One of the reasons attributed for the much-hyped Mani Ratnam film Kadal turning out to be a damp squib at the box-office was the casting of ‘Action King’ Arjun in a negative role.
Arjun Sarja, who has been donning the hero’s mantle for nearly three decades ever since he made his debut in the Kannada film Putaani Agent 1-2-3, directed by Rajendra Singh Babu, and released in 1984, was totally ill at ease in the film in which a Mani discovery, Arvind Swamy, played the pivotal role of the protagonist. But, in the Tamil film industry, nobody says no to Mani and neither did Arjun who, however, had to add a dud film to his filmography.
Arjun, a Kannadiga, son of actor Shakti Prasad, after doing a few listless films in Kannada, found acceptance in a big way in Tamil cinema and has acted in nearly a couple of 100 films in as many as five languages. Arjun, just a year shy of 50, has earned his spurs in the film industry as a martial artiste, and most of his films have excellently choreographed action sequences. But he has also changed gears to work in soft romantic films, and has met with success in that genre too.
Arjun made his debut in Tamil in the film Nandri, but the film that really catapulted him to the big league was Shankar’s Gentleman, which incidentally marked the director’s debut as well. Gentleman had an unusual theme of an innocent villager who takes to crime to avenge the deaths of his brother and mother. Arjun, who was paired with Madhoo in the film, hogged the frames with an excellent performance, his dancing skills complementing his quicksilver reflexes in the action sequences.
Shankar, who later became one of the biggest names in Tamil cinema, again placed his faith in Arjun when he made the film Mudhalvan. Here again, the film had a novel theme where the hero, a civil rights crusader, is made the chief minister of the state for one day. Like Gentleman, Mudhalvan too had a good run at the box- office.
The softer side of the actor was visible in the Vasanth-directed Rhythm, where he played a widower alongside established stars like Meena and Jyothika. Jyothika, Arjun’s wife, perishes in an accident and Meena too loses her husband in the same train accident. The duo later develop strong feelings for each other and finally, in a striking denouement, they get together with Meena’s son playing the driving force behind the union. The same director has again cast Arjun in Moondru Per Moondru Kathal where he will be sharing the frames with two other heroes, Vimal and Cheran. In one of the latter day films that was a roaring success, Mankaatha, Arjun played a parallel role to Ajith who was in the lead. In an earlier film, Bommalattam, directed by Bharathiraaja, Arjun shared the honours with Bollywood star Nana Patekar, but the film sank without a trace.
Although an established hero in his own right, Arjun has never shied away from acting in two hero subjects, and one of his finest performances came in the Kamal Haasan film Kurudhi Punal, where both he and Kamal played police officers, part of a crack commando outfit. Arjun has often revelled in the role of a custodian of the law. In the Kannada film Attahasa, a biopic on the late sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, Arjun was assigned the role of DGP Vijayakumar, the ace police officer who finally ends the Veerappan saga. A number of action films with Arjun in the lead have met with varying degrees of success and notable among them were Sengottai, Vedam, Ezhumalai and Guru. One notable feature of this hero’s films have been his baritone voice and the tough as steel attitude that he displays. Even though he has been stereotyped often in meaningless action films, his tough physique has enabled him to do justice to each and every role.
Arjun has also forayed into other spheres of cinema and has been a committed producer and director as well. Among the films for which he wielded the megaphone, mention should be made of Sevagan, Prathap, Vedam, Ezhumalai, Parasuram and Madrasi. A couple of films where he essayed the role of a patriot too found favour with the audiences and these were appropriately titled Jai Hind and Thaayin Manikodi.
A Hanuman devotee, Arjun played the pivotal role in the Telugu film Sri Anjaneya, and the film was dubbed in Tamil too. Another Telugu film where his talents were to the fore was Rama Rama Krishna Krishna. Apart from Attahasa, Arjun acted in the much-acclaimed Kannada film Prasad, the story of a deaf and dumb boy. This film, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, had the actor in an emotional role. He even won the Karnataka State Award for his poignant portrayal in this film.
Arjun’s forthcoming films include Peralai in Tamil and Rani Ranamma in Telugu. Arjun has a lot of admirers in the industry and is one of the few leading men who have always steered clear of controversies. His success is a tribute to his perseverance and dedication, and these qualities should stand him in good stead in the future as well.