It was 1992. I was four, when my sister was born.Yet another actor was born along with her in Tamil films, about whom I knew a very little. Rightly so. It was part of the Kamal-Rajni era, where their combined clout was so large that it was often mistaken to be the Tamil film industry itself. There were other actors with a recall value as well, but none brought in the delirium like they did. So when I saw a lanky youngster with a barely legible mustache, caper by a dabba in Vishnu to “Thota beta rotu mela…”, it didn’t catch my attention. But what did, was the information that appeared in yellow font from no where onscreen to diligently notify-“Intha padalai padaiyavar ungal Ilayathalapathy Vijay“(This song is sung by your Ilayathalapthy Vijay). This wasn’t the fourth wall being broken as a cinematic device of story telling like in Woody Allen movies. This was unabashed propaganda topping what was already a propagandist movie. So leave alone being a fan, I was far from acknowledging his choice of profession. Little did I know then that I would become a fan of his some day.
I had grown up. So had Vijay’s stature as a bankable actor slowly. He was no more the obscure star. I happened to realize that he lived in my neighbourhood as well. The sight of hapless admirers setting tent outside his Virugambakkam bungalow to catch a glimpse of him, had become a regular feature over the weekends. The rough edges were starting to smoothen. The shirts with boardgame depictions paved way to classier ones. It’s his sharp dressing that springs up to my memory when I reminisce of this period , like the woodlands green shirt tucked into crisp beige trousers that ended exactly where the shoes began in the “Bharathiku Kanamma” number from Priyamudan. He was some sort of an icon back then itself.Whatever he wore in the movie, made it’s way to the streets. Suddenly you could see a lot of young men wearing their shirts without rolling the sleeves up or buttoning. It was how he would wear his full sleeves. No wonder Coke made him the face of their campaign.
You could see him play myriad dimensions of the love-struck archetype in a slew of extremely popular love stories, which went on to cement his stake in his core constituency- the youth. Be it Poove Unakaga,Love Today, Kadhalukku Mariyadhai or Thulatha Mananmum Thullum; we could distinctly see an extremely likable leadman nonchalantly shoulder the movie till its climax. Not to mention his nimble movements in the songs that had a following of their own.
‘An unemployed youth figuring life, love and responsibilities’ was the common narrative that was peddled in most movies that came since the turn of the millennia. If Kushi had him dodging love and ego, Badri was about a wastrel’s self discovery from a corner he gets pushed by life. His character were all identifiable, flawed men we could not just root for; but relate to. If youngsters saw themselves in these depictions, elders; their sons.
Another undeniable aspect about his movies were the chartbuster songs. Even if a Vijay movie was bad, the songs would be good. The same album would have a great Gazal type melody like say a-“Nee Katru Naan Mazhai” which would coexist in absolute harmony with an “Akuthe Akuthe” kind of a song. There would be that one irrevernt song in every film, which would turn out to be that year’s anthem like “Al thotta Boopathy” or “Coca Cola Brown color“. What made his dance numbers special was the sheer joy of watching him match every beat with feather footed grace. Take “Minnalai Pidithu” from Shahjahan, with minimal hand movements, all he does is tease with his feet. Just simple movements done so gracefully. Nothing more. But the synergy it creates with the song, is sheer bliss.
There are some memories that stay continue to remain young, even when you’re all grown up. One such memory was my first day experience in Udhayam Theatre. The excitement in the air was so electrifying, that one could’ve actually lit bulbs with it. When the hood came off and Velu goes-“Indha area, antha area….”, the theatre went bonkers. No one could hear a thing in the succeeding few minutes. That day I knew what delirium meant. Ghillli was that movie that gave him the license to get away with the things he does these days.
From being the identifiable guy of an entire generation, he had become their alter ego. His movies were a sort of a wish fulfillment exercise for them. The “Ilayathalapathy” moniker had gained gravitas. His choice of movies had changed. They were no more soft frothy affairs close to the imperfections of life. Be it Pokiri or Thirupachi– his movies were starting to often be set in gravity-less provinces in the director’s head -they doffed their hats to the one-man-against-the- system trope. He could do anything onscreen and get away with wolf whistles.
Imagine this scenario -Man smears 40 grams of turmeric on his face and runs down an army of henchmen like a plague, in broad daylight. And none of the onlookers crack the man behind this elaborate disguise. Ridiculous right! Well this is a famous set-piece from Thirupachi. With anyone else it would’ve been fodder for endless parody, but with him it became a memorable “mass moment”.
The first part of this phase was particularly painful for not just a diehard fan, but an average movie buff. Vijay was dealing exclusively in disasters; Kuruvi, Villu, Sura; each one more painful than the previous. These were not mere flops in terms of business parlance alone. Sachein and Vaseegara weren’t runaway hits during their times as well, but there was a grace in their failure. Not an air of mockery, like the one that eclipsed the release of each one of these forgettable movies.
We knew he deserved much better than this and so did we. It was only a matter of time before he bounced back.He was only a film away. We knew that. That film happened to be Thuppaki. It was a kickass film, no doubt whatsoever. But more importantly it was a star’s reassurance to his backers. It had no trappings of his previous failures. It never made the mistake those films did, of trying to show off his star wattage like a flourescent torch. It instead wore it like a perfume. And Thalapathi was back to where he belonged.
I’m an avid movie watcher and a huge fan of Kamal Haasan Yet none of this has come in the way of my love for Thalapathi. It’s not like he makes- or even tries to -an Anbe Sivam or a Midnight in Paris every now and then. Yet there’s something about his persona I can’t put a finger on, that I’m drawn to like a moth to fire. A quality so endearing that you step into a theatre each time in the hope of bringing down the roof. Don’t know if it’s his characteristic chewing-a-bread-crumb laid back dialogue delivery; the effortlessness in dancing or the unbridled energy he brings to the funny moments. Or it simply stems from the fact that he hails from the same neighborhood as me.
Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is I love him and would always be there for the very first show with sleep deprived eyes, to scream my lungs out to cheer for him.
For the ones who condescend him, I would suggest a viewing of Holiday starring Akshay Kumar; a lifeless remake of Thuppaki. You’ll know, what Vijay did to do that film. There’s only so much that can be written. So much that can be directed. But after a point, it takes a true blue star to carry a blockbuster beyond the screens. He’s always done it. And done it with style.
“Intha Deepavali super collection ‘ngana“