‘A fantastic actor is useless under an uninventive filmmaker’

The Vijay Antony conversation that was supposed to happen in a closed room with us sitting on chairs now was happening amidst moving traffic in the cushioned seats of his car.
‘A fantastic actor is useless under an uninventive filmmaker’

Vijay Antony has always established himself as a person who takes life as it comes and is hardly bothered about the detours in life. Little did I expect to get a first-hand experience of this quality of his when I approached him for an interview. On the day of our meeting, the actor had to immediately leave for a shooting spot from our venue. “I don’t want to miss the conversation. Do you mind having it in the car?” he asked. Of course, I wasn’t willing to say no to such an opportunity.  The Vijay Antony conversation that was supposed to happen in a closed room with us sitting on chairs now was happening amidst moving traffic in the cushioned seats of his car. “I don’t have my aspirations or plans set in stone. I improvise with the resources I have access to,” said a smiling Vijay Antony as he strapped his seatbelt in place.

As the car steered through the roads of the city, I steered the conversation to Kolai, Vijay Antony’s newest murder mystery, where he plays the investigator, is a stark contrast to his role as a suspect in his previous murder mystery, Kolaigaran. “Balaji K Kumar (director) has not only learnt from Hollywood, he also makes films that match their standards. His debut Tamil film Vidiyum Munn deserves a lot more love for its extraordinary making. However, I am sure that Kolai will outdo whatever he has done till now,” he shares.Kolai is set in an alternate fictional town named Madras, which has an altered geography and culture. Turning the familiar upside down is quite a strange thing, indeed. 

“It would be an exaggeration to say that I did intense prep for the role. I just stuck to the instructions of Balaji and he knew how to get the best from me. It is the directors who do the heavy lifting in any film. Right from the performances to the background score, they take care of everything the audience sees on screen,” he says. In fact, Vijay points out that even a fantastic actor can do very little if such a unique story falls in the hands of an uninventive filmmaker. “A good director and crew can position an actor as a strong performer and deliver a hit. It is the outstanding staging that made a Kannada actor like Yash a national phenomenon and a Telugu film like Pushpa a pan-Indian hit. Of course, the value their charisma adds to the screen is immense, but the foundation to their performance is laid by the right filmmaker.”

The musician-turned-actor-turned-filmmaker has no qualms in admitting that his biggest strength is his common sense, which helps him associate with the right crew to ensure the success of his projects. “Ilaiyaraaja sir composition la yaar paadunalum hit dhaan. It is the composition we cherish and I believe the singers become secondary in his works. Likewise, I consider myself secondary in all my films, my directors are the actual heroes. To ensure such combinations happen, I began producing my own films,” says Vijay Antony, who has made a strong name for himself for the kind of projects he orchestrates.

Even Kolai has a talented ensemble of technicians that definitely have the potential to prop up the film. “The visuals of Sivakumar Vijayan and the music of Girishh Gopalakrishnan will get the audience in the mood for a thriller within a few minutes into the film. I am confident that the audience will like our work,” shares Vijay, who has never shied away from taking up extra responsibilities like editing, composing, directing and writing in his projects. “When a person has decided to jump into the sea, he can’t rely only on just knowing the butterfly stroke. He has to master all kinds of techniques and strokes to stay afloat and reach the shore. Likewise, I am exercising all these skills with my films to ensure that I stay afloat in cinema.”

Despite Vijay Antony being effusive in his praise about his technicians, one can’t overlook the knowledge and talent he brings to the table. The perennially humble multi-hyphenated talent does agree that his interest in editing his films has made him a better storyteller. “I have seen a lot of ordinary footage transform into something magical on the editing table. When I edit a film, I am subconsciously coming up with a taut screenplay. So this process came in handy for me when I wrote Pichaikkaran 2,” says Vijay Antony, who is clear that these roles he takes up are not a burden but aspects that complete him. “It is always better to be engrossed in work rather than overthinking. By taking on these responsibilities I am able to keep myself focussed and distracted from the negativities surrounding me.”

Interestingly, while we were discussing the negatives surrounding him, the car came to a sudden halt in the middle of a busy road. It is expected of a star of his stature to lose his cool, or atleast become a bit restless. Instead, he coolly wore a face mask, and suggested something I never expected. “Navein, oru auto pidichu... pesitte polaama?” Before the incredulity of that suggestion could sink in, the car roared back to life, and we continued the journey and the conversation. “Inaiku namaku car dhaan nu ezhudhi irku pola.”

When asked the reason behind his unwavering calmness, Vijay Antony just shrugged. “I wake up every day expecting the worst possible outcomes. So, when they actually hit me, I am prepared to face them. When they don’t, I am just thankful to have had a good day. I guess this mindset grew in me after I read a book named Yennangal. It changed me completely. I began believing that a person can hit rock bottom, and still be happy, and contrastingly, a person can be at the pinnacle of success and wealth and still feel empty; it is all in the mind.”

Vijay has enjoyed success with the Telugu dubbed versions of his films that started with Pichaikkaran (Bichagadu in Telugu). Asked if he anticipated success in the language, he once again turned up his candidness. “I would never want to restrict my audience based on their regions. My recent films are more successful in Telugu than Tamil. When Jackie Chan or Arnold made films, they didn’t worry about the audience in Guduvancheri, yet they turned out to be blockbusters here. They inspire me a lot and I will continue to be a part of films that can be understood and enjoyed by everyone.”

As we reached his shooting spot, I asked him about his road ahead in cinema. “Everything good in life has happened accidentally for me. So I wouldn’t want to stress about my future plans. When this car ride started I didn’t plan to project myself as a certain kind of person to you. I just wanted to be myself and went along with the vibe. I want to apply the same principle to my life. However, I would like to direct other heroes in the future and I am positive it will happen soon.” A goodbye, a handshake, a hug, and a picture of me that he wanted to take, he asked the driver to drop me back safely. This wasn’t the Vijay Antony interview I thought would happen, but what a terrific detour to my own well-laid plans.

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