Vijay Sethupathi, bit actor to a mega star

Vijay Sethupathi, bit actor to a mega star

The Tamil star who specialises in everyday roles is now getting paid more than Bollywood heroes like Shahid Kapoor

Vijay Sethupathi’s performance as a criminal with grey shades in ‘Vikram Vedha’ got rave reviews.

'Pudhupettai’ (2006), the sprawling underworld saga by Selvaraghavan, opened the door to an exciting career for Dhanush, a gifted actor. Interestingly, a blink-and-miss role from the Tamil film is part of many discussions on the astonishing rise of another actor, Vijay Sethupathi.?

Sethupathi plays a gangster’s much-ridiculed henchman. Several such trivial roles were Sethupathi’s bread and butter before ‘Thenmerku Paruvakaatru’ (2010) came as a ray of hope. Karthik Subbaraj, ace filmmaker and Sethupathi’s best friend, was among the very few aware of his true potential.

“Really looking forward to watching Vijay Sethupathi on the big screen,” Karthik had said on Facebook. The routine post has attained immortal status, courtesy this query from a stranger in the comments section: “Who is Vijay Sethupathi?” “You will know soon,” Karthik had responded.?

A little over a decade since the release of the National award-winning film, it is a terrific irony that Sethupathi is a towering presence in Indian cinema. He recently broke the Bollywood barrier by signing a web series and quoting a salary higher than Shahid Kapoor, a big star in Hindi.?

Sethupathi’s journey has been replete with such amusing developments. In an industry known for hero worship, his success is a result of meticulous planning and hard work.?

Right timing?

From 2010 onwards, a string of new-generation Tamil directors found the perfect catalyst in Sethupathi to tell refreshing stories to an audience bored of jaded storylines. Since ‘Pizza’ (2012), Sethupathi has worked with 27 filmmakers — most of them rookies — and to great success.?

It helped that Sethupathi didn’t tread the tried and tested path despite his fame. Instead, he cleverly focused on scripts, understood the pulse of the audiences, and worked on enhancing his strengths.

Wide versatility

In appearance, Sethupathi does not have the looks of a ‘commercial hero.’ But he is blessed with a personality suited to essay unique characters. Sethupathi lifts the charm of any role with a loving smile, comic timing, body language and dialogue delivery.?

This explains his convincing portrayal of a transgender (‘Super Deluxe’), retrograde amnesia patient (‘Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom’), kidnapper (‘Soodhu Kavvum’), senior citizen (‘Orange Mittai’), villain (‘Vikram Vedha’, ‘Pettai’ and ‘Master’), theatre veteran (‘Seethakaathi’), village accountant (‘Andavan Kattalai’) and police officer (‘Sethupathi’ and ‘Chekka Chivantha Vaanam’).

One must not forget his ability to take the backseat in the films of superstars like Rajinikanth (‘Pettai’) and Vijay (‘Master’), and yet walk away with more laurels than them.

‘Makkal Selvan’?

Sethupathi’s off-screen persona is worth analysing. Last year, at a Film Companion round-table discussion involving the top performers of the decade, Bollywood actors made a fashion statement with their grand wardrobes.?

Wearing a plain shirt over jeans, Sethupathi was the odd one out. Talking in a soft tone, he confessed that he feels shy getting compliments from legends. Hailed for his ‘simplicity’, he emerged the people’s favourite from the discussion. The public love him for his straightforward and curt replies to sensational questions from TV reporters. They admire his small ego as he has often admitted that he doesn’t mind begging filmmakers for good roles.

It doesn’t matter if, in some films, he isn’t extraordinary. Fans don’t care if some of his films bombed at the box-office. His presence is all that matters for them. No wonder they have lovingly gave him the moniker ‘Makkal Selvan’ (people’s treasure).?

The people’s emotional connect with Sethupathi is a plus for directors. The man who played cameos for a living now does it for fun, and gives the films a bigger reach.???

The OTT era is tapping into his versatility. Greats like Manoj Bajpayee and Aamir Khan have shown interest in working with him. Telugu legend Chiranjeevi called him the best actor in the country.

Fans have put him in the league of Kamal Haasan and Mohanlal. But then, comparisons are futile.?

In Bollywood, Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Ayushmann Khurana gave life to off-beat films to become famous across the world. From the South, Sethupathi is now the No 1 pan-India actor, with Fahadh Faasil being a close second.?

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