Actor Raj Arjun on his ‘Thalaivii’ experience

The actor on essaying R.M. Veerappan in the Hindi version of the biopic on J. Jayalalithaa, and how he got his acting break because of daughter Sara Arjun

When Raj Arjun left his hometown of Bhopal to try his luck in Mumbai, he had with him a letter for Naseeruddin Shah. It was written by his guru and theatre legend Habib Tanvir, recommending him.

That was two decades ago. Despite his best efforts, Raj could not reach the great actor.

Raj was on his own, more or less, in Mumbai. After years of doing small roles, he got a breakthrough with the Aamir Khan film Secret Superstar. Things now finally seem to be looking up for the actor, whose latest release is Thalaivii. He also recently played Sai Baba in the web series Sabka Sai.

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In the Hindi version of the biopic on J. Jayalalithaa, he is playing R.M. Veerappan. “I am glad that I could play the character of Veerappan, who is such an important figure in Tamil Nadu politics and cinema,” Raj tells The Hindu. “I was excited about Thalaivii the minute director A.L. Vijay told me about it.”

He says watching Samuthirakani, who essayed the role of Veerappan in the Tamil and Telugu versions, was an interesting experience. “He is such a fine actor and we got along well during the shoot,” he says. “Thalaivii has come out well and I would say this is one of the important roles of my career.”

Also Read | ‘Thalaivii’ movie review: Arvind Swami kills it as MGR in a Jayalalithaa biopic that has her playing a cameo

That career, he had fears, might never take off while he struggled in Mumbai. “I had made a name on the stage in Bhopal, and my family had — and still has — a crockery business, which I was supposed to look after. But I chose to go to Mumbai,” says. “I was getting fed up with doing insignificant roles and I took a conscious decision not to do any more of them. I could afford to do it, because my family back in Bhopal could support me financially.”

Then a big break came out of the blue. He had accompanied his daughter Sara — the child actor who played the daughter of Vikram in Deiva Thirumagal — for an audition.

With his daughter Sara Arjun

“During the meeting with casting director Mukesh Chhabra, he told me about auditions happening for Aamir Khan’s new film, and asked me to give it a try,” he says. “I was delighted to be part of that film; it also fetched me a best actor for the negative role.”

Recently, he won the best actor award at the International Film Festival of South Asia at Toronto for The Miniaturist of Junagarh, and Naseeruddin Shah was his co-star in the film.

He still has that letter.

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