Oma from Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru is a character with no middle-ground. Intense, dark, and unrelentingly brutal, he is the quintessential villain with no streaks of white. He is, as a colleague puts it, just plain bad. In the movie, he is depicted as a perpetually dust-covered gang leader of a terrifying tribal group.
In reality though, he is nothing like it.
Seated in a garden-like smoking area at a centrally-located posh hotel in Chennai, Abhimanyu Singh and his wife, Sargam, walk in right on time for the interview. While he prepares for his photographs to be taken, Sargam fills me in on the film’s reception. “It’s a terrific film, and I was mighty impressed with the story as it’s based on true incidents,” she says. Sargam has a grouse, though. “The film would do much better if they start playing it with subtitles in theatres outside Tamil Nadu.”
Sargam likes to accompany her husband of 12 years to sets only when there isn’t a lot of work, or when an important lunch with the team is to take place. “I find these shoots boring because everybody is doing their work and I have nothing to do there,” she laughs, adding that she usually takes care of some aspects of his work including costumes. Space, Sargam says, is extremely important, and she tries not to be in the way when he’s performing.
Abhimanyu Singh, in the past few years, has been quite a popular face in Indian cinema. Having acted in films such as Gulaal, Rakta Charitra, Gabbar Singh, 10 Enradhukulla, and most recently, Mom starring Sridevi Boney Kapoor, it’s no surprise that most associate him with villainous roles.
But that needn’t be a bad thing, really.
“People think I can fit into this category of playing intense characters. Fortunately, and thankfully now, I’m working in a couple of films where you can see me in lighthearted roles – comedies and some positive characters as well. Earlier, I believed that a beggar couldn’t be a chooser. But now maybe I’ll be able to choose my roles more,” he says.
For TAO, it wasn’t very difficult to get him on board. “The makers called me from Chennai and said that it’s a very interesting role. The first thing that attracted me about the film was that it’s based on a true story. My character had a history, a past, and he’s been absconding all these years, changing his name and profession; the unpredictability about the character made him very interesting,” he says.
The preparation that went into the role was of another level – something that practically broke his routine.
“I used to sleep at odd hours, ate junk food, rarely met people or engaged in polite conversations; was just thinking about the character and how he would have been or behaved given the circumstances. But as far as Theeran is concerned, I was easily able get out of character once I realised it was still on my mind.”
He recollects how it wasn’t simple to get out of Bukka Reddy, a role so memorable to him, in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rakta Charitra. But for Oma, it took lesser effort. “After the film, when I was home, I was talking to my wife and she could sense that I wasn’t there, but somewhere in Rajasthan. You can’t just shake off a character like a robot; I’m not a switch-on switch-off actor that way. With a little bit of difficulty I came out, but I still miss him,” he reminisces, adding that Oma had the freedom to do whatever he wanted to, and was always living on the edge.
Playing Oma wasn’t easy physically, either. His day would begin with matting himself with dust. “Only at the end of the day, I got to clean myself and remove all the dirt, which wasn’t simple.” The next morning, he would be back on sets, covered in dust again.
But it paid off, as he managed to camouflage himself among the locals. “They thought I was one of them,” he laughs.
Having worked with actors like Vijay, Vikram, Pawan Kalyan, and Puneeth Rajkumar, working with Karthi was a learning experience. “Apart from being a wonderful human being, he’s a very sensible actor. He believes in team work and in order for a scene to work, he ensures that others around him deliver a good shot. He takes a lot of effort with everyone’s performance,” he reveals.
Unsurprisingly, Abhimanyu is a fan of many other actors from the industry, including veteran ones like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.
To Abhimanyu, an actor’s course will be decided “once his time arrives”. For him, it began with theatre, followed by a brief stint on television.
“There were times when I was penniless. I’d be depressed for days. Then I’d get some work, and my morale would lift. Slowly, I realised that these things are bound to happen in an actor’s life. Some films work, some don’t. It has nothing to do with the actor’s talent, only the time and the relevance,” he says.
While Abhimanyu has played several kings on a TV show called Upanishad Ganga, his dream role is to play Maharana Pratap Singh, a character closer to his roots.
Right now though, he plays a RAW agent in Anil Sharm’s Genius – someone who is initially seen as a shady character but has another layer to him. In his other film Marudhara – set in the village of Rajasthan in the 80s – Abhimanyu plays a badminton coach.
Is he apprehensive of taking up less intense roles now, I wonder before wrapping up our conversation. “Not really,” Ambhimanyu smiles, “Very few people know this, but during my theatre days, comedy was my forte really.”
The Abhimanyu Singh interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.