Amazon Prime Video’s first Tamil original series Vella Raja features a ruthless and ambitious drug dealer from Chennai who will stop at nothing to expand his cocaine business. If Deva sounds like an aspiring Pablo Escobar, it works just fine for the actor playing him. “I’m a fan of Pablo Escobar, actually,” Bobby Simha told Scroll.in. “I have been following Narcos and a lot of the other crime and gangster series online, including Sacred Games, and I used to wonder why there hasn’t been a similarly themed series in Tamil. That’s when producer SR Prabhu called me to tell me about Vella Raja – talk about fortuitousness.”
The connection is made explicit in one of the episodes, when Deva points to footage of Escobar on his television set and tells his employees that he wants to lead a life as thrilling and flamboyant as the infamous Colombian drug lord. “At least for a few days, I want to live like him,” Deva declares. A henchman replies, “You’ll only end up living for a few days with that kind of a lifestyle”.
Directed by Guhan, the first season of Vella Raja comprises ten episodes and is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video. The cast includes Parvatii Nair, Gayathrie, Kaali Venkat, Yuthan Balaji and TM Karthik.
Vella Raja is the story of how Deva runs his business and dodges his rivals and the police from a place called Bawa Lodge. “When I heard the narration, the script was exactly like how I had hoped it would be,” Simha said. “It was racy and had the right amount of drama. I really liked Deva’s character. I liked all of it.”
Vella Raja marks Simha’s debut in a web series. The 35-year-old actor made his feature film debut with a cameo in Balaji Mohan’s Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi in 2012. His breakout role came two years later with Karthik Subbaraj’s action comedy Jigarthanda, an unofficial remake of the 2006 Korean drama A Dirty Carnival. Simha played Assault Sethu, a Madurai gangster who decides to become an actor. The film won Simha a National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Over the years, Simha has been seen in an assortment of roles in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema: Chennai Ungalai Anbudan Varaverkirathu (2015), Bangalore Naatkal (2016), Ko 2 (2016), Iraivi (2017), Karuppan (2017), Thiruttu Payale 2 (2017) and Kammara Sambhavam (2018). His most recent role was as the villain Raavana Pichai in Hari’s Vikram-starrer Saamy 2.
Simha will also feature in Karthik Subbaraj’s upcoming Rajinikanth-starrer Petta. The actor was reluctant to reveal details about his role, but at the launch of the film’s soundtrack in Chennai, Simha said that Petta has fulfilled his longstanding dream of acting alongside “his Thalaivar”, Rajinikanth.
Petta will be followed by Seerum Puli, the biopic of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Prabhakaran, which will be directed by Venkatesh Kumar. “It is going to be really challenging to recreate a legend’s life,” Simha said. “I’ve been an admirer of his ever since I read about him in history books as a child. To think I get to play him on screen. I have to do it properly, so I’ve begun the homework.”
Vella Raja, Seerum Puli and Petta constitute a renewed phase in Simha’s career. Over the last one year, Simha has decided to trim back his workload. “I’ve become very selective,” he said. “Three years ago, I did a lot of films in quick succession, but not all of them worked out as well as I’d hoped they would. That’s why I’ve decided to slow down and focus on one project at a time. I have to be excited enough to want to get under the character’s skin and behave like him as soon as possible. The role could be positive or negative, it doesn’t matter. The other thing that I consider is the banner or the production house.”
This doesn’t mean that Simha regrets his past choices. “All my films have been learning experiences,” he said. “I’ve always believed that if you climb up, you have to climb down too. So, for me, each experience is something that makes me stronger for the future.”