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`I want to strike a balance'

``Gemini" seems to have redefined success. And hero Vikram looks back at his chequered career in this chat with CHITRA MAHESH.

`Samurai' will make people sit up and take notice, says Vikram.

FORTUNATELY OR otherwise, he has become synonymous with ``O Podu." People who see him are tempted to greet him that way. It certainly pleases him. He was especially thrilled when a little paper delivery boy at the Mumbai airport grinned at him and shyly asked me ``Isn't he the O Podu man?" Success, and of this nature, has come to him after a long wait, and it sits lightly on him. He displays no airs or exaggerated gestures to draw attention to himself.And right through the journey he is patience personified despite the many halts, tiring schedules and the milling crowd around. At rest and at work, he is affable, sometimes thoughtful but never unpleasant. He is utterly courteous to strangers and crew alike and you end up really warming up to this charming man.

It is not difficult to guess who it is. Vikram it is, Kenny to those who know him well. And to many others he is the man who has revived the Tamil film industry with the film, ``Gemini." On location at Syria, where he is equally aware of the beautiful country and its history just as he is of his song sequence and his get-up for it, he is available for a chat at any time this writer wanted. And catching him at a fairly loose end one afternoon, he opens up not so much about his work as much about his life, which is actually a lesson in optimism and perseverance. Over to Vikram:

``You know when I was in college we did a play called Black Comedy. It was for a competition at IIT. After finishing the programme, while we were heading home, about mid-night, I was hit by a vehicle. It was a bad accident and I was in bed for nearly three years. Then for one year I was on crutches. For four years I couldn't walk. But I was positive. And it worked mainly because I was crazy about acting. ``The doctors in fact had said I wouldn't be able to walk again. But I wanted to walk because I wanted to act. It was at that time that I saw `Mayuri' because Dr. Mohandas had treated Sudha Chandran. I felt I could definitely fight it out." So what did he do? ``I used to exercise in bed. I was really massively built those days but my legs were weak. Doctors used to bring people, other patients, to see me. I was a model patient, full of optimism. But I felt like an exhibition piece. (Laughs) I also had a lot of friends who would cheer me up. Thus I managed to overcome that difficult phase and the trauma of 23 surgeries done on my leg. I would treat everything lightly, making a joke out of the crisis."

Success has come to you rather late. Was the wait agonising?

Funny you should say that. People say that I worked hard for 10 years and when nothing happened I went into a depression. But that's not the case. Those 10 years were happy. The difficult phase in the past few years was when ``Sethu" was being made and I had to try and do three languages. Before ``Sethu" happened, Bala and I decided that I wouldn't do any other film because it was like a re-launch for me and I was trying a different get-up. He also asked me not to do any other film for two years, not even Telugu or Malayalam because we would be doing it in all three languages. Those three years were really difficult. At that point of time, I thought if it didn't work, I would give up. But once I started shooting, and I had shaved my head for the second half I knew something would happen. But the film was not released even a year after it was finished. By the time that happened, almost everybody had given up. The only two who hadn't were Bala and I. Those years were frustrating.

But would you say that after doing ``Sethu" there has been no looking back?

There are different levels of being a hero in Tamil cinema. ``Sethu" put me on a different plane. But I had to be consistent. I had to prove it with one more hit. But three of my films got stuck — ``Samurai," ``Kadhal Sadugudu" and ``Vinnukum Mannukum." I didn't have a release for one year after ``Sethu." But ``Vinnukum Mannukum," that came later didn't do too well. It had a big opening but I wanted to do something very different from ``Sethu." Seemed like a good commercial film but I guess I was waiting for another ``Sethu," which didn't happen. Super Good has this history of making good films, which have a good run. But ``Vinnukkum... " was an exception.

You did ``Sethu," then ``Kasi." Both were offbeat characters.

No. I did ``Dil" in between. It was a commercial film like ``Gemini."

You seem to have kind of moved onto the action/commercial hero mould?

No. Not really.

``Kasi" is almost like an art film. ``Samurai" belongs to the mainstream. ``Gemini" is commercial. What made you accept it?

It was the combination. I always wanted to work with Saran and AVM. AVM is meticulous. The release date for ``Gemini" was announced as April 14 but the film hit the cinema halls on April 12, two days ahead, which I think in the history of Tamil cinema is very rare. And AVM is one of those banners that would take you as far as Nagercoil, right to the interiors.

But did you expect it to be such a big hit?

Frankly, no. I didn't because I was handling a new kind of subject.

Do you enjoy doing these roles?

Yeah. Rough and tough. Like ``Sakalakala Vallavan." You throw logic to the winds and then go and act.

How is ``Samurai" coming up? What is it about?

When director Balaji told me the story, he was a very enthusiastic, charged person. I was really convinced. You just watch he will be much sought after once ``Samurai" is released.

Has it shaped up the way he has visualised it?

I can say this much. Balaji is from Dindugal and is very progressive. He reminds me of director ShankarHe can make good cinema but at the same time please the frontbencher. He needs everything from abroad — the shots, the equipment. Whatever he said impressed me and he has made most of it happen. He is really good.

Do you think ``Samurai" is going to do well?

I know that it is going to make the audience sit up and think. I am very confident and it's more an experience than a film that will appeal to anybody.

When a film is made, is it a director's or an actor's film?

Definitely a director's film. Someone does a presentation and if they don't direct well, whatever you do, you cannot rise above the script.

What, do you think, should a really good role consist of?

From my point of view, the film should give me scope for acting. When I listen to a narration, I start imagining myself in the role. The story should be good. Also it should sell.

Do you see a big divide between films that are good but don't do commercially well and films that are not so good but do well commercially? How do you differentiate between these? You were lucky that ``Kasi" did well.

In the case of ``Kasi," I would have had the satisfaction of doing a good role even if the film had not done well... There is always this thing about giving the masses what they want.

Isn't it time that you moved out of that and try and make good cinema, which is also commercially viable?

That's what I am trying to do. You have an MGR and you have a Sivaji. You have a Rajini and you have a Kamal. The charisma of MGR and Rajini is legendaryOn the other hand, Kamal and Sivaji have been more performance-oriented. And such people have been walking on thin ice because however well their film performs, it is no match for an MGR or Rajini film. I want to strike a balance. But it is very difficult because films like ``Sethu" are rare to come by. ``Samurai" and ``King," also have elements of both.

Is it a coincidence that all your films have just one word?

It is said that I have a two-letter sentiment. But the fact is I like short names.

Do you have anything to do with the title?

Yes, sometimes. Like `Dil' and `Dhool.'

What does success mean to you?

Success means a desire to do better. It's scary. Every time I do a film, I think it's my first film.

Is there anything else that you would like to do other than acting?

Lots. I like singing, I like direction. But I am not into that. I actually did a serial for Revathi. And I found that I got more satisfaction out of that than acting. You explain your idea to the actor and you get what you want. It is so beautiful seeing that happen in front of your eyes. I saw that on screen, when I did the editing, the dubbing, the re-recording; it was so beautiful. But right now, I'm enjoying myself doing interesting roles and direction would be a distraction.

How would you react to people saying that you are `Number One'?

I think it's a very relative term. You are really as good as your last film. If you give consecutive hits, then they'll forgive a flop or two. I think `Number One' is what Rajnikanth has achieved. I saw `Badsha' the other day. He just walks into a room, there are five guys in the room and you stop looking at them. There are specific movements that he uses and it was a very ordinary scene. But he elevated it to such a level. That kind of a person would be Number One. And he has done it consecutively for so many years.

Does enhanced success mean less time for the family?

I am a very family kind of a person. But it was more so because in the past 10 years, I have spent a lot of time at home. My kids are more attached to me than to their mother. Not that she is less loving.

What do you do on a day when you don't have shooting?

I play with the kids, read, watch a movie, go for a walk, and go out for dinner. But now what has happened is that even when I am at home, I keep getting calls. My daughter is very young, only seven. She has been asking me why I can't take up a nine-to-five job. The next three films have to be done in a hurry. But after that I am going to space it out.

Do you have faith in God?

Yeah, but my God does not have a face or a name. I pray in temples, mosques and churches.

What are the other projects that you have on hand?

A. M. Rathnam's `Dhool' with Dharini. Then `Kavithalaya' with Hari, the guy who did `Thamizh'. Quite promising. Then Bala's film and Oscar Ravichandran's. These are the ones that are confirmed.

Are the roles kind of similar or different?

I am trying to do different kind of roles.

Did you get good reviews for `Gemini'

Yeah. Some of these magazines gave good reviews. Some of them were very caustic. One particular magazine said the worse thing in the movie was Vikram. That's part of the game. But as far as audiences are concerned outside AVM theatre there are so many waiting for the doors to open. O Podu is a big draw. Mani's mimicry has brought the children there. But there is something beyond that. But it's nice to be wanted after this film.

How would you describe your philosophy in life?

I live and let live. Do what you love to do most in life and do it well. From an actor's point of view I want the producer and the distributor to be happy always. I want people to come to the theatre and love my work the way I love it. Whatever happens, the success of the film or where I am rated, all that is incidental. But I do get a kick when I hear people saying it's nice. Cinema is so wonderful.

Any director you would love to work with?

Yeah. Maniratnam, Shankar and ofcourse Bala.

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