The huge YMCA facility at Kottivakkam on Old Mahabalipuram Road is bare of greenery. Actor Vikram found it odd that an expanse of over 10 acres should wear a stark look. Armed with shovels and 100 saplings, Vikram and his fans waded into the task of giving the drearily brown grounds a dash of green. This effort — which came on Earth Day — is believed to be the beginning of a series of programmes, spearheaded by the actor, that will address issues of environment and try to mitigate the adverse effects of urbanisation.
Vikram's choice of this area of social reform follows his appointment as UN Habitat Youth Envoy for Asia; following a long-drawn selection process, UN Habitat chose four from around the world as its Youth Envoys. The other three also rely on creativity for a living: Nigerian actors Ini Edo and Ramsey Nouah and German painter Wolfgang Riegelsberger.
During a press conference called to announce a ‘Pachchai Puratchi' (Green Revolution) — at Hotel Green Park!—– Vikram took the journalists through the story of his selection to this coveted post and spelt out the plans that will do justice to this honour. (The highlight of the interaction was the disarming humour with which Vikram dodged a minefield of sensitive questions from the media).
For India and Asia, actors and cricketers with their mass appeal had been considered. Vikram Foundation — which works in areas of education and medical benefits for the economically disadvantaged and eye donation and care — impressed the panelists on the selection committee.
Vikram's primary role is to spread awareness about injudicious urbanisation and the horrors they bring in their wake — insalubrious conditions in slums teeming with people, rampant crime and green spaces losing out to development. He is aware of an actor's ability to galvanise people into action. “When I donated my eyes, a thousand of my fans followed suit.” To carry out his plans, Vikram is expected to carve out teams from his fan club.
While the option of seeking help from UN Habitat is open, Vikram appears intent on involving corporate houses in the projects. When asked if he would use his films to spread the messages, he nodded.
Audio-visuals — before the screening of his films at cinemas — drawing attention to issues the UN Habitat grapples with and subtle introduction of these themes in his films are likely.
What are the things that concern UN Habitat? “Provision of a healthy living environment — including safe water — for the poor is a primary concern. Empowerment of youth and women in slums is another. Providing green covers that function as lungs in big urban centres is also a priority for UN Habitat.”
In addition to ‘Pachchai Puratchi', the actor has launched ‘Karka Kasadara', aimed at education for slum children, who are often forced to take up jobs. For the “green reform”, Vikram plans to have trees planted at schools and colleges. He believes it is easier to instil a love for the environment in a youngster. The actor loves the sight of plants and trees, thanks to the meticulous effort his mother took to maintain a vegetable garden; she recruited young Vikram as her chief gardener.
“When I was looking around to buy a house, one of my chief criteria was trees and plants around the building.” After rejecting many houses solely on this count, he chose one in Besant Nagar for its profuse greenery.