The moment I hear Anandraj’s caller tune — Kurai ondrum illai — it’s hard not to be reminded of the number of onscreen villains being religiously inclined in real life, and being so far away from the loud, brash selves they play in films. Legendary actor MN Nambiar, too, fit this mould. “In a sense, you could say that Nambiar appa has played an important role in inspiring my life,” Anandraj says.
But unlike Nambiar though, Anandraj hasn’t really been prolific; his career has been marred by lengthy breaks. He attributes it to his role in a political party. “I dedicated about 12 years of my career to it, and ended up missing a number of opportunities. Being involved in politics meant that I couldn’t be seen doing roles in which I harass women or get beaten up by heroes. This affected both my health and wealth, but I tried to remain sincere to my duties as a party cadre,” says the actor, who is candid about his unhappiness with the current political scene.
Once he decided to return to cinema, Mundasupatti helped him make a comeback of sorts.
“In the latest Maragadha Naanayam, he plays a character called Twinkle Ramanathan. “I loved the team, and was motivated to experiment with my looks.” He recalls the Vijaykanth-starrer Bharathan, a remake of Ghayal, to indicate how he’s always tried to experiment with his appearance onscreen. “In the Hindi version, Amrish Puri, who was then about 55-years-old, played the negative role, and for the Tamil version, I had to play that role even though I was barely 27.
I went with an old get-up, and as people didn’t know my age then, they still find it fascinating to see me being quite young,” the actor laughs.
Lately, he’s almost perfected the role of the comic villain. “I’m not restricting myself to that role. But I hope to again play a powerful villain. My look suits such roles. I think that’s why films in which I played the hero didn’t work. People still thought of me as the terrifying villain. But after Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, fans sometimes — women even — pinch my cheeks these days.”
The actor turns nostalgic and hopes to play offbeat roles like the one he played in Raja Kaiya Vacha by Suresh Krissna, who would go on to cast him in the iconic Baashha. Anandraj is convinced that “a villain’s role is as important as the hero’s. It is the strength of Ravana’s role that makes Ram the hero he is.”
Not many know that Anandraj is an alumnus of the famous Taramani Film Institute; his seniors included veteran villains, Raghuvaran and Nasser. And yet, he doesn’t believe that you can learn acting. “An actor can come from any background and our industry is a perfect example of that. The only advantage of belonging to such an institute is that there may be some nuances that you learn easily.”
His upcoming films include Gulebagavali, Katha Nayagan, Sibi’s Sathya, and a film starring Siddharth. Regardless of the breaks he has taken and the opportunities he has missed, Anandraj has no regrets. “Many have tried to succeed in this industry but not all have been lucky. I know many actors who have wasted their careers due to missed opportunities, people whose passion for cinema was so much that they couldn’t bear to work in another job. I hope to do my bit to help such actors,” he says. Not quite villain-speak from Anandraj!