In popular opinion, the year that has almost gone by, has been considered one of the most cruel ones with its share of bad news and happenings considerably higher than the share of good ones. There are always exceptions . Virat Kohli, for example, may not agree. He has had one of the most accomplishing years in his ever-growing cricketing career. Looking for an exception within the Kollywood circles, you needn’t go any further than Vijay Sethupathi! The rags-to-riches actor, when he sits in his rocking chair years later, might look back and reminisce at the choices he had made in 2016 and how they took him to where he eventually reached.The boxes he has been able to tick in this year is bafflingly diverse and the way he has ticked them, even more astounding. Let’s look at them one after another.
The crucial ‘Mass’ box
With Sethupathi in the early part of the year and Rekka towards its end, he ticked the crucial box that is deemed a necessity to stay relevant as a hero in the industry that measures and marks an actor’s position with his ability to cater to commercial interests. Having said that, he did it his own way and not by dishing out an uninventive template mass masala movie where one could predict the position of the songs,fights and the inevitable flashback twenty minutes before they are forced onto the viewer. Sethupathi, easily, is one Police film this side of Saamy which doesn’t try too hard in succeeding to show it is a Police film made for the masses. To confess, I haven’t watched Rekka (his least appreciated film in the year) but based on what I have read and heard about it, it seems to have its share of good things.
The good-to-have ‘Negative role’ box
Not that he hasn’t done it before with another of his Michael characters in an earlier film – His reprisal of Michael in Iraivi is not something you expect someone with ambitions of reaching to all classes of audiences attempt. In our parts of the world, history has it that a baddie’s role that betrays women or has an infidelity touch to it is remembered, recounted and actor faces the risk of getting stereotyped and penalised for such a choice. That makes his choice especially gutsy and how he graciously shares screen-space with a few other actors (which holds good for a few other releases of his) proves how he is a dream to work with, for directors.
The Quintessential ‘Student & Family man’ boxes
He might have ticked them in Sethupathi & Rekka too, to an extent, but Seenu Ramasamy’s Dharmadhurai is where Vijay Sethupathi’s character stands firmly in the middle of the intersection of family/drama/friendship territories. As an M.B.B.S. student, his role in support of others in the mix presents an important ,inspiring but not often told story – that of the success of first-in-family graduates. In the way he portrays it, with a soft transition from the soft-spoken ambitious youth to a dejected, lifeless loser leading eventually to his re-discovery, he surprises the viewer with a showing that even seasoned artistes might struggle to come up with.
The unavoidable ‘Naanum Rowdy Dhaan’ box
He had made a film in 2015 that goes by that name but ironically, he didn’t tick that box as he was a country-mile away from being a rowdy in it. Even the rowdy he ticks here isn’t the normal kind we are used to seeing. We have always been treated to the ‘work lives’ of rowdies. What could be more fascinating is to find what they do when they are off work?! With Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, he gave us a glimpse of the boring, mundane life a lonely henchman with aspirations has to go through when he isn’t in the thick of the action. He portrays laziness (with aplomb!), haplessness when mobbed, happiness in helping a similarly positioned person in finding her way in life , genuine mentoring (with that gem of a climax staged near a flyover) -qualities hitherto unseen in characters written around the typical ‘adiyaal’.
The historically famous ‘Unemployed role’ box
No hero who has made it big in Kollywood has gone on to do so without playing the role of an unemployed youth. A majority of them in the 80s and 90s have been roles that show desperation in getting employed. Of late, the more famous roles around the unemployed have come in the form of carefree happy-to-be-unemployed characters – I am sure you are reminded of heroes accompanied by Soori/Santhanam when you think of this description. Vijay Sethupathi’s role in Aandavan Kattalai fits into the former type and that again, makes him stand out amidst the crowd that opts for the safe, more famous, less important, least valuable latter type. His quirky comedy in the film not only reminds us of his role in the rave comedy Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kaanom but also helps in keeping the film that aims at spreading awareness on ‘middlemen harassment’ away from staying preachy. What stands out for me in the film is is the uprighteous nature of his character Gandhi after realising his mistake.
The most important box of them all
In doing the myriad of characters over his six films this year, what stands out is how those characters have stayed away from being morally irresponsible. I would like to assume it is by choice and not by chance. In most cases, you would be able to find roles that fit into the same themes but a majority of them would be sketched to accommodate and reflect qualities that could empirically be linked to commercial success of films; Qualities like ultra heroism, objectification of women through jokes targeted at them, the archetypal TASMAC song, glittering outfits and make-up irrespective of the social status of the character and so on. It would be hard to find any of them in the films mentioned here. This particular fact makes him and the success he has had, however moderate they may have been in comparison of the highest grossers, stand out to make him the most important single person in Kollywood this year.
As we sit back and analyse a glorious year of his, he is already making us look forward to what he has in store for 2017. With an intriguing line-up ranging from a couple which have been lying in the cans to KV Anand’s Kavan to Pushkar/Gayathri duo’s Vikram Vedha to films for Vetrimaaran & Thiagarajan Kumararaja, we can’t be blamed if we expect him to beat his own benchmark next year. To tweak the famous quote on Bruce Wayne to suit Vijay Sethupathi, He is the hero Kollywood needs; Not sure if it deserves him yet, though.
May the power be with you, the true ‘Assault’ Sethu of K-Town.
Column written by Sivaram L.