Vinoth Kishan: I am not in cinema for the applause
The actor, who has come in for praise for his performance as a blind man in Andhagaaram, talks about his role and what went into the making of this visually stunning film
The first feature you note about Vinoth Kishan is his eyes—the same eyes that made an impact in Nandha, in which he debuted as a child actor, the same ones that drilled dread into us in Naan Mahaan Alla. It’s an important tool in his arsenal, but what if he could not use them at all? This was the thought that made director Vignarajan approach the actor for his film, Andhagaaram. It is what made Selvam interesting to Vinoth as well. The duo decided that they would retain the look of the eyes, but that Vinoth would adapt to the lifestyle of a blind man. "I learnt their lifestyle. They have a way of doing everything—reading Braille, using laptops, general navigation etc. My character, Selvam, is a confident man." Sympathy is a cornerstone of Selvam's persona. "His problem wasn't his disability, but other issues... Anyone who sees Selvam should feel for him.”
Andhagaaram's multiple-narrative structure has put cinephiles to task, with people trying to decode the various timelines. "Naanum pannittu irukken," says Vinoth, laughing. "I was given my story, mainly so I would not get confused. Only the director and the DOP knew every detail. We had different, separate scripts for each narrative." He also acknowledges the criticism the expository climax faced. "We spoke about it. Until that, the film is all questions though, and the answers had to be told." He discloses that this was a decision made by Vignarajan at the writing stage. “It might have been different had we known the film would come out on Netflix eventually. Maybe.”
There's a scene in Andhagaaram in which two characters lug around an old broken phone, trying to get it repaired. Looking at the battered phone, the technician jokingly asks, "Enna padam shooting-a, continuity miss aavuma?" The joke feels meta, considering Andhagaaram was in production for five years. "Vignarajan sir was clear and careful with such details," he says, laughing. "All I had to be worried were practical issues like gaining weight." Every shot, he says, was designed with passion. "Vignarajan sir used to hunt for locations and call us whenever he finds good spot and lighting. Aasa aasaya eduthom."
Vinoth says he doesn't necessarily have a process to get into the skin of a character. Produced like an indie film, the sets only had a minimal crew. Over time, Vinoth created a routine that became natural. He had a bag with a walking stick, glasses, his shirt, and some kohl. If a shoot were possible, he knew he had to trim his hair, draw dark circles, and get ready for the shot. "Well-trained actors have a single process because they know what to do, but I am not like that. Luckily, the directors I have worked with have moulded me as an actor so much." For him, every film is a journey. "And I expect that journey to change me personally as well." Andhagaaram, he says, has calmed him as a person. "I have learnt to be more patient. The experience of working on this film, has gifted me a transformation. I think I take ownership of my films now."
Most of the roles Vinoth picks, including Andhagaaram, are intense ones. He laughs in response to this observation, saying he understands why that happens. "If I just sit and look at the camera, it will feel intense. Intensity comes to me naturally; my face and my physique are like that." He adds that it would take more effort for him to appear 'light and casual'. "But I want to do those roles as well."
Vinoth got catapulted into fame with a mainstream film like Naan Mahaan Alla., but his choices since then haven't been mainstream. It is all a matter of taste, says Vinoth. To be a commercial hero, one needs to have a larger-than-life personality. He believes that acting for a role is more his cup of tea. "I grew up watching Thalaivar (Rajinikanth). My fascination for cinema began with the adrenaline from FDFS shows. But with experience, I have learned what is right for me."
But this choice itself is difficult by nature, given that opportunities aren't that frequent. "Thankfully, my parents support my dreams. So, I had the liberty of waiting for opportunities." Vinoth admits to several moments of doubt and vulnerability during his long, hard struggle. "Namakku unmayiliye nadippu varudha, illa nammale nammala emaathikaromaa nu yosichirukken," he says, with a small smile. But the doubts vanish for him when he begins working on a project. "I realised with time that I am in cinema for the process, not for the applause. That's the joy: the satisfaction of seeing a shot you completed." This epiphany caused even release delays not to affect him. "A film's release is not in my hand and waiting only results in disappointment. I long to be in front of the camera, and so long as I get to do that and enjoy my process, I am happy."