Be it Raghuvaran in the 90s or Nambiar in the 60s, the top villains of Tamil cinema often have a terrific voice as part of their arsenal. It’s almost an unwritten requirement. Arjun Das, who made his debut as the ruthless Anbu in Kaithi, says his voice was one of the reasons he got the role. “Lokesh sir heard me somewhere and was very particular that his Anbu should have a voice like me. Despite being the leader of the gang, Anbu is a guy with a small build. I guess my voice made people accept the character.”
The actor has been receiving praise for his performance and says he owes everything to the director, Lokesh Kanagaraj. “Just like for any aspiring actor, Lokesh sir was a director I only dreamt of working with. Imagine my good fortune that it has happened for my debut. I just surrendered myself and if the audience like my work, it’s only because of his handholding."
Arjun says he was initially hesitant to sign Kaithi, because of the sheer importance of his role. “Lokesh sir called me for the audition and asked me to perform a scene from the film, which didn’t make the final cut. Once I finished, he said I’d be playing Anbu and that I would have to lead a gang of 100 members. I got initimidated on hearing this.
I had zero confidence when I stepped into the project, but the team was encouraging and the faith Lokesh had on me made me give my best.” Asked if he was skeptical that he might be stereotyped for upcoming films, he says, “At the end of the day, all that matters to me is working in exciting stories under talented directors. Whether I play the hero or the villian is never a priority.”
Arjun plays a cocaine addict in Kaithi, and had to do a bit of homework to get into the skin of the character. “I wanted it to be real, so I checked out a lot of Hollywood films to get a hang of people addicted to cocaine. Lokesh sir took care of the detailing.” He also adds that his days at koothu-p-pattarai and Evam helped him. “I learnt acting from my fellow actors and picked up nuances. But unlike in theatre, while doing cinema, we have the advantage of retakes.”
Asked if he did a bit of rehearsal for Kaithi, he quotes Dhanush, who he looks up to for inspiration. “Dhanush sir often says in interviews that it is better that an actor goes with a clean and open mind to the sets and surrenders to the directors. I just follow this practice. Everything you see on screen happened on the spot without any rehearsals. There was a lot of brainstorming between Lokesh sir and me. He would always ask, “Unaku enna thonudu?” before going for the take.”
Arjun has quit a well-paying job as a banker in Dubai to pursue acting. He reasons that the excitement of being in front of audience made him do this. "I was an over-weight kid at school, but I liked being on stage in both college and school. After my graduation, I worked hard to get into shape and lost close to 36 kgs and that’s when I felt I should try my hand in cinema." He says he has a long way to go in learning about cinema. "It took me a while to understand how the industry works. I also became an RJ to support my pursuit of becoming an actor. Thankfully, all my efforts have paid off."
Arjun will be playing the protagonist for the first time in a supernatural thriller called Andhagaram directed by V Vignarajan. He is also a part of Prabhu Solomon’s much-awaited Kumki 2 and remains tight-lipped about the project. “All I can say is I play a character with grey shades. The shooting has been completed and the post-production is on. You can expect the film to hit theatres early next year.”
Ask Arjun if he has a road map ahead, he shakes his head. “It is early to have one. If I can pull off any kind of role, I’d be happy. As of now, I am glad that people are calling me Anbu. I couldn’t have asked for more.”