His first break as a lead actor came in Thenmerku Paruvakatru (2011), an Indie art-house project which won national accolades but slipped right under the nose of most mainstream audiences including myself. His big break however came next year with Pizza (2012), which also marked the debut of Karthik Subbaraj. The movie was a box office and critical success, immediately catapulting both the talented actor and director into household names in Tamil Cinema almost overnight. Audiences especially loved Vijay Sethupathi’s fresh take on the simple, relatable, guy-next-door character – a persona that he has managed to keep up to this day despite moving on to much more complicated characters such as playing a gangster in Vikram Vedha. The talented actor is not afraid to experiment with his choice of roles – a fearlessness which has served him well and sets him a league apart from more established actors who continue to do minor variations of the same all-powerful action hero lead role for decades now (sometimes with a minor tweak to appearance and/or accent). The horror-drama Pizza was followed up with the all-out comedy Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom in the same year where he played the role of a young groom with short term memory loss. His slowed speech, blank stares and subtle comedic timing was a huge hit and clicked with an audience who were tired of only seeing slapstick comedy thus far.
2013 was another interesting year of experimentation for Vijay Sethupathi that started with the dark comedy Soodhu Kavvum. For an actor in his prime to portray a middle aged schizophrenic character way beyond his actual age is no easy task – but the Sethupathi was more than up to the challenge. Personally, Soodhu Kavvum is my favorite Vijay Sethupathi movie till date for the sheer antics of the short tempered, impatient yet smooth operator “Das” who leads the team of bungling kidnappers. By this time the actor’s market reach and value had increased tremendously and offers from producers were lining up – yet he chose to remain grounded and continue to experiment with his options. His next movie, Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara is perhaps the least likely movie an actor fast approaching superstardom would pick but that didn’t stop our man. He lapped up the role of a serial drunk, unemployed and generally good for nothing romantic in this social message centric comedy and pulled off a north Chennai accent with ease. Box office and critical success naturally followed and he continued to do good movies with several directors (many of them debutantes) in the next few years – never shying away from working with new people, subjects and looks. It is interesting to note that while he followed an Indie approach to superstardom, Vijay Sethupathi didn’t stop himself from doing a few mainstream “masala” flicks as well. Audiences seemed to enjoy seeing their favorite boy next door in any role, even the popcorn variety in movies like Kavan, Sethupathi and Naanum Rowdy Than. It is almost as if the man can do no wrong!
I, for one, am extremely excited to see how much creativity Vijay Sethupathi can bring to Tamil cinema in the future. The next couple of projects announced with the actor are sure to set the hype meter off the charts – Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivandha Vaanam and the big one – the reported villain role in the next Rajinikanth movie to be directed by Karthik Subbaraj. Fingers crossed!