Vijay: A tale of humility, self-belief and perseverance

Celebrating a superstar’s birthday in India is no less than a festival. In this age of social media, the actors on their part do their bit to treat the fans too. Usually, it is in the form of a first peek at a poster or a teaser of an upcoming film—released on the hero’s birthday to cash in on the occasion. June 22 was no different as the posters of Thalapathy Vijay’s upcoming film Bigil were launched across social media with great fanfare.

One look at the posters and you couldn’t be faulted for thinking that it’s a poster of some old Vijay-starrer. The images show the actor in two distinct get-ups, one a presumably middle-aged character, and the other, a young footballer. It’s the latter that pleasantly surprises you, considering that Vijay has been in the industry for over 25 years. How does a man who just turned 45 continue to have such youthful looks? The physical appearance can be maintained through rigorous dieting and gymming, but his charisma is just as intact.

When he debuted in the early 1990s, many premier magazines doubted whether he could survive in the industry. Never judge a book by its cover—is an aphorism apt for Vijay—as he went from strength to strength to strike a chord with the youth and family audiences by the mid to late 1990s.

Vijay transformed into a mass hero in the 2000s. In the looks department, Vijay isn’t your conventional hero. Though the initial years were a struggle, he worked hard to convert this apparent disadvantage into strength. Doing the right films is important but you also need to develop that connect with the audience to sustain it for a longer period.

The bond that Vijay has formed with his audiences is enviable. Two decades and counting, he continues to be the darling of the masses. For his fans, Vijay continues to be a virtual elder brother and for the family audience, he epitomizes the boy-next-door even today. Despite being a star with an impeccable reach, Vijay stays grounded and humble.

There have been numerous tales of Vijay being extremely cordial with his fans, irrespective of whether they are from the registered fan associations or not. He is also actively involved in social work through his network of fans. All this along with his off-screen persona have ensured an unflinching loyalty from the public. No other actor of his generation barring Ajith can vouch for such a dedicated fan base.

Vijay has also kept himself fighting fit and never let the flab take control. He’s never been a fan of the six-pack trend but what he did was ensure that he remained trim even as he aged. He is well aware that the public love him for his relatable looks. Yes, in recent times he has worked on his biceps a bit but that has had more to do with the requirements of his films.

As a result, Vijay in Pokkiri isn’t too different from what he was in Sarkar last year. Having the right appearance and energy is absolutely crucial to cater to a wide range of audience, particularly when you age. If the youth loves his energy and swag, the family audience thinks of him as one of their own. A strategic move to focus on clean mass masala entertainers from the 2000s helped him steadily expand his base.

“Vijay is a very simple person and it’s this simplicity that I like. Won’t say I was a fan of him from the start but his Ghilli impressed me,” reflects Ranchana, a home-maker based in Chennai. “He may not be rough and tough physically but he is graceful and, is an actor that we (female audiences) can relate to.” Having a huge base among women, particularly among the middle-aged, is vital for a superstar as it invariably guarantees him a long run, even if the content stays average at times.

This mutual love story between Vijay and his fans has stood the test of time. After all, who could forget the lows of 2010 when his 50th film Sura had tanked at the box office, incurring massive losses. It was the nadir of a phase between 2008-2010 where his choice of films were extremely poor and rumours of his losing stardom did the rounds. Instead, it proved to be the wake-up call for Vijay and as he hasn’t looked back since.

Having steadily built his goodwill through understated entertainers Kaavalan and Velayudham, and the Three Idiots-remake Nanban, Vijay regained momentum among the urban audience. It was a section that didn’t particularly dig him but all that has changed. And the mega-blockbuster Thuppaki was the start of a glorious upswing that he is still riding. Five of his films since 2012 have been in the list of top-5 grossers and his 2017 release Mersal became the highest grosser.

Today, Vijay has the world at his feet in terms of stardom and box office value. He is well aware of his drawbacks as an actor and hence, prefers to use his strength, which is—play to the gallery.

The critics might pan him and film buffs might dismiss him as a monotonous actor but none of it matters as long as he delivers what his fans and the general public expect from him. Their love for him is unconditional. To sum it up, a Vijay film may not enlighten or educate the audience but it guarantees entertainment every single time.

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