“Kuḻantai nalamāka irukkiṟīrkaḷā? (Are you okay baby?),” inquired the actor as he made his way onto the stage to a loud applause. With an impressive filmography of approximately 50 films, actor-producer Vijay Sethupathi is renowned for his versatility and one who takes preparation for his roles seriously.
“I had a conversation with my daughter this morning and she asked me what I’ll speak today. I told her how tea is made. So don’t take this (conversation) as a class,” the actor chuckled adding that he was grateful to see a full audience.
It’s not new for people to idolize actors in a country like India. But at the 54th edition of IFFI’s in-conversation session, ‘Living the character’, which featured Vijay Sethupathi with Kushboo Sundar at Kala Academy, the admirers of the actor were legion.
The queue waiting to enter the auditorium was endless and, once indoors, the south Indians among the delegates whooped intermittently during the one-hour conversation, a simple testament to the fact that Sethupathi is an adored actor.
But much before tasting success in his acting career, Sethupathi worked in a regular job in Dubai. When Kushboo posed the question as to how acting happened, the actor replied, “I was just living, going with the flow. Then I fell in love, got married and my wife didn’t let me return to Dubai, then cinema happened,” he said adding that he’d always known what he doesn’t know.
As the conversation went on about how the actor gets into the skin of the characters he chooses to portray, Sethupathi quickly pointed out that he doesn’t understand method acting.
“It’s always the minds you interact with. I think great directors have introduced me to good cinema. What’s the key is that you find the intention. I want to understand why the director wants to tell the story and through that learn the character. There’s no formula, really.”
He added, “It’s like reading a quote. You need to understand why the writer penned it down, but application needs to be in your life, a lived experience. Find the intention of the dialogue and feel it.”
The actor is also known for his portrayal of grey shade characters like Vedha in Vikram Vedha, Bhavani in Master and more. And why he took to play these instead of lead protagonists, the actor stated, “Audience doesn’t come to see the star rather they come for the story and the character.”
Although admitting that playing a villain feels good and is a very cathartic experience, he confessed to being confused if he should continue doing negative roles as the industry is quick to label actors.
Commended for his range and depth of performances, the actor was also applauded for his character Ramachandaran (Ram) played in the film ’95 that revolved around a school re-union and childhood crush.
“Our firsts are very special, dad hitting you for the first time, first love, first bike. Those initial moments are always there. Even at that age (when the movie was shot) I had butterflies in my stomach,” the actor said adding that Ram was always in there somewhere.
The actor was dressed in a neat, simple blue shirt and jeans, leading Kushboo to note that he always appeared like the boy next door even at the glamorous IFFI opening. The actor appreciated the compliment and said, “I felt like an alien at the opening. I’m not humble or anything, everything is just expensive. It (the clothes) was definitely comfortable but I felt really insecure that day,” he smiled.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed a quick rapid fire round, where the actor gave some witty replies and went on to say that his most romantic moment was this interview, simply winning the hearts of everyone at the auditorium.
On a concluding note about his journey from his very first film and the learning along the way, Sethupathi said, “During my first film, there was fear of making a mistake and somewhere I wanted to impress the director. Now, I focus on how to do it. I’m a much secure actor now.”