Arvind Swami shares his thoughts!
He’s always believed in the unconventional, doing movies like Roja, Bombay, Minsara Kanavu and Indra even when his contemporaries went for action and glam. But then, says Arvind Swami, he never wanted to be an actor in the first place, and each film that he did, just happened. Here he is, talking about the things he wants to do before the year ends, Mani Ratnam, and what else is happening in his life…
Rumours are that you are part of Mani Ratnam’s next film. True?
Not that I know of. However, I take it for granted that I am part of all his films (laughs). I want to be in every one of his films because I am possessive about him. I don’t like all the other guys in the movie. It’s just got to be me. He thinks I am a whacko. He will tell me what he is working on and then say that someone else is acting in it, and my face will fall. It is an instinctive thing. But I have never, and will never, go ask him if I can do a movie with him. I keep telling him how good I am, and he keeps saying, ‘Poda’ – I don’t do this with anyone else. He had always told me I should play a villain. So, I sent the Thani Oruvan trailer and asked him, ‘How good am I?’. I got no reply.
Talking of which, how did you select this negative role?
I have always tried to experiment with roles. I don’t do things that are expected of me, and that’s how I like to address acting as well. I’ve never formally trained; it’s always been learning on the set. The only reason I am interested in acting is because I don’t do it full-time. My character in Thani Oruvan is negative, but it’s not the conventional villain. He is bad and unapologetically, completely negative and black — there are no shades of grey. He is not a pushover or a punching bag for the good guy — you might even end up liking him more.
Did you enjoy playing a bad guy?
For director Raja, this is the most important character as it is the crux of the plot. Plus, the negative character always has the freedom to do unpredictable things and it allows you to play around with the character. Even on the set, and during the discussions prior to the movie, we wanted to bring out this character in a subtle way. I didn’t want to use props and wanted to make things difficult for myself. I want to convince the audience that I am bad without having to look bad, or wear kajal. The character also has a lot of attitude and punch dialogues, and that was the fun part of being the bad guy.
Would you still say acting isn’t your full-time job?
I had no intention of being an actor in the first place. But it all started when I was 20, and by the time I was 28, it was stifling me. I was too young, and I was unprepared for what came along with being an actor — like attention and the stardom. It made me very uncomfortable. I was in college, and I’d walk around in casuals, or shorts and T-shirt and everybody would be asking, ‘What are you wearing?’. It’s very painful to be the centre of that much attention at that age. If you are looking for all that admiration, then may be, you might enjoy it. But it was not something that I liked. So, I chose to do different roles, over many roles. I also realised that one has to loosen up as an actor — that some roles require me to be an extrovert, some roles are not me at all, like when I did Pudhayal, it was totally drastic for me, and a lot of actors also told me, ‘I never expected you to do something a movie like that’. I quit in 1998 because at that time, I was not in the frame of mind to do films. I was not OK with a lot of offers that came to me and I didn’t want to do commercial films.
So then, on what basis do you choose your films now?
The movie should fit into my timeline, first, and it has to be different. From Kadal to Thani Oruvan is a contrast — in terms of how the character is pitched. There is a priest and a bad guy — like God and Satan. If you offer a negative next, it is extremely likely that I will refuse to do it. The most challenging thing is to be convincing on screen — it doesn’t matter what era the film belongs to.
What do you think of the current generation of actors and directors?
I really liked Soodhu Kavvum; I thought it was among the brilliant movies we’ve made. I also liked Jigarthanda. I recently saw Vijay Sethupathi and noticed he kept looking at me from a distance. So, I went up to him and introduced myself. Then we got along like a house on fire — we were hanging out. I called him the next day, and asked, ‘If I hadn’t come up to you, you wouldn’t even have spoken to me.’ To which he said, ‘Illa sir, bayam sir.’ So, I need to make the effort to break the ice — I don’t know what it is…
Well, there was also this phase where you were injured and out of the picture. How did you handle that?
For me, most things are mental. You do better if you analyse and address the issue mentally. I remember the day I knew it was going to take a long time for me to recover (he had an accident and suffered from a spinal injury) and I decided then and there that the one thing that is not going to worsen the situation is my mental state. So, I spent those days playing a lot of chess online, working out math problems, setting up my office computers using gadgets from my bed — things that kept me mentally occupied. I didn’t want to get into ‘Why did this happen to me?’ mode, for, that’s the worst thing I could’ve asked myself then.
Are you still into exercising and all? You have lost a lot of weight.
Fitness is not for movies, but for me. I was injured before Kadal, from which, like I just said, I took a while to recover. Coming from that space, sometimes, you have this phobia that you don’t want to get back that pain, so you just want to be careful. You don’t want to do things that you are supposed to do because you are scared you might hurt yourself again. That’s when Mani said, ‘Start training for the film’. But I told them I am not going to train for the film, but will train generally. I had lost 15 kilos in two months. In the last few months, I haven’t even stepped into my gym because I wanted to take a break.
Any plan to turn director?
I have plans of becoming a director soon. I just finished my script. I don’t know when I’ll direct the film. It is ready and has reached its third draft. I just have to make some changes, but every scene is already done and some corrections have to be made. The first person I will probably discuss this with, is Mani.
How do you balance your business and movies?
My responsibility is to both. My responsibility towards my customers and staff is important and time- bound. My staff has been around for a long time; it is just that I keep poking my nose. I go to office 2-3 days a week, and I am pretty much networked at home, also. As for acting, I have a certain responsibility towards people who like me as in I’m not going to keep doing what they expect out of me, I have to reciprocate that in some way.
You’ve also been fiercely private over the years…
I have always been that way — to such an extent that till recently, my kids never even saw any of my movies. My son saw Kadal, but my daughter refuses to see any of my movies. When she was a kid, Roja was on TV and she walked in to the ‘flag scene’, where I am getting beaten up and have fire all over me. Since then, she refuses to watch any of my films. But I have told her to watch Thani Oruvan.
Are you strict parent?
I am probably stricter than indulgent with my kids. I think I have learnt a lot from my father. He wanted me to go by bus, he would give very little pocket money, and when I joined his company in Trichy, I walked in and asked for my cabin. Then, the workers took me to the shop floor — where I worked as a welder for three months. I am strict with my daughter’s pocket money, and I want my kids to learn to budget, I give them an allowance and ask them to manage. But at the same time, I am like a friend to them. They can walk up to me and talk about anything including boyfriends and girlfriends. For my kids, having boyfriends and girlfriends is normal. I am not talking about children in general, but for my children, it is alright.
You remarried — how did your children take to that?
Whatever good or bad has happened, is part of my life, and also my children’s lives. The fact is that for 10 years, I was a single parent. I got married again a couple of years ago, but by that time, my children had grown up. My wife, Aparna Mukerjee, is somebody they know well, and get along well with. It is a happy house, life moves on. I never feel or want to feel like a victim, for, what’s the point of not thinking about what needs to happen now, and always thinking about what has happened? Then you are not moving forward.