I’ve tried the commercial format. My next four films, including Naragasooran and Sathuranga Vettai 2, are all very different.
Has your choice of films not been guided by the desire to prove people wrong about what you can do?
I know I won’t survive if I do similar work. I was telling someone recently that I read six books at the same time. I read non-fiction and like to absorb information from a variety of books.I won’t call myself a rebel, for I’m not rebelling against anyone. I’m simply doing what I want. This is just my normal way of being.
You once said that you got into acting to also learn more about filmmaking. Now that you’ve worked with the who’s who of filmmakers, including Mani Ratnam, do you think you’ve learned enough?
(Smiles) Yes. I’ve learned enough, I think. That’s why I’m now ready to become a director myself. It‘s not rocket science even if it‘s a difficult job. My script has been validated by some accomplished directors, and the technical team is on board too. I‘ll be starting the project by the end of this year. So yes, all thanks to having ringside seats to watch elite filmmakers in action.