IT sure sounds like it’s difficult to convince actor Arun Vijay about a script. For him, choosing a script is no easy task. Just the narration takes a few hours, and then he follows it up with a whole load of questions. “It’s a huge process for me. I’m very cautious about accepting scripts. Two days after the success of each film, I become very serious, thinking about the next film because the next step is important. People say take it easy, but the journey hasn’t been easy for me. It took me 24 years in the industry to get to where I am today. So I have to push it to the next stage. That’s the only thing on my mind,” says 41-year-old Arun.

Fit as a fiddle and made of ripped muscles, Arun Vijay has created a name for himself in the industry by wearing his grit and perseverance like an armour. Son of veteran film actor Vijaykumar, Arun came into the Tamil film industry as one of the youngest actors to debut as a hero with Sundar C’s Murai Mappillai in 1995. “Frankly, I wasn’t very serious at the time. I didn’t realise I was getting into a field that was this competitive. As soon as I joined college, I was in the industry. I was interested in the field but I didn’t know it would happen so early. But once I entered, there was a lot of pressure. Of course, the great thing was that I had recognition amongst the audience but the rest was left in my hands. I had to deliver. I had to have my own style. My films had to do well at the box office. All that took me some time. But, here I am,” says Arun.

Taking his time
Despite an unsettling start, Arun was determined to make his name among the biggest stars of the day. So he took his time; he evaluated his strengths and learned what matters most to make a name in the industry. “I was a good dancer, fighter and performer… but what kind of scripts should I take? During the lean period of my career, I learnt a lot about the industry, the people who work in it, and equipped and upgraded myself. I had good directors like Cheran sir who gave me Pandavar Bhoomi (2001), which was an amazing film; but of course, I needed a huge commercial success at that time. Because saying ‘critically acclaimed’, ‘good actor’, ‘award-winning’… that doesn’t matter. Here all that matters is the numbers at the box office.”

Arun delved into the details of delivering a successful film before rolling the dice again. “When everyone was appreciating me and the film was critically acclaimed, why didn’t it work? That’s when I started studying how the film was distributed, marketed and sold to the audience. As an actor, I wanted to learn what was happening behind the camera and even after the film hit screens.”

He became more aware of the process, and got more involved in the decision-making. He even changed how he judged his scripts. “You have to be totally confident with the filmmaker, even a new comer, that he will deliver the best. Sometimes the output you’ve been promised is very different from what you see on the screen, once the film is over. But then it’s too late. So now if I have any doubts while listening to a script, I clear it off during the narration itself. I just look at it as an audience member; I look at the content first before I get into the character.”

Walking his own path
In 2009, Arun delivered his first big box office success with Malai Malai, a commercial action comedy film that was in theatres for over 100 days. With that film, he made a splash. And since then, his career has been getting increasingly exciting. “I had a certain notion when I started out; I looked at yesteryear heroes, compared my experiences with theirs and tried to compete with them. Then I understood that I could either follow them or create my own path. At one point, I told myself that there were enough people to follow the beaten path. I wanted to walk my own. That’s when I started taking up different scripts.”

Thadaiyara Thaakka (2012), a neo noir action thriller, changed Arun’s career by portraying him in a new light and registering him as a serious actor. He held his own as an actor with this project, and proved that he could deliver a solid performance in a content-based script. But that was nothing compared to 2015’s Yennai Arindhaal, another action thriller, where he played a menacing antagonist to one of the most popular protagonists in the industry, Ajith Kumar. The movie not just hit the box office lottery, it also raked in huge appreciation for
the actor.

But 20 years after he made his debut in the industry that is known to stereotype actors, taking on a negative role was obviously no easy decision. “It was like walking on knife’s edge. If something had gone wrong and the film didn’t do well, or if I didn’t get this recognition, the whole scenario would have changed.”

Director Gautham Menon’s villains have always been memorable characters in Tamil cinema, and Arun’s Victor was no different. His decision to take the role, too, obviously had a lot to do with the director. He really felt like he needed a director who he could just give himself to and the character was also one he related to at a personal level. “I had a lot of anger in me… I was on the edge about why it had taken so long for me to make it… I could just channel all that into the character. I gave my 100 percent and that’s the output you see on screen.”

Exploring his strengths,  exciting new scripts
Once Arun emerged in a powerful new avatar, many thought he would be typecast as an antagonist. But when he played a cop in Kuttram 23 in 2017, a role that was in complete contrast with his last Tamil film, it was still well received. “Then I understood that people respect good work, and the appreciation would be the same irrespective of the role. I believe in the content. That’s most important. If the content is not good and you perform really well, then it’s not going to work.”

Does this mean he’s open to playing diverse characters that are unexpected of Tamil heroes? “I want to explore a lot of things as an actor, but not because it’s trendy. I don’t want to get into that race where ten films are coming out in the same genre (like horror, for example) because one film does well. I want to play to my strengths and maybe exceed it film by film.”

So after Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam in 2018 (where he again played a nuanced character while sharing the screen with some of the most popular names in Kollywood today), his first release for 2019 was Thadam, another crime thriller where he played the first dual role of his career. He has also been reaching out to a wider audience by branching out to other South Indian industries over the last few years. His upcoming trilingual film Sahoo — starring Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor and Neil Nithin Mukhesh — is going to be his debut in Hindi. Also in his kitty is the upcoming Agni Siragugal, which he excitedly says is his first film to be shot outside of the country, and another interesting sports film, titled Boxer.

After a steep climb in this cutthroat industry, Arun has become comfortable in sticking to his convictions and following his own path. “From the beginning, I would only do one film at a time. But the film industry works in a way where you need to have 2-3 films running in parallel so that if one film bombs at the box office, then another might work. But I believe in giving my heart and soul to one film at a time and seeing what happens. I’m still doing that but it didn’t work in the beginning.”

Now with his career on an upward swing and with his conscious quest for exciting scripts, he’s confident that his dedication and focus will start reaping more accolades and exciting projects. “Once a script connects with the audience, nothing can stop it. So with each role I play, I want to keep the audience guessing; I want to excite them and surprise them. There are a lot of lovely creators coming up in the industry, and now is the time for out-of-the-box thinking. And as an actor,
I am ready,” says Arun.

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