One of 2016’s biggest Tamil movie hits, ‘Pichaikkaran’ (the beggar) saw its protagonist, a millionaire, go under the disguise of a beggar for 48 days as a penance to save his ailing mother. The unconventional story, bolstered by performances from the supporting cast, not to mention Vijay Antony’s standout portrayal as a rich person pushed into a grim scenario, wowed critics and audiences alike.
The movie soon made its way into pop culture. The scene where a roadside beggar gets a call from a radio jockey by mistake and provides valuable insights into economics gets broadcast regularly on Tamil TV channels dedicated to screening comedy clips from movies. Cinephiles claim boisterously to this day that it inspired India’s demonetisation measure later that year — when the country invalidated its 500-Rupee and 1,000-Rupee notes overnight.
It was only a matter of time before a sequel was made.
Out now in UAE cinemas, ‘Pichakkaran 2’, as with most sequels, is big in ambition and cast. While the original was made on a smaller budget and featured not many famous actors, its successor — as indicated by its trailer — boasts of A-listers like Hareesh Peradi, Yogi Babu, YG Mahendran, Mansoor Ali Khan, Ajay Ghosh and Radha Ravi, with Kavya Thapar playing the heroine. And Antony features in a dual role and in a massy avatar, beating adversaries to pulp and sending them into the air as he grows from strength to strength. Themes like corruption, politics and poverty feature in the trailer.
Antony’s the producer, director and music composer for ‘Pichaikkaran 2’. He has also produced most of his movies till date.
Quiz Antony on how he struck a balance between such demanding tasks, and he attributes it to him being a non-expert. “I’m only learning the key things needed for my movies like sound engineering, etc,” Antony, who was in Dubai for promoting his movie, tells Gulf News over a telephonic interview. “The rest I leave it to the experts.” It is no coincidence that he first brings up sound engineering in the conversation, for he entered the film industry as a music composer nearly two decades ago.
From small beginnings to ‘Nakku Mukka’
As most origin tales go, Antony’s too was one of small beginnings. He composed the music for the Tamil movie ‘Sukran’ in 2005. The movie was forgettable, save for a cameo by the superstar Vijay. Antony’s big break came three years later with ‘Kadhalil Vizunthen’ (I fell in love), a romantic psychological thriller. Its soundtrack, especially the eminently energetic number ‘Naaku Mukka’, proved to be a phenomenon of sorts, propelling the movie to box office success.
‘Naaku Mukka’ tasted further success, when it was played at the inaugural of the 2011 Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh alongside songs by Bryan Adams and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Antony even won a Cannes Golden Lion when an Indian daily sampled his song for an ad campaign. All for a song with gibberish lyrics: “naaku” and “mooku” mean tongue and nose in Tamil.
He then followed that up with another catchy number ‘Aathichudi’ (alphabet) in the 2009 movie ‘TN09 AL4777’. Unsurprisingly, the song took a swipe at those looking for meaning in lyrics and wallowing in the nostalgia of yesteryear numbers. He followed that up with a hit album for ‘Vettaikaaran’ (the hunter), which saw the actor Vijay deliver a hit after a series of movies with a tepid performance at the box office. By then, Antony had become among the most sought-after film composers in South India. It was around this time that the acting bug bit him.
Transition into acting
‘Naan’ (me), his first movie as a hero was a crime thriller in which he played a psychopathic killer. The movie turned out to be a success and spurred remakes in many Indian languages. Antony also composed the tunes for the movie, with ‘Makayala makayala’ renting the airwaves for a long time. At one time, decoding its lyrics was an obsession in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Regardless, Antony established himself as a composer who could set to music songs — meaningful lyrics or not.
But Antony has a down-to-earth response for his success. “If I had learnt Carnatic or Hindustani or Western classical music, I’d have remained a music composer, similar to AR Rahman or Ilayaraja. The fact that I’m jumping on to one form of work to another is because I know very little about music. I have not mastered anything,” he says with a laugh.
For someone who’s churned out hits by the dozen, that admission seems a tad humble. Yet, his acting career has been equally eventful. After ‘Naan’ came its sequel ‘Salim’ (2014), which was also a critical and commercial success. Then came movies like ‘India Pakistan’, a romantic comedy; and actioners such as ‘Kodiyil Oruvan’ (one in ten million), ‘Thimiru Pudichavan’ (the arrogant man); and ‘Kolaigaran’ (murderer).
Antony sounds equally nonchalant when quizzed about how he selects his scripts. “To be honest, I have no plan in mind. I just pick up scripts that come my way,” he says. “If you were to ask someone with a plan, he/she would say they’d want to do movies across genres or with leading directors. I don’t have any such plan.” The composer-turned-actor, however, has one criterion. The script must inspire him, even if it’s by a newbie director. “But once I decide, I’ll give it my all.”
The trend of directors (or composers) turning actors isn’t very pronounced in Indian cinema, leave alone in South India. Yet, Antony has been doing it for more than a decade now. Famous composers such as AR Rahman or the Shankar-Ehsan-Loy trio have stayed in their area of expertise. Exceptions in Bollywood include the composer-turned-actor Himesh Reshammiya, while in the South, Rahman’s nephew GV Prakash Kumar is another composer who’s discovered his acting spurs of late.
For this, Antony has a secret: keeping it simple. “Everyone multitasks these days,” he says. “A teacher, doctor, student or a homemaker. The trick is in understanding our limitations and focusing only on specific tasks at specific instants of time.”
In a statement that’s reminiscent of the 80/20 rule of priority strategy, Antony says he only focuses on key tasks like scriptwriting and basic music, and delegates tasks he can’t achieve by himself to his associates. “I’m now more focused on approving and putting things together, the larger picture.”
The only missing piece in this puzzle is production, and Antony says he waded into it out of sheer necessity. “No one would produce my movies at first, and I had to pick up that task as well,” he says with a laugh. Now a veteran in production, Antony chooses to shatter some widely-held notions about it. “Film production isn’t risky,” he says, contrary to the popular belief that it’s a field strewn with mines. “It’s not just about money, not everyone who has money gets into movie production. I believe that it’s about understanding the business fully and executing it properly. Once you do, it is wonderful.”
Antony doesn’t consider himself a trendsetter, despite Indian cinema not having many reference points for what he is attempting. “Shankar-Ganesh attempted the same way back, so please don’t call me a trendsetter,” he says, referring to the successful South Indian musical duo of the ’70s and ’80s.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Pichaikkaran 2’ is now running in UAE cinemas.