Dilani Rabindran



Will he or won't he - Vijay and the guessing game, thuppakki, vijay


Given the anticipation of Thalaivaa’s release and unfortunate temporary ban in Tamil Nadu, Vijay has been the talk of K-town for the past few weeks. Now that Chennai crowds have finally had the chance to witness Ilayathalapathy’s latest avatar for themselves reviews are continuing to roll in on Vijay’s darker performance and strikingly mature role, a far cry in some ways from his other recent films. His performance in the movie is one of the unanimously agreed-upon strengths of the film, but, what really warrants analysis is not his performance – which consistently proves stellar – but instead the don character he portrays. Upon closer look it can be seen that Thalaivaa is the latest in Vijay’s tendency to play authority-type figures; one can’t help but wonder if this trend is a revealing hint of Vijay’s belief in the importance of the judicial system & social service, as well as his non-cinematic aspirations.

In many ways Tamil cinema’s action hero ‘good guys’ tend to fall into 2 categories: there are the ‘rebels with a cause’ who act out of necessity or personal motivation (ie. revenge, love) and either end up leading others inadvertently, or plow through their mission alone. The second category, on the other hand, refers to those who either start the film in, or eventually assume, a formal role of authority – either lawful or non; these heroes invoke change while consciously leading others. Depending on the rest of the movie’s elements both types of heroes have proven successful at times, and practically all the leading actors of the day have tried their hand at both in a myriad of different plots, including Vijay.

While Vijay has done both types of characters in his extensive career, the ‘young leader’ seems to be drawn to portraying roles of somewhat ‘official rank’ (versus the unexpected heroes who land in positions requiring bravery purely by circumstance). Since the mark of his debut as an action hero in 2002’s Bhagavathi his fans have had ample doses of the star in ‘uniform’ - sanctioned types like military garb, as well as symbolic ones like the bright white dhoti. Of his last 11 films the star has played an authority role in 6 of them. Compared to other Kollywood actors in his age range, Vijay seems to have taken on the role of a police or army officer, intelligence operative, bodyguard, collector and local don more than any other major star – and that is not a bad thing, nor is it probably a coincidence.

When it comes to the box office Vijay has had his greatest action-film success with Pokkiri and Thuppakki, where he portrayed a cop and an army officer, respectively, and both had responsibilities of undercover work. As fans are continuing to experience Thalaivaa in the theatres only time will tell if Vijay’s second shot at the ‘don’ position, following Bhagavathi, has been as fruitful as his other recent blockbusters.

But regardless of the financial success at hand, what is truly interesting about the slew of characters this beloved star has played is that, although the occupations of some of his action characters may be similar, – the maturity of them seems to be progressing with time. For instance, when comparing the undercover officer role in Pokkiri with the top-secret special rank army official in Thuppakki we see a more strategic and somewhat emotionally calmer hero in the latter. In instances where Thamizh’s loved ones or innocent females are in danger in Pokkiri we see immediate & powerfully sensitive reactions; whereas Jigdesh in Thuppakki is motivated enough to put his sister in harm’s way in order to complete his mission, having the confidence that he can save her when the time comes. Similarly, it goes without saying to all those who have seen both films that Thalaivaa’s don character is far more focused and driven on behalf of those less fortunate, rather than Bhagavathy, who very reluctantly takes up his influential position. Is this progression the work of writers developing new characters with the star in mind? Or are these perhaps, in part, the work of Vijay, who presumably chooses his roles based on his own growth? Most likely it is both, because perhaps this is all part of a grander plan helping Vijay build his image of authority for the future, and reinforcing the ideals of justice and social activism he has publicly supported before. It is commonly known that in early 2011 Vijay announced his interest to enter politics at some point, having participated in campaigning for parties and publicly speaking out against corruption and violence. This noble nature is bound to come across in his screen decisions as he takes to playing roles of social service more often than others. Furthermore, his trend of maturing authority roles is also reflective of how the original members of Vijay’s fan base, who have followed the star since his beginnings in the early ‘90s, are also growing up with the star, and presumably growing more appreciative of increasingly serious subject matter.

Although rumors of Thalaivaa having a political focus began early on during production, little is known for sure about the plotline of Vijay’s next film Jilla. However, fans shouldn’t be too surprised if his practice of putting on ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ uniforms continues as Vijay grows older, and possibly enters the next stage of his career. Regardless of the number of times he takes on such roles, devoted fans and cinema lovers alike will pay attention, not only to witness continued growth, but also for his consistently outstanding performances that breathe freshness into his characters every time.

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