Come April 13, it is going to be a cracker of a Tamil New Year with the release of the highly anticipated Thalapathy Vijay film, Beast.
Reportedly made on a budget of Rs 150 crore, this Nelson Dilipkumar directorial is perhaps the biggest film of Vijay’s - a Sun Pictures production; largest theatrical release globally, with releases in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi; and a whopping remuneration.
Diehard fans and the audience have already made both the songs released from the film - "Arabic Kuthu" and "Jolly O Gymkhana" - superhits.
Star and darling of the Tamil film industry, Vijay, 47, needs no introduction. He started out as a child artiste introduced by his father, director and producer S.S. Chandrashekar.
The kind of films young Vijay started out with - a little more crass than class - to establishing himself as a romantic hero and then action hero, has purely been on his own steam. Today, Vijay has achieved superstar status commanding a remuneration of over Rs 100 crore per film and very clear on what kind of projects he wants to work on.
All about the image
One of the aspects of Vijay’s career that stands out is his desire to have a good, clean onscreen and offscreen image. This seems to be a conscious and continuous effort on his part through his career, especially in the last decade, to woo the masses. If in Ghilli and Pokkiri, the actor was seen saving young girls from the clutches of bad men, in Thuppakki and Theri, his role as an intelligence officer and cop fighting to protect the weak was loved by the audience. Trying to free people from the clutches of ruthless corporates was his mantra in Mersal and Kaththi.
What Vijay seems to be doing - consciously or subconsciously - is following the route taken by actor and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) - being a messiah for the masses, protecting women and strong family values. While MGR paid a lot of attention to songs and the social message they sent out, Vijay’s film songs are more peppy and geared towards the youth. But social themes are a strong element in Vijay’s films - the fight against corporates, against corruption, against exploitation, and so on.
Most of his films in the last decade have turned out to be hits - except the experimental ones like Puli, a 2015 fantasy adventure film. What the star realised was that the audience loved him in the romantic action hero/saviour of the masses roles in contemporary society. So he has rigorously stuck to formula films that click with the audience. But again these formula films had to give him ample scope for romance, action and family sentiment and this is what all the directors he collaborates with work hard on. And yes, it is always the top actresses of the south who are paired with him, given his stature and the need to give the audience a new pairing on screen - Kajal Aggarwal, Keerthy Suresh, Nayanthara, Samantha and now, Pooja Hegde in Beast.
With a growing market in other states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and now even in Hindi, Vijay’s soaring popularity has ensured that he remains the top bankable star in Tamil Nadu in the last decade. Director of hits like Maya and Game Over, Ashwin Saravanan, says about Vijay, “I feel he is one of the most flamboyant showmen we have in our country right now. He is currently in the prime of his life and oozing energy, both on and off screen. It can only get better from here.”
Betting on fans
Vijay hardly gives interviews or does media interactions, so how does his film get marketed? By his fans. And how does he respond to controversies or issues (like the IT raids in 2020) he is embroiled in? Through a very short press release, if at all. The large fanbase the star has and the love fans have for him, drives them to market his films, both online and offline.
The Beast star has hardly given any interviews in the last decade and does practically no promotions for any of his films. He does come for events organised by his producers, like an audio launch, and his speeches are always well-rehearsed with some key message for people. During the Master audio launch in 2020, he stated, “Kill them with your success, bury them with your smile.” This is a mantra which he seems to be clearly following.
Politics: Yes or No?
Three former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu had strong affiliations with the Tamil film industry - MGR, Kalaignar Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. Other stars including Vijayakanth, Sivaji Ganesan, Sarath Kumar and Khushbu, are also part of the state’s political history, and it has been a natural progression for many actors to try their luck in politics in their later years. Vijay’s political ambitions are widely spoken about though the actor has never made any official announcement.
However, his father’s attempt in 2020 to register Vijay’s fan club as a political party (All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam) with the Election Commission created a rift between them. Vijay immediately distanced himself from his father and filed lawsuits against the office bearers of the fan club as well as his parents for using his name in their political campaigns. This is the first time the Bigil star openly took action against his father who had always spoken about the actor’s political ambitions. Vijay then issued a statement saying, “I inform my fans and the public that there is no relation whatsoever between the political party that my father has started and me, directly or indirectly.”
It is only in Tamil Nadu, perhaps, that fan clubs have been used as a weapon for political change and we have seen many Tamil film stars capitalise on their fanbase to get into politics. Kamal Haasan and Vijaykanth are the two most recent examples. Vijaykanth, who established the Dravida Murpokku Desiya Kazhagam used his fans to contest the local body polls before he launched his own party in 2005. In 2021, 169 Vijay fans contested as independent candidates in nine districts and 115 emerged victorious in the rural body polls held in Tamil Nadu in 2021. Vijay personally endorsed this move by his fan club members though he didn’t take the political plunge. So was this a sign of bigger things to come? Only time will tell.
"Actor Vijay has been consciously building his image on screen and off screen through his films with a message (be it Sarkar or Bigil or Master) and his social welfare activities," said producer G. Dhananjayan. "His fan clubs are very active in carrying out several welfare activities and even participated in local body elections and won seats. He is clearly moving step by step towards his goal, which may be in politics. However, it may not be a rushed (step)... he is the top star of Tamil cinema today, with over Rs250 crore business. I strongly feel that he will build his activities in the next 10 years and then aim for the big goal," Dhananjayan added.