Anandaraj is one of those unique artistes who effortlessly fits into any role. Not too many actors can lay claim to being able to make us recoil in fear and also get us laughing till our stomachs hurt. He’s an actor who’s shown much variety. In his latest, Kalavani Mappillai, he plays Devayani’s husband. Remember that this was the very actor who played villain in Devayani-Sarathkumar’s Suryavamsam. “I do miss playing villain roles but I am glad I get more options now,” he says. Excerpts from a conversation:
Tell us about your role in Kalavani Mappillai.
I liked the story on hearing it. It is a fun film. Devayani and I have worked on multiple projects together (Suryavamsam, for example). ‘Usual-a avanga enna paathu oduvanga. Indha padathula naa avangala pathu oduven.’ (laughs).
The villainy is only for the screen. In reality, I am a person who loves humour. I grew up watching actors like SP Subbaiyah, TS Balaiyyah, MR Radha, and SV Ranga Rao sir, and I feel actors like them aren’t too many these days. We need them. To get all sorts of roles is gratifying.
You came in as a villain and now have turned into a character artiste in your film career that is now 32-years long. What do you think explains your longevity?
I think the fact that I played villain roles for several years worked out for me. When an onscreen villain starts to do comedy, people find it funnier. I like watching a lot of comedy films. I must have watched Thangabalu sir’s and Anjali Devi’s Adutha Veetu Penn more than 150 times. I think all that has turned out to be useful. These days, even if I play the villain, there is a tinge of humour, like in Maragadhanaanayam. I enjoy playing such characters and the credit goes to the audience for the reception they have given me. It is my job to do what they like.
After playing negative roles for years, did you have any qualms when you were first approached for comedy?
Thankfully no. I did Suresh Krissna’s Raja Kaiyya Vecha with Prabhu sir, in which I essayed a positive role. I was respected for that even though I was playing villain characters back then. I still receive calls in appreciation of that performance when the film gets aired on television. That role gave me a taste of the reception positive roles fetch. And, now it has happened organically.
Also, to be honest, my political affiliations suggested that I reduce negative roles and begin playing more enjoyable characters. Unfortunately, that political association ended soon. But I am glad it put me on this track.
How do you pick your scripts now?
I am glad that several people approach me for all kinds of roles, even if it’s for one scene. But I generally look for characters that have a beginning, middle and an end — roles that have the space for me to do something. Back in the days, there were standard roles for people apart from the hero. Even MGR, Rajini sir used to play heroes that had the support of other characters. But unfortunately now, films have become too ‘hero-centric’; they think a hero is enough for business.
A lot of commercial films from the earlier days used to have villains who matched the might of the hero. These days, in an attempt to boost the hero’s image, villains seem to get shortchanged.
I wish that would change. If you take Ramayana, people talk about Rama and Ravana equally. He also has a family that is given prominence. However, it is apparent now that times are changing. Vijayakanth and I have acted in several films together. At the end of the preview show, he used to look for me to say, “Anandaraj, nee thaan number 1 padathula.” I am not sure if the current generation has this generosity of heart. There is no room for ‘combos’ anymore.
1. Suryavamsam: When I met Vikraman, he said that he didn’t know how to create a villain. I loved that honesty. We discussed and I gave my suggestions about the character’s behaviour and more. That’s how my role was created.
2. Baasha: I need to thank Rajini sir and Suresh Krissna sir; that role felt like it was meant for me. Only 10 days of shooting was left when I was called. With actors like Raghuvaran and Charan Raj around, I was wondering what my role would be. I was at a peak then. After telling me a one-liner, Rajini sir said, “We thought of several people. Enna katti vechu adikanum, adhuku poruthamanavar neenga dhan nu mudivupanen.” I immediately agreed; I didn’t need more.
3. Naanum Rowdy Thaan: Sometimes, you just recognise characters that give you space when you hear them. NRD was one of those. Vignesh Shivn and I were a perfect match. We could do what the other had in mind. In fact, the dialogue, “Ennada bomb laam podaringa!” was impromptu as an ode to villain roles.
This was first written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.