‘Action king’ Arjun is out to prove that he can do a lot more than flexing muscles. He has played a variety of roles in recent times and experimented with film-making too, writes R S PRAKASH
HAILED as the ‘action-king of the south’, Arjun has always lived up to his image. His recent release, Thayin Manikodi is yet another proof of this. But Arjun can also do more than flex his muscles, as films like Gentleman, Kondattem and a few others have proved. One could say that Arjun has established his credentials in the south as a versatile performer — possessing the ability to emote, do the usual dance-around-trees routine and reduce the baddies to pulp. Now, he has proved himself a successful director too!
As far as his acting career is concerned, Arjun is now closing in on his century mark. The film Mannavaru Chinnavaru, in which he is co-starring with thespian actor Sivaji Ganesan, is going to be his 100th film. The film is slated for release on the Pongal day.
Both as an actor and a person, Arjun is absolutely uninhibited. He has no ‘star airs about him. Kamal Hasan once said. “When I decided to cast Arjun in Kurudipunal, (a Tamil remake of Govind Nihalani’s Droh Keel), I was told that he was shooting at the capital for the Tamil film Senkottai. I called him up and asked whether he would he interested in co-starring with me in a cameo role. He responded readily, ‘Yes Sir. I shall do the role.’ He even re-scheduled his commitments to accommodate my film!”
Arjun’s career in the tinsel world has never been a bed of roses. His entry into films, way back in 1981, was not by choice, but by chance. Arjun’s father Shakti Prasad, who was a physical education instructor, was also an actor in Kannada films. But he never wanted his son Srinivasa Sarja (that’s Arjun actual name) to enter filmdom. Arjun, as an enthusiastic youth, dreamt of becoming a police officer. That's why he learnt karate, swimming, horseriding and such other skills that later stood him in good stead the film industry.
“I had earlier turned down a film which proved to be a box-office hit and propelled the lead-actor to stardom. Consequently, I realised that I really wanted to make it big on the big screen, some day,” confesses Arjun.
“A director known to my father asked him if he would like a career in films for his son. My father said a firm no. But that filmmaker summoned me to the shooting spot, telling me that my father had signalled green! When my father learnt of what had happened, he said, ‘Now that you have come in, don’t step back. Stay and try to achieve something’. That was how I turned an actor!”
Arjun’s maiden film Simhada Mari Sainya in Kannada was a reasonable hit in which Amrish PuriF played the villain. As it was a big budget bonanza, helicopters were used in the action sequences. What followed was a lull. An adolescent then, Arjun could neither be projected as a man nor a boy! But his film Asha, in which he played a young lover, made the grade commercially, giving him a fresh Lease of hope and opportunity. But yet again, there was a lull and Arjun nearly gave up hopes of a comeback.
It was at this juncture that director Rama Narayanan featured Arjun in the lead role in the Tamil film Nandri. The film did fairly well and offers followed successively, forcing him to move to Madras. He started working round the clock with most of his films clicking at the box-office. In his career spanning close to two decades, Arjun has weathered several tough storms and survived.
Kodi Ramakrishna, a well-known Telugu filmmaker, launched Arjun into Telugu films. Mae Pallelo Gopaludu, his debut film in Telugu, ran for a whole year!
“I have been so totally involved and committed to this field that I don’t even know any other trade. But I have always been fascinated by the technical aspects of the industry. I used to closely observe the manner in which a shot is conceived and executed. This obsession gave me the courage for a directorial venture. My friends cautioned me against investing money in what they called a gamble. But I decided to go ahead,” says Arjun. His film Sevagan was thus born. It was about a cop crusading against anti-social elements, with a bit of emotional drama thrown in. Arjun directed, produced and scripted it, besides starring in the lead role. “When the film ran for 100 days, I breathed a sigh of relief.” says Arjun. This gave him the much-needed confidence and money for his successive productions, Pretap and Jai Hind. All of Arjun’s pro- ductions are characterised by a patriotic flavour.
All the films made by him so far have been penned keeping the box-office in mind, Sometime in the future, Arjun also hopes to be able to make a film for the pure pleasure of the art of film-making!
It was while making Pretap that Arjun was offered a role in director Shankar’s Gentleman, which proved to be his biggest success. Arjun was initially reluctant to accept the role. “After I listened to the story, I realised it had a big potential. I really enjoyed working with Shankar who was a debutante then, while I had already acted in over 75 films!” reminisces Arjun.
It was director and producer S Thanu who gave Arjun the title ‘Action king’ while making the film Mannavaru Chinnacaru. Incidentally, Thanu is also making his 100th film.
After so much success, doesn’t the fear of being typecast bother him?
“As a matter of fact, I would prefer to portray a wide range of roles. But my audience seem to like me better this way and that’s perhaps why I find myself staying stuck to that image quite often,” he says. It was Bruce Lee who inspired him, adds Arjun. He would cry with excitement as he watched Enter the Dragon.
What does he prefer between acting and directing?
“I am happy when I act, but happier when I direct. Though it involves a greater effort it is a great experience and a feeling as the whole thing is conceived by me.”
Arjun believes in setting goals and marching towards them confidently. He says, “Life is full of
surprises, with so many twists and turns. One has to take things a they come.”