A nostalgic recount of one of his stunning song-montages on the actor’s birthday…

Mani Prabhu

ka ka po

Kathir, the tired-looking, bearded man, makes an appearance only in the eleventh minute of Nalan’s Kaadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, after the female lead’s character exposition has been thoroughly sculpted, replete to the minutest detail. And suddenly, when you have all your focus on the girl trying with all her might to hold onto a sincere resolve, here was a gruff character almost walking into the scene like an extra. You recognize him as the protagonist because he’s played by Vijay Sethupathi. There is no other way you would know. For one, he gets the most non-heroic of entries. There is nothing showy about it, except for the scorn on his face. Secondly, and most importantly, VJS plays Kathir in such unassuming form that anyone unfamiliar with Tamil cinema might not realize that the lead pair has actually met.

The film’s most riotous sequence that delightfully explodes over the course of the three minute long ‘Pangali’ song happens just a few minutes later – in fact, just a scene after this unceremonious of introductions. Kathir, working as a henchman with the local area councillor is having a drink, brooding over his boss’s constant refusal to acknowledge him as someone worthy of a ‘rowdy’. We, however, don’t know much of him yet. He dips a banana in his drink and has a mouthful. And VJS gives this whole set-up an impish sort of ‘coolness’ that you almost start believing that this guy is really bad-ass. Someone brings him the news that he is wanted in one of his boss’s bars to settle a brawl. The nonchalant look on his face points towards the obvious. The man is disappointed over being offered petty tasks. “Is it truly that worthy of my interference?”… the thought screaming all through his disinterested demeanour, the man rises from his chair to get it over and done with.

And the lines “Oru Oorula Orey Oru Veeran” start. It works like a charm. A classic heroic action-motif unfolding to some crazy-sync rhythm and ‘whistle-begging’ riffs. As VJS walks up the stairs of the bar, sporting a Rayban aviator and a smug gait, he stops for a moment to let us dwell on the mortal consequences of this intervention, lights a cigarette and proceeds. It’s the actor at his cocky best! We half-expect a handful of goons orbiting in mid-air, as he bends down to take the mass-hero stance. But something about Arun Raja’s nutty crooning suggests a hint of conceit. What are we being lead into?

What follows in the next 120 seconds is probably one of the most hilariously enacted stretches of self-deprecating heroism (or anti-heroism, depending on how you choose to look at it) in recent times. VJS ups the ante every passing second with his brash antics, making the whole exercise seem like his daily bread and better. As he walks up to the mischief mongers, and attempts to assert his presence, our anticipatory high is sky-rocketing. You have to see him hand over his glasses on the way to an elderly man, hinting at some sort of a one-stroke-brutal-spree, to believe what I am talking about. And the music adds up to the tension. The lines in the background go “Avan Peru Solla Moochilla..Vaazhtha Vayasilla…” It’s rousing. You almost forget to blink.

The dialogues reek of arrogance. It’s a picture of a hero, with a capital H who clearly doesn’t want to let things drag. The guys responsible for the fuss, however, don’t seem threatened. Kathir takes a few jabs, and on realizing the futility of verbal threats, goes for a stylish blow to the face of the gang leader. And argh… misses it by a sloppy mile. This is where the tables are ludicrously turned on the scene. The song continues, giving the same heroic vibes. But before four trained fighters, our man is quickly reduced to a sorry joke. A lot of hurling happens. Bottles are broken. Plates are shattered! The squabble is so realistically gawky, that you suddenly see who Kathir is! VJS plays this moment, getting battered mercilessly before he could even manage a single move worthy of all his early flamboyance, so brilliantly that you feel sorry for the man, but still cannot stop laughing at the clumsiness of it all. The farce is irresistible.

But the man saves his best for the end, when the gang leader goes up in the air and lands a fierce kick on VJS’s chest. It’s what you call a deadly punch. VJS ends up sprawled on the floor, and the song instantly stops. A micro-second of silence. And before you could even get the gravity of the ‘ouch’, the man springs up like the 90s hero who returns to his feet after the first blow, and with the air of someone who had just destroyed a horde, starts walking back. The song starts again. Almost snatching back his glasses on the way, he readjusts his hand-cuffs. The lines and the man’s mannerisms scream of someone who had owned the moment, but we know otherwise. The character had been given the best exposition ever.

The coup de grâce? When we are still gaping at the way the man carries the fake swagger, there is this blink-and-you-miss moment when VJS almost grabs a cigarette from the mouth of an unsuspecting bystander just before royally sprinting down the stairs. Absolute gold.