Starting as a child artiste in films, he grew up to become a hero. Later in his career he donned more mature roles and got busy in both silver and small screens. It was more destiny, which led him down various paths, according to senior actor Vijayakumar. He looks back at the milestones and turning points in his life in a free-wheeling conversation.
May be you should begin at the beginning…
(Laughs) You are right. I started as a child artiste in Sri Valli directed by T.R. Ramanna where Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini did the main roles. I was Bala Murugan. That was way back in 1961. As hero, I acted in about 50 films, till say, Kaali, in which I shared the screen space with the protagonist. I went away to the U.S. and was away from arc lights for a while, until Mani Ratnam offered me the role in Agni Natchatiram. I wondered whether I should do a father’s role but he convinced me. Mani Ratnam believed that the role would be talked about. A few others felt the same way. I took the plunge and you know the rest. It was a super hit and I had started my next round, playing character roles, which has continued. Till date I would have done some 750 films in all the South Indian languages, and one in Hindi too.
In that case, you would have acted with the heroes in those regional languages…
Of course. I acted with MGR (Indru Pol Endrum Vaazhga), with the late thespian Sivaji Ganesan in Deepam and with Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in many movies. Well, except Sivakarthigeyan, I have acted with all the young heroes. Same is the case with other languages.
How did the small screen entry happen?
The credit goes to Ramya Krishnan. She wanted me to do a role in her television serial ‘Thangam.’ I politely refused because I didn’t have the time. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer and was prepared to adjust the shooting time. I agreed and I must admit that the serial, which was a super hit opened new doors for me.
I went on to do ‘Vamsam’ and ‘Nandini’ and now ‘Raasaathi.’
So what do you like the best — hero roles, supporting roles or the serials?
Well, it’s all the same as far as acting is concerned. Right now serials have a wide reach. But, how can I ignore the meaty characters, which won me accolades, in Nattamai, Natpukkaga, Kizhakku Seemaiyile, Cheran Pandian and of course Anthimantharai. I narrowly missed the national award in the last mentioned, I was told. For cinema, shooting is at a more relaxed pace, whereas for serials, it is work on all the days of the week. Now, the Lockdown has kept everyone indoors.
You are a close friend of both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. What do you like in both of them?
Rajinikanth is a quiet person, who recedes to the background after finsihsing his work. Kamal likes to discuss the scene, etc. I am also dear to all the top heroes like Ajith, Vijay, Surya, Karthi and so on.
You know all the political leaders of Tamil Nadu?
Yes, I played a role in Aringar Anna’s first foreign trip — to Singapore. I went to see him off at the airport. I admire Kamarajar, who was absolutely selfless. I have made it a point to meet and garland every Chief Minister, when they come to power, be it MGR, Madam Jayalalithaa and others.
You were producer and actor. But you did not venture into direction. Why?
Vijayakumar and Sujatha in ‘Avall Oru Thodar Kadhai’
I produced Nenjangal, in which Sivaji Ganesan, Lakshmi, Manjula and myself acted. The film was directed by Major (Sunderarajan). I did Kai Kodukum Kai, starring Rajnikanth, Revathi and Sowcar Janaki, directed by Mahendran. But this film I did not produce as such, but was in charge of production. After these two productions, I went back to acting. Direction is a big job and it is not as if I don’t know the art of directing a movie. After acting in 750 films under the baton of at least 500 directors, I do have the experience to go behind the camera but have preferred not to get involved in it.
About your son Arun Vijay?
Vijayakumar with his son actor Arun Vijay
He is going on the right path and I am happy for him. My daughters — Vanitha, Preetha and Sridevi — were all talented but their acting careers did not take off. Arun is doing well and I’m waiting to see him scale new heights.