Arjun: I learned acting by watching Sivaji and Nagesh films
The actor talks about his recent outing in Hero, his journey in the industry, and how Bruce Lee is an inspiration
Arjun owns some land in the city's outskirts, a place called Arjun Gardens that is populated with trees, and animals he helps raise including cows and a puppy. "I come here whenever time permits. I am building a temple here which will be ready in a couple of months. I like to spend time with the cows. Who doesn't love nature?" asks Arjun, as we sit down next to what he calls one of his favourite cows.
Excerpts from an interaction
Hero talks about a vigilante who is a product of our education system. Did it seem similar to your Gentleman?
Yes, we had spoken about the education issue in Gentleman. But what we left out in that film, is what is spoken about in Hero. With a whole new angle, we can very much say that Hero talks about something that's very apt for today's time. It's an extension of Gentleman.
The suit that Sivakarthikeyan dons reminded me of your Vallakottai in which you played a vigilante.
The get-up alone probably might be similar but the concept in Hero is totally different. Vallakottai was a commercial venture but Hero is about a character with social responsibility. It is different from what we have seen so far in Tamil cinema.
Speaking of similarities, the fact that your character uses crutches is reminiscent of your character from Karnaa.
(Laughs) Of course, the role I play in Hero, similar to Karnaa, is a positive role. Also, I have done another film on education (Jai Hind 2) but Hero talks about a problem with our education system that we have turned a blind eye to. My character makes a real difference in the film.
What was it like to work with such a young team?
It helps me keep myself updated. Sivakarthikeyan is a wonderful boy who is down to earth. He is positive and respects senior actors. I now know why kids love him. I am sure this film will work wonders for him. I am working with director Priyadarshan in Malayalam (Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham) and I am glad that I got to work in his daughter, Kalyani, in her first Tamil film.
Director PS Mithran is not someone who wants to just get away with a commercial film. He prefers having a nice concept in each of his films. He, along with his three pillars of support, George C Williams (cinematographer), Ruben (editor) and Yuvan Shankar Raja, work with so much positivity.
You were a part of Mithran's debut venture, Irumbu Thirai, as well.
I think it's the rapport we share. He takes my minor inputs too into consideration, a quality very few directors have. They can refuse the idea after listening to it, but some don't even listen. I am glad Mithran is open to discussing changes as long as it is for the betterment of the script. I believe films are a product of teamwork -- no film becomes a hit or a flop because of one person.
Your 150th film Nibunan was also the last time we saw you in a lead role. Is it a conscious decision to stay away from playing the lead?
I get a lot of offers but it has to work out for me. After doing more than 160 films, I am looking to evolve as an actor. I don't want to stick to the usual format. Irumbu Thirai showed a different Arjun to the audience and I am looking for such characters. Even if it is not a lead role, my character should make a difference in the film. Kolaigaran was also a performance-oriented film.
Any words on how the industry has evolved?
Today, we can recreate anything we have in our mind, thanks to computer graphics. But that said, idhukku nadule antha jeevan miss aagudhonnu naa feel panren.
In an old interview, you said you came into the industry as a teenager and gave the nod to whatever projects came by you. On reflection, when did things really change for you?
About 40 of my earlier films saw me performing poorly. I didn't know how to act. I used to see how bad my acting was and then I resorted to action films. That made me go on for a long time, and then, I realised I should be an artiste. I started watching a lot of Sivaji Ganesan sir and Nagesh sir films. Just like car driving, I learnt a lot by just observing them. At that time, I lost my market and I had to struggle and redefine myself. I realised that films were going to be my bread and butter and I got into doing better films, as well as direction and production. That's when I started getting appreciations and awards, which gave me that much-needed boost. Now I am enjoying my profession.
We seem to always associate you with action films. Where did that fascination stem from?
Bruce Lee was the reason. When Enter the Dragon came in the 70s, I was the only one who was shouting and enjoying the film when I watched it at a theatre in Bangalore. Avara paathu paithiyam aagitten. I then asked my father to enroll me in karate classes and that's how it all began.
What keeps you going?
Hope. I believe that life is how you see it. There's a lot to learn, both in life and professionally. I have acted in all the South Indian languages. I am planning on directing and starring in a Hindi film as well. I like taking up challenges, otherwise, life will be boring. Marathi sounds challenging, so I want to do a film in that language as well. I want to explore the industry as an actor and director. I'll soon be directing a Telugu film that will star my daughter in the lead.
You come from a family that has connections with the film industry. That must have helped.
Naan oru romba dhadhdhi paiyan. My only positive was the fact that I knew martial arts. I worked a lot to excel in it. My father was an actor but I would not say that the talent I have is something I always had in my blood. I am not a born actor or technician. I learned so much from observing others.