Thalapathy 64, Petta, Super Deluxe: How Vijay Sethupathi escaped the 'image trap' to become a versatile actor

Surendhar MK

Oct 13, 2019 09:49:17 IST

Somewhere in the early 2000s, a big group of actors was called up to ace filmmaker Selvaraghavan’s office in Chennai for an audition. Though around a hundred men turned up at the spot, only about eight to ten actually got selected. It was later revealed to them that they would be playing the role of small-time thugs in the director’s Pudhupettai, which starred Dhanush as the lead protagonist. One among the selected few was Vijay Sethupathi, who is now adored and highly respected as one of the most promising, dedicated, and busiest stars of the Tamil film industry with an exciting palette of films up his sleeve.

 Thalapathy 64, Petta, Super Deluxe: How Vijay Sethupathi escaped the image trap to become a versatile actor

Vijay Sethupathi in Vikram Vedha. Image via Twitter

After starting as an accountant for a Koothu-P-Pattarai dance troupe in Chennai, he moved on to perform in short films with then-upcoming directors such as Nalan Kumarasamy, Karthik Subbaraj, Manikandan, and others. Though he played a few brief roles in the formative days of his wide-ranging filmography, Sethupathi's first significant breakthrough came in the form of his mentor Seenu Ramasamy’s national award-winning drama Thenmerku Paruvakatru. The rest, as they say, is history.

From a young pizza delivery boy — which announced his arrival at the box-office — to an aspiring rowdy, from a conman to a dreaded gangster, from a man pining over his love to a septuagenarian who is passionate about theater plays, and from transforming into a trans woman to an auto driver – Vijay Sethupathi’s glorious filmography scales roles of all shapes and sizes. If there's a contemporary Tamil actor whose body of work cannot be confined to a single category of films, it's only Vijay Sethupathi. As an actor, this man already owns an extensive shelf of characters, and little do we know of what new set of surprises he might spring on us in the days to come. In his own words, “Every person in the world has a different fingerprint. In the same way, there is an endless number of characters that we can explore. I will do it all.”

Sethupathi always sets himself apart by not adhering to the general image trap that other popular actors in Tamil cinema have fallen into. He could do Soodhu Kavvum as a follow-up to Naduvula Konja Pakkatha Kaanom. He can quickly switch from Orange Mittai to Naanum Rowdy Thaan and also quietly tread on the heels of a rugged cop in Sethupathi. He can churn out his most-loved role in Vikram Vedha and deliver a mainstream follow-up such as Karuppan next. At a time when most heroes are lining up similar-sounding films in their search to please the general audiences, Sethupathi's idea is to balance all kinds of cinema — however small or big his space in a particular film may be.

Vijay Sethupathi in Super Deluxe

Vijay Sethupathi in Super Deluxe

Right from the beginning of his career, Sethupathi’s eye for content-driven cinema is one aspect that every film buff has enjoyed the most, instilling and reinstating the hope on big actors coming forward to back small films with whacky, path-breaking stories. Despite delivering a string of hits as a standalone star with proven entertainers such as Naanum Rowdy ThaanSethupathi, and Kavan, the actor also made time to be a part of Manikandan’s off-beat films such as Aandavan Kattalai, Balaji Tharanitharan's Seethakathi and the 2019 sensation in Super Deluxe, which received lavish praise from screenings across the globe. Sethupathi didn’t have second thoughts when it came to playing the role of a transwoman caught in the web of bad parenting, with his character’s shocking imagery still etched in the film’s fans, including Shah Rukh Khan who called him the most wonderful actor that he has ever seen in his life, during the movie’s post-screening discussion at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne recently.

Sethupathi isn’t done yet, as two of his upcoming under-production movies in Kadaisi Vivasaayi and Ka. Pae. Ranasingam are purely script-driven roles with other actors being the central characters. On the other hand, Vijay Sethupathi is one of the very few actors in an increasingly insecure industry who isn’t afraid to share the screen space with other actors above or below his stature. His entry into Rajinikanth’s Petta may have been an acceptable one since he found it to be a ticket to share the screen with the Superstar, and also a special feeling to be a part of his long-time friend Karthik Subbaraj’s most prominent film yet. But when the announcement on Sethupathi being a part of Thalapathy Vijay’s next film with Lokesh Kanagaraj dropped, eyebrows did go up. Sethupathi, according to bankable sources, quickly re-structured his busy schedule to accommodate Thalapathy 64, which,on paper looks like an ideal recipe to a potential blockbuster. Thalapathy 64 will be one of the biggest films of 2020, with the two Vijays locking horns in mouthwatering fashion.

Vijay Sethupathi in Thalapathy 64 poster

Vijay Sethupathi in Thalapathy 64 poster

A lot of writer-directors in Tamil cinema have openly admitted in their interviews that they have written their scripts with Vijay Sethupathi in mind, mainly for the various shades that the actor can bring to a single character. Sethupathi also has the knack of stealing the show in multi-starrers, with proven examples such as Vikram Vedha, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, and Super Deluxe receiving such widespread acclaim and praise for the actor. Vikram Vedha’s writer-director couple in Pushkar-Gayathri had spoken about the actor during their pre-release interviews, saying, “When most writer-directors get a big star, they might be forced to put in a ‘mass element,’ but with Vijay Sethupathi, there was no such thought or talk. He accepted the role straight away, really got into the character, and surrendered himself to the world around it.”

With his latest outings such as Telugu magnum-opus Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy and Malayalam film Marconi Maathai, it is clear that the actor doesn’t want to limit himself to the Tamil film industry, and is ready to explore films across borders in full force. He will soon be seen playing the baddie in the Telugu thriller Uppena, and later move across to Bollywood as he has bagged himself a role in Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, the official Hindi adaptation of the multiple Oscar-winning Hollywood film, Forrest Gump. Vijay Sethupathi has steadily sprinted his way to the upper echelons of the Indian film industry now and has proved once again that there's no stopping him.

Updated Date: Oct 13, 2019 09:49:17 IST