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South Indian Actor Vikram on Bollywood Films

Written By Chiyaan Vikram on Monday, June 24, 2013 | 9:28 PM

I am developing a serious inferiority complex. A man in a loose tee and baggy jeans, huge stereo headphones carelessly hanging around his neck, fit as a fiddle, walks into the room. He’s South superstar Cheeyan Vikram and he’s 46. But he looks like a high school graduate. No wonder he grabs female attention wherever he goes. At the suburban office where we’re scheduled to meet, it’s the same story. Women are going weak-kneed all over. Girls in my office were ready to walk over my dead body to interview him. He smiles when I tell him about his popularity in Mumbai. 

Vikram made a distinct foray into Hindi films with Mani Ratnam’s Raavan in 2010 and more recently David (2012). But we don’t start by talking films. I’m more interested in knowing how he looks the way he does. “Exercise and diet,” pat comes the reply. He says it’s frustrating to follow a diet routine as he’s a foodie but he’s got used to it. He goes on to talk about the ill-effects of a severe diet. He talks of how Hollywood actor Christian Bale lost oodles of weight to look his part in The Machinist and The Fighter. In between those movies he beefed up to look muscular in the Batman movies. “It affects you drastically. Watch The Dark Knight Rises and you’ll notice he’s lost the charm on his face. But it’s worth it. I’d do it too.” Apparently, he has. It’s too early to talk about his next ambitious project but Vikram has signed up for a one-year deal with Shankar who directed him in Aparichit (2005). “It’s a massive film. I play three diverse characters. This film will shock everyone,” he asserts. We’re waiting. Excerpts from the chat... 

“The films down South are larger than life” 

Viewers in Tamil cinema want their actors to emerge as ultimate winners. The films down South are larger than life. It’s okay to sometimes have two heroes in the same story but you can’t have two stories with different heroes. The Hindi audience is receptive to realism to an extent but the South audience want films that are snappy and have masala. To hold their attention every scene must have a joke or some kind of twist.  

“If I have to do a Malayalam film, I’ll have to do it for free”

I’d tried to get into Malayalam films before I gained recognition in Tamil cinema with Sethu (1999). Today, if I were to work in a Malayalam film, I’ll have to do it for free. The budget of a film is less than my fee. I see no point in doing average work free of cost. I’m earning my bread and butter in Tamil films. 

“Why should I dance on stage and make a spectacle of myself?” 

The South audience has a different psyche. Once actors start doing stage shows, they might think we are jobless. Or we’re doing it to earn easy money. Even if someone offered me five crores to compere or 10 crores to dance, I won’t do it. In fact, none of the male stars down South would do it. Working in advertisements was a rare feat until now. It’s only recently that male stars have started doing them. Stage shows are a straight no no. For South viewers, familiarity breeds contempt. The more they see you, the faster they lose interest in you. You can understand when actresses do stage shows. They get paid between Rs 10 to 20 lakh and the audience doesn’t really mind that.

“I had to do a Hindi film to get invited to a film festival”

There are so many film festivals happening around the globe but South stars are never invited because for the world, Indian cinema means only Hindi films. And if someone decides to call people from the South industry, then they’ll have to call Bengali and Bhojpuri artistes too. Our problem is that we have so many languages, religions, states and dialects that it’s difficult to give equal attention to all. So Hindi is the language everyone wants to associate with. A friend who works for the Marrakech International Film Festival told me she would invite me for David. I had to do a Hindi film to get there. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, so be it.

“I don’t take success too seriously” 

I’ve won awards, worked with the best of directors and have become an icon but I don’t carry that aura. I’ve worked hard to earn this image. I realise when you take your success too seriously, you become lonely. You can’t build a wall around yourself. If you do, you might restrict those who enter but you’re not letting yourself move out either. So you become delusional about your success and failure. I’m a superstar but I pick up DVDs and groceries myself. I have a gym at home but I go to a local gym and work out there. I’m comfortable with this lifestyle. And if people walk up to me and talk it’s okay. I make sure cinema doesn’t intrude into my personal space. Likewise when I work no one from home calls me.

“My family enjoys its privacy” 

My family has its privacy and they’re happy with it. My wife (Shailaja Balakrishnan) told me the other day that she had travelled by bus. I’m scared for her safety because autos and buses in Chennai are unsafe. My kids (Akshita, 19 and Dhruv, 14) accompany me to most shows I attend. But they opt to sit behind in the crowd. They don’t like sitting in front with me. There is too much pressure to be well-dressed and be civil and polite in front of the crowd. They prefer to sit behind and make fun of everyone, including me. They’ll gossip constantly. From the industry, mine is the only family which enjoys this kind of privacy. Vijay’s family or any other superstar’s family are celebrities in their own right.

“I wish to do crossover cinema” 

The next step is to do international films. Because I’m Indian, there aren’t too many roles around. But I want to do crossover movies. I have this undeniable passion for cinema. I want to keep pushing the bar and do stuff that’s out of the box. People have liked me in Aparachit, Raavan and David. My next movie will be completely different. 

“David was an exciting project to work in”

I got 17 offers for Hindi films after Aparichit released in 2005. I was waiting for something exciting. I worked with Mani Ratnam for both Raavan and Raavanan in 2010. After which Bejoy Nambiar came to me with the scripts of Shaitan and David. Things didn’t work out then. After I saw Shaitan and the great work Bejoy had done, I called him to ask if David was still happening. Bejoy told me it was and that’s how I became part of it. Initially, Bejoy wanted me for the role played by Neil Nitin Mukesh. But I wanted to play the track, which I ended up doing in the film. I found my role in David to be fun, crazy and irreverent; exactly what I was looking for. I told Bejoy clearly that I’d either do this or not work in the film. He had to agree. Later he told me that he couldn’t imagine anyone else doing that role.

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