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An actor by accident

S. SHIVA KUMAR

Even with the iconic Raj Kumar dwarfing every other actor in the industry, Vishnuvardhan managed to achieve superstar status. He’s his worst critic, and wears success lightly on his shoulders

Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

CHANCE LANDING  Vishnuvardhan: ‘Films just happened. I was neither passionate nor hardworking’ 

He’s acted in more than 200 films in various languages over a span of 30 years but is still remembered as the fiery rebel Ramachari in “Nagara Haavu”. Every other character he’s played since pales, but his versatility is unquestionable; be it comedy, action or the emotional stuff. Vishnuvardhan is the only actor who probably succeeded in standing up to the larger than life status of the iconic Raj Kumar. Vishnuvardhan has weathered personal and prof essional tsunamis but has not budged from the niche he’s carved for himself.

He’s built an aura of arrogance around himself. And so, with great trepidation, I make a meek attempt to break into his walled existence. “It’s an animal instinct you develop. I’ve become like a creature wary of predators. I’ve been hurt so many times in my life that I don’t easily trust,” says the star, confessing to being moody. Vishnuvardhan wears a gown and a skull cap and looks like he’s ready to play Shirdi Sai Baba when he sits cross-legged in the garden. Age has ravaged his handsome face but there’s a calmness which his eyes belie. They seem to be searching for what he already knows is unattainable, an inner calm.

It’s 35 years since you entered the industry. Raj Kumar was already a superstar then and there were meaningful films being made by talented directors.

You are right. I was telling this to a friend the other day. We were able to enjoy our work and success. It was also a time when films were the major form of entertainment. We were the tail-enders.

My contemporaries and I were probably the last set of actors to enjoy the magic of cinema and working with good directors. Technology has taken over today.

In my case, films just happened. I was neither passionate nor hardworking. My guru Puttanna Kanagal was searching for a suitable actor and I fitted. I was at the right place at right time.

Did you ever ask him what he saw in you?

No. I always believe that a film just happens. Even when you plan to the last detail there are unexplainable factors that take over. I am not from the industry. I was not even an avid filmgoer. My mother had made it clear that I should not talk about cinema at home.

After working with Puttanna in your first film did it become difficult to work with others?

I don’t think so. He inspired me. I sometimes wonder how I’ve survived so many years. Acting needs a lot of imagination and passion. My roots were strong. My first film became my reference point.

It’s strange you never worked with him again.

Well, he never made a film like that again. I remember I asked him the same question and he said after “Nagara Haavu” he had not made a hero oriented film at all. The kind of success I enjoyed with that one film is amazing. Stars from all over the country would watch the film and make it a point to meet me. I met actors whom I longed to meet. What more could I ask for?

When did you start taking your career seriously?

I never did. If my film had flopped I would have probably become a cop. I hate being answerable to people. But of late, I’ve become sensitive and insecure. I used to do films for the sake of friendships. In retrospect, I feel I’ve invested my emotions on unworthy people. I was exploited.

Are you referring to Dwarkish?

It’s not any one person. At that point I valued the person more than my profession.

Your easy-going attitude reflected in your choice of movies too. You are 100 per cent right. If I was interested in buying a car and a producer offered it to me I would sign the film. I have made many a blunder. I don’t know whet her to call it innocence, ignorance or arrogance. But I’ve always been a harmless guy.

One thing I cannot understand is why you played the villain in “Gandhada Gudi” when you were an established hero?

I grabbed the opportunity because I had watched Raj Kumar from the age of seven. I was to play his brother and I never bothered about the footage.

Let’s clear that gunshot controversy. What really happened? Why were you blacklisted?

It was because of certain people. I was even present when it took place. The shot was between Balakrishna and Raj Kumar. We were watching. The loaded rifle was given to Balakrishna in a hurry because they wanted to wrap up shooting. Luckily, the safety lock was closed. It was only after twelve takes that they realised the damn thing was not working. It was MP Shankar’s rifle but he was attending to something else.

So why did they involve you?

That’s a mystery to me. This went on for a long time and I was victimised for no fault of mine. Of late I have realised that if a person is going through a bad patch he has to suffer whether he’s the Kanchi Acharya or Vishnuvardhan.

Did this affect your relationship with Raj Kumar?

Not at all. He told me to be calm and said any reaction would only add fuel to the fire. I know some of the people who were responsible. They are no more.I underwent a lot of humiliation. But I would love to know is what the perpetrators gained out of it.

Why are you known as a difficult person?

I don’t know. Nothing makes me happy or sometimes everything makes me happy. I don’t watch myself or like to get photographed. I hate myself. I am very difficult to deal with. Hats off to the people who’ve tolerated and served me for all these years, be it my staff or family.

You have done all kinds of roles but at one stage you got branded as “Sahasa Simha”.

It was the era of Bruce Lee. The only two artistes who learnt martial arts were Kamal Hasan and myself. The stunt masters utilised our talent. The audiences lapped it up. I never took these titles seriously.

You did do a cameo in the shelved “Marudhanayakam” directed by Kamal.

I played Wajid Khan. It was a pleasure because we entered the industry together. He respects me and his passion for cinema is amazing.

Filmmakers say Vishnu still does not want to play his age.

It’s not me. It’s the fans. When I do an “Ekadanta” they are not satisfied. They want more of me. There are certain expectations from a Vishnuvardhan starrer.

You suddenly turned towards spirituality and philosophy.

Don’t you think that’s the truth? I don’t know when or how it happened, but it was for the better.

People expect you to fill the void left by Raj Kumar where solving the industry’s problems are concerned.

Nobody can solve these problems. I used to call Raj Kumar an avadhootha. Nobody knows, but I talk to him when I’m in a trance. I’ve had these experiences over the last year. He was a man who never pretended. I was affect ed physically by these experiences. I underwent emotional trauma. There was a sweet way he used to address me. I miss him terribly. We have been culturally orphaned by his demise.

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