As Raavanan rocks the box office, actor Vikram gets chatting about his multi-dimensional performance and his onward journey through tinseldom

Despite the mixed response to Raavanan, Mani Ratnam's intriguing take on the Ramayana continues to draw audiences to the theatres.

For Vikram, who plays the manic, muddy-faced Veera with dramatic flourishes, it's been a whirl since the release of Raavanan/ Raavan/ Villain. The actor has given 200 interviews over the last fortnight, but remains cheery when the dictaphone is switched on for this one. “Veera has so many layers. He is volatile, yet vulnerable. Even his silence exudes profundity. During a live show for a television channel, a young girl wept when she spoke of Veera. I've heard a number of people debate about the climax. It moves me. The response to the film has been encouraging. In fact, some theatres in the South seem to have done record business.”

It's not easy portraying two roles (with twists) from an epic that's ingrained in our minds since childhood. But as someone with a burning desire to outdo himself with every film, Vikram pulls off the fierce Veera and the feisty Dev with rare panache. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me to perform two contrasting roles in the Tamil and the Hindi versions. No two people can be as diametrically opposite as Rama and Ravana. And what made that little twist in their characterisation more significant to me was that both, though different, were aggressive in their own way. I had to work hard on this aspect. It would have been a lot simpler for me had Dev been a soft, straight-faced stereotype and Veera, the other extreme!”

With simultaneous shooting going on for Hindi and Tamil, all Vikram did was work on his body language to bring out the contrasts in the characters. The intensity in his eyes when he is filled with the dilemma to kill or caress his captive is remarkable. The good guy has sinister shades and the bad one has a soft interior. “One is cold, stylish and calculative; the other is shrewd, scruffy and emotional. Body language did a great deal in establishing the dissimilarities.”

In a career spanning two decades, the actor has taken challenges head-on and experimented with roles. But ask him if he feels trapped in this need to experiment simply because the audience expect it of him every time, and pat comes the response. “Nope. I've always felt the need to satisfy myself first. It pains me when I'm not able to find an interesting character to play. Which is why, sometimes, I don't give the nod till I'm excited with a character or the script. I just love playing something I'm not every time! The more different the role is from what I am in real life, the better it is for me!”

Actor and star

Walking the tightrope between an actor and a star with an oeuvre that showcases a mix of performance-driven roles (think Kasi, Pitamagan or Anniyan) and breezy ones (a la Dill, Dhool or Saamy), Vikram says this balance is “a breather” for him and the audience too. “Sometimes after a heavy film, I consciously want to get away from the grit and grime and do something light… of course, with scope for good performance. But there is a dearth of performance-driven scripts. So sometimes, such juggling happens by default!”

From the rocky ranges of Raavanan, Vikram hits the fast track to fun with Bhoopathy Pandian's Vedi. “It's a comic caper. Let's see how it shapes up. I loved the director's work in Thiruvilayadal Arambam. I've done a serious cop film early in my career which turned out to be a comedy because of my inability to carry off the role! So it could work the other way this time… a comic film becoming super serious!”

Also coming up is a psycho-thriller with director Selvaraghavan. Going by his previous performances, does he have a flair for characters that delve into the psyche? Or is this because of his wife who is into psychology? “Ha ha… Not really. She calls me a half-baked psychologist. Probably, I just picked up some stuff from her. I love playing intense roles. The more unusual or twisted they are, the more I want to do them. I'm waiting for those really deviant ones on the lines of what Anthony Hopkins or Jack Nicholson play,” says the actor who will also be doing films with directors Vasanthabalan, Hari, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Ameer.

Having entered production with a film to be directed by Sasikumar of Subramaniapuram fame, Vikram says he hasn't set any specific goals for himself. “I'm just testing the waters now. But I want to encourage newcomers and maybe do those really interesting scripts that I cannot do because of market compulsions. Perhaps, I'll look at small budget films with interesting subjects. That way, there's no need to justify market whims and fancies.”

The wry tone makes you retrace Vikram's days of initial struggle and his incredible journey post-Sethu when his scrip scaled a new high. “I break my career into two — before and after Sethu. I was playing a run-of-the-mill hero and didn't have a say. It was a question of survival in a field I loved the most. Director Bala woke me up. Since then, I'm constantly questioning myself and crossing new learning curves.”

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