I am here to earn money: Vijay Antony
The actor, whose new film Kolaigaran is hitting the screens this Friday, talks about his journey as a music director and an actor, and shares the philosophy behind his brand of cinema
Vijay Antony says that aspiring to become a music director was the first reckless decision he took -- 'muttalthanam' is the word he uses. The reason, he says, is that he hadn't done the groundwork for it; he says he didn’t even know what was required. “College, school la kottadichu paatu paduven. With that, I thought I could become a music director. I decided to become a music director only at 23, with no formal training in a field in which there are people who train from childhood,” narrates Vijay, who reached Chennai to discover the arduous journey ahead of his goal. “Music isn't just about instruments but also about the technology, about software. No matter how long I took, I just couldn’t understand.” Vijay believed that music wasn’t in his DNA, but perhaps it was, as he persisted on his dream. He started off as an assistant to a sound engineer. “I was naive, and had just the drive to do something,” he says. Slowly, he figured he didn’t really have to ‘know music’ to become a music director. “Our moms don't study cooking, but they make good food. Similarly, I tried to learn what you need to direct music. I didn't need to know to play instruments -- I hired talented people.”
And his songs were hits... chartbusters, in fact. Remember Nakku Mukka (Kaadhalil Vizhundhen) or Utchi Mudhal Paadham Varai (Sukran)? Vijay Antony attributes the success to his expertise in knowing what and how to deliver. But he also believes that he didn’t get due recognition. “The songs worked but the films didn’t. The directors I worked with were struggling to bag their next film. I didn’t have a director-music composer combination, as some of my contemporaries had. I had no team, no godfather.” He believes that such things matter when it comes to survival. And survival was what pushed him to act, he says. “While every other composer knew music, I didn't! I couldn't say this openly as well. How many days could I have kept this up? Someday, the fact that I didn't know music would have become obvious,” he says, frankly. He couldn’t afford to shift industries, as in his words, ‘cinema la thaan karai othingirukken’. And thus, he took the second ‘foolish decision’ in his life -- become a hero.
“But who would give me a chance? En moonjiya paatha yarum chance kuduka matanga,” he says, with refreshing humility. So, he decided to produce films himself, and borrowed money. “I am still not sure how I decided to do it. It is a painful journey but it is, I think, a bit funny. Even though I took irresponsible decisions, I was sincere. I think that's why I am safe now,” he says with a small smile.
But all that is in the past. He has now begun to work with other producers, given hits, and also headlined projects that have other stars in them. His upcoming film, Tamizharasan, has music by Ilaiyaaraja -- whose influence was major in his journey to becoming a music director. This is the growth of Vijay Antony, the brand, and not the actor, he states. “As an actor, I might not have improved, but as a brand, I have. I have cultivated some trust across centres. People trust that my final product will be good and will have something unique.” This is acknowledgement for the work he does, he believes. “I want to be part of good films. I want to be the reason for them coming out of the cans. To take such decisions, I needed to create a brand.” And that meant being more of an actor than anything else. “I would still give my inputs across departments as people trust me and come to the theatres. I have that responsibility.”
This process begins even as he listens to scripts -- he insists on full-length narrations and associates with those who don't mind doing it. He says he can easily take a decision upon listening to a story. “I don't listen to my scripts as a director or a producer or an actor. I do it as the common man.” And even when his films don’t work, he never questions his judgment. “There are multiple reasons for a film's failure. Innikku enakku rasam pidichirukku, ungalukku biriyani pidikkalam. Or it could also be due to the release date.” Vijay is confident that he knows that at least 50-50 percent of what he listens to will get delivered. “I am a technician, and know what went wrong if things go south, and thus, the result will be acceptable. If I start doubting myself, I will lose the personality that brought me here.”
For all he talks about offbeat scripts and the importance of stories, one would think Vijay Antony is here for the art. But he surprises me by saying that he is a businessman when it comes to cinema. “I am here to earn money,” as he simply puts it. And Kolaigaran, his upcoming film, is a script he chose with those sensibilities. “There's a clarity in the film even as the film keeps us on the edge of our seats. Arjun sir has a great character, and for the business, our combination will create some curiosity. Kooti kazhichu paatha ellam seriya irunthuchu,” he signs off.