Versatility, thy name is Vishal. Coming off a string of hits where he shifted away from the action hero status that initially earned him his fame to play against type, the talented actor returns to the theatres this week with Poojai, a commercial entertainer that he promises packs a punch and delivers some of the classic valour he has come to wear so well. A proven champion of Diwali at the box office, Vishal is one of the few leading men in the Tamil and Telugu industries who dare to take on a wide variety of roles, consistently bringing star power and faculty to unique scripts and helping to turn them into mainstream, commercial hits.

In this exclusive chat with Dilani for Behindwoods the talented actor and producer delves into how he’s certain his latest release will entertain all corners of the movie theatre, and why he likes being both your outright and unexpected knight in shining armor up on the big screen.

Poojai is a wholesome family entertainer. It has action, romance...being a Hari film it will be for everyone to enjoy. It’s not just for one section of the audience!

Directed by the master of ensemble action & familial dramas, Poojai is Vishal’s second collaboration with Hari after 2007’s hit Thamirabharani. Having filled his resume with several different types of roles and venturing into production since through ‘Vishal Film Factory’ the dashing hero admits that when compared to his and Hari’s first collaboration Poojai is like an “upgraded version” altogether, perfectly suited to be celebrated by crowds during the festival season.

It’s been 7 years since we last worked together and I wanted to do something with him again. This is even bigger and better [than Thamirabharani], which was a good reason to release it for Diwali. It’s always a delight to work with Hari and I am 100% satisfied with how the film has turned out!

Much like their last partnership Poojai sees Vishal accompanied by a host of Tamil cinema’s finest stars, all brought together by a rich and racy story. Was their previous successful delivery of a multi-starrer what drew Vishal to the script, both as a hero and a producer?

Hari’s films are always star-studded, and this film is no exception. But Hari always makes sure that all his characters are necessary and the audience can relate to them. Actually, [as a producer] when I saw the first cast list I was wondering if we really needed that many people! But when I heard the screenplay in full I knew that it all worked. And then when I saw the first cut of the film I knew it was going to be huge. As a producer it is definitely one of the best films I’ve taken on.

Included in the starry cast is Vishal’s gorgeous pair for the film, Shruti Hassan, a leading lady he is certainly a fan of.

She is such a multi-talented personality! After the film shoot was over I told her “don’t go away!” I requested her to stay in the Tamil industry! She has such a lovely role in the movie and she fits it perfectly. Shruti’s presence really raises the film.

Vishal, a man who’s shared the screen with several of the North & South’s most popular actresses in a refreshingly varied collection of romantic storylines even goes as far as to claim that his and Shruti’s reel-romance will stand apart.

Even if I wasn’t acting with her, as an audience member, I would love to see Shruti in this film. I think [our story in Poojai] is one of the best love tracks Hari has ever had in his films.

Moving from high praise for one of his talented co-stars to the next, the team player also has nothing but appreciation for another one of Poojai’s femme fatales – reigning queen Raadhika Sarathkumar.

It was amazing to work with her! This was my first time acting with her and she has a nice role in the film playing my mother. Hari always includes such great minute details for his characters in certain scenes; a couple of those are Raadhika’s and I’m sure they’ll resonate well with the audience.

As a whole both, as the film’s leading man and producer, Vishal is confident in the quality of product VFF and Hari are offering to audiences to light up their festival this year.

Everything really came together well, like Raadhika mam being a part of it, for example. See normally when we finish a film we always think of shortcomings maybe the music could’ve been different here, or we could’ve taken that scene differently. But with Poojai I think everything has come together perfectly. I have no complaints or desire to change things.

Lofty claims for the first purely commercial film the actor has had in a little while, after playing against the outwardly bravado type in his last 2 films, Pandiya Naadu and Naan Sigappu Manithan. When posed with the question of whether he prefers playing characters who have to find their heroism throughout the movie versus those like the clearly ‘take-charge Vasu’ in Poojai, the experimental artist wisely replies with a chuckle: “a blend of both”.

Referencing some of the stand-out performances and box office earners of his past, Vishal smartly explains that “without Avan Ivan I don’t think NSM or Pandiya Naadu would’ve happened”. Vishal’s critically acclaimed turn as an aspiring actor in Bala’s 2011 drama was plain evidence to the cinematic world of both his mettle as an artist and purveyor of diverse South Indian cinema..

I always think I should be experimental and adaptable as an actor. I thought after doing NSM and Pandiya Naadu I should deliver some more all-rounded commercial films like Sandai Kozhi, Malaikkottai, etc. again.

And who might have been waiting to see him in an action-oriented role again? Well, pretty much everyone, as he was amusingly reminded of recently.

The other day a small kid asked me “hey, why didn’t you fight in Naan Sigappu Manithan?” I was So I replied “But...I did know at the end...”, and he just responded “but you didn’t fight enough.” I was totally shocked, to hear this from a small child, but that’s what people want sometimes. People definitely like to see action, it’s not just the men - its women, children – everyone! If the action is justified, versus just mindless violence, the crowd demands it.

A completely warranted reply to what is a valid question from a young fan, who, like many others, has come to love the hero for his action-star status. But, as his filmography and capacity have already proven – you cannot box him into a type – for he is constantly on the prowl for new ways and roles to entertain us all, like with his next film – Sundar C.’s Aambala.

Aambala will be a Pongal release and it’s going to be a riot! I feel like I’m coming from one world with Hari to a completely different world with Sundar. [The latter] is so happy and colorful, and vibrant. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with the audience. And I’m actually very excited about working with Aadhi [of Hip Hop Thamizha] on the film. I’m really eager for the music to release, because I think it is going to speak volumes before the film does. The plan is to release a track in early November, and then the album in December.

And as their chat draws to a close Dilani’s curiosity gets the better of her and she has to ask if the handsome star and successful producer has any plans to add another occupation to his career graph...

Directing is certainly on the cards, but first I have to be a responsible actor. The audience has been kind enough to give me success and I have to respect that and deliver as an actor for them first. So, one day it should all fall into place!