In the recent noir film, the impressive Rocky, Kaber Vasuki wrote ‘Kaalam oru dhrogi’ (Time is a traitor). It’s a film in which the characters wait. The eponymous protagonist waits for a chance at normalcy; the women wait for the men to pay heed; the antagonist (Bharathiraja) waits for his chance at revenge. Actor Vasanth Ravi has done his share of waiting too. Even this interview, for example, happened almost an hour after its scheduled time, due to a technical glitch. Vasanth, speaking from the UK, waited patiently. An actor who has only done two films over the past eight-odd years, he gets that patience is a virtue, and believes that quality trumps quantity.
“I may not be in cinema a couple of decades later, but I know that Rocky and Taramani will still be discussed. The number of films I do doesn’t matter. My films just need to beat in the hearts of the audience,” says Vasanth, who feels vindicated with the positive response that has come Rocky’s way, even from when the first look came out. “I know many who have watched it two-three times in theatres. The wait feels worth it.”
Starting off with a medical degree, and then following it up with another in healthcare management, Vasanth was on his way to becoming a healthcare professional. And then, he got consumed by that one quality that drives dreamers: passion. “I want to act in roles that are close to my heart; I also like films that experiment with genre and format. Above all, I want my films to give the audience a new experience. They must not just be engaged and entertained, but also get intellectually stimulated. The more they are exposed to variety, the more their interests will widen. Taramani was such a film; so was Rocky.”
Both in his debut, Taramani, and his sophomore effort, Rocky, Vasanth Ravi has played ‘intense’ characters. Taramani did see him lighten up in portions, but we don’t even see a stray smile in Rocky. “I do let out a half-smile at the end on that boat,” says a laughing Vasanth, whose two protagonists so far have both flirted with darkness. The teaser of Rocky, in fact, had Vasanth Ravi chainsawing a man’s stomach and garlanding him with his intestines. “The role was a challenge, the type of challenge a one-film-old actor usually doesn’t get. Take, for instance, the interval scene with the hammer.
While performing that scene, I was almost in a trance. I forgot that I was Vasanth Ravi. For me to give my 100 percent, I need to believe in the character. Rocky is a sensitive guy with a violent streak, a quiet man whose anger explodes in moments of pure rage and aggression,” says the actor, who is quite far removed from the person that Rocky is. “I am not even 1 per cent like him. In fact, when my family and friends saw me on screen, they were surprised and shocked. They wondered how Rocky could be so different from the Vasanth they knew. As an actor, to see them stunned was such a compliment.”
Incidentally, Vasanth grew up watching a staple diet of regular Tamil commercial cinema. The actor is also rather adept at dancing, and yet, it’s interesting that we haven’t seen him play a character that one might believe would be within his comfort zone. “I do harbour wishes of lip-syncing for a song or doing a dance number. I know there will come a film where I get to do those things, but I am not sure if I will get to do something poetic or surreal like ‘Kaalam oru dhrogi’ again. You will see that my next film will have me doing something completely in contrast to Rocky.”
Despite being a trained actor, Vasanth credits Ram, the director of his first film, for tutoring him on the sets. “I didn’t really know where to stand in front of the camera, receive the light… I learnt it all while working on Taramani,” says Vasanth, who shares that filming for Rocky was a different experience altogether. “With each film, I am learning. For instance, we had conversations about each and everything Rocky did, be it his speaking style or his stoicism. I needed to understand each of these things to be in sync with the emotional beats of Rocky.”
It was also in Rocky that Vasanth featured in those long walking shots that might seem aimless but are not. “The graffiti-laden walls he walks by show the political changes that have happened during his 17-year jail sentence,” says Vasanth, going on to talk in depth about that 13 minutes 50-second single-shot scene that has become one of the talking points about the film. “An actor rarely gets to do such a scene. In fact, this was shot on the first day of the shoot. We shot for almost 12 hours, and when I look back, I’m amazed at how we have pulled it off. A small mistake from any of us would have undone everything. It was a challenge, but more importantly, it was magic.”
As the interview comes to an end, we speak about the response he has been getting for Rocky. “Appreciation is important and is the fulfillment of our efforts. We celebrate films from across languages these days, and it is important that a film like Rocky is encouraged. In fact, I wanted to watch it with the audience, but I had to start the shoot of my next. I waited so long for this film to be seen, and when it was actually being seen, I couldn’t participate in that joy. It made me sad, but all the appreciation and love on social media makes me feel blessed.” In some ways, kaalam is not such a dhrogi, it seems.