Arjun is Tamil cinema’s longest surviving action hero. Even his flops do good business in B and C centres where they watch him with awe and fear performing death-defying stunts with a lot of grace. And like good wine, Arjun has matured over the years as critics has praised the actor in him in films like Muthalvan, Rhythm and Vedam. However it is his action films that made him a huge box-office draw. His latest film Ezhumalai is also doing well at the box-office. Excerpts from an interview to Sify.com.
Q: The trade and your fans call you the “Action King”. How did this happen?
A: I was born in Bangalore and started my film career with four or five Kannada films. But in 1984, I came down to the then Madras and did a small Tamil film called Nandhri which was an average hit. During those days I did a lot of small budget Telugu action films where I had to just fight the baddies.
Q: What attracted you to Tamil films?
A: To tell you honestly Chennai has a rich tradition and is one of the finest film making centres in the world. Those days Tamil was far more superior than Telugu technically. And Tamil is the best South Indian language as far as an actor is concerned, because the command of the language can be seen in our dialogues on screen. There is a sort of manliness in Tamil language and I feel comfortable, delivering those lines.
Q: Were things easy in Tamil films?
A: When I entered Tamil films Rajni sir and Kamal sir had just become mega stars and it was impossible for any youngster to be taken seriously by the audience. And remember that I was short and did not have the conventional chocolate hero looks.
Q: Then how did you manage to be successful in Tamil?
A: I thought that I should work to my strength. Sevakan, Pratap and later, Gentlemen and Jai Hind were all commercial films with a social message or patriotism. My image has been moulded from all these movies. Admittedly my fans love my action scenes because I can do a lot of stunts that normal people can’t.
Q: Do you have any role models?
A: My role model has been Bruce Lee and in my early films I have shamelessly copied his kind of very difficult stunt scenes.
Q: Are you comfortable with the tag of a stuntman?
A: Yes, why not? My fans love me for all those dare devil stunt scenes. There are films of mine, which are termed flops by the trade doing superb business in the interiors. The belief that you are doing the right thing is very important and as far as possible I will try not to change my track.
Q: Then why did you do soft romantic films like Rhythm and Vedam?
A: Both the films were critically acclaimed and I enjoyed doing them. Vedam was about human values and I got a lot of e-mails congratulating me doing such a film. It is a different matter that the film did not succeed at the box office.
Q: You are doings films in other languages including a Hindi film. Please comment.
A: Yes I did the remake of the Malayalam film Tenkasipattanam in Telugu as Hanuman Junction which went on to be one of the biggest hits in recent time. Then I did a mythological Sri Manjunatha directed by Raghavendra Rao along with Chiranjeevi, who played Lord Shiva. It was an enriching experience doing that film. Now I am doing a Hindi film with Chandrachur Singh, Yudh. But still Tamil would be my bread and butter.
Q: So now Ezhumalai is a big hit, how do you feel?
A: It was an out and out masala entertainer and is a remake of the Telugu super-hit Narasimma Naidu. I had directed the film, which had Simran, Mumtaz, Ashish Vidyarthi and Vijayakumar. I think the audience loved the action in the film and it was made to entertain the masses and it clicked.
Q: There is a feeling that you ghost direct your films?
A: (Laughs) Yes, I do get involved in my projects to make them better. I put forward my ideas to the director and if he approves it we use it, if not we just leave it.
Q: How are you facing competition from the young actors doing action films?
A: Just because younger heroes have arrived on the scene, it does not mean that I am too old to do stunt scenes. Please go and see Ezhumalai, where I have done some terrific action scenes. The new breed of action heroes has made me concentrate more on my work. Like what I told you earlier, my work is my passion and whenever I see another hero perform well, I sent him a bouquet, wishing him all the best.