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Winsome Villains

Bruno is from Australia, Jeevan from the United States. MALATHI RANGARAJAN finds out why these two young men want to make a mark in tinseldom

YOU FIND many things in common between Bruno Xavier, the scheming lawyer of "Nala Damayanthi", and Jeevan, the screen villain of "Kaakha Kaakha". If Bruno is from Australia Jeevan lives in the U.S. But the two are keen to gain a foothold both in Hollywood and Kodambakkam. They have entered the palaestra with oodles of self-confidence and feel the straddle can be worked out. Another striking similarity is that you cannot recognise either of them when you see them today. Bruno's completely shaven head and Jeevan's trimmed hair, which he's cut after "Kaakha Kaakha", allows them to gallivant around Chennai without being recognised often.

It's a heartening thought — that actors who have their roots in the East and have gone Westward still want to make it big in films in their native tongue.

Those who watched the recent Rajkamal production, "Nala Damayanthi", cannot forget the impish looking Ivan. It was a negative role all right, but not that of a hardcore bad guy. In person too this `villain' is a joy to talk to. Bruno Xavier sports a shorn head, Yul Brynner style, and looks very different from Ivan in "Nala ... ". "The wig had made the difference. Actually I feel my tonsured look is more pronounced ... and to be honest I had begun to lose hair when I decided to remove it completely," he laughs.

Bruno's sparkling eyes dance with expression when he recounts the decade gone by when even as a student of Information Technology, he realised that his life lies in acting. Born in Ethiopia, this Sri Lankan lived in England, Ireland and other countries before Australia became his home 15 years ago. "This is my second visit to Chennai," he says. "Nobody in the family is into acting. And my parents were against the idea. But watching me in "Nala Damayanthi" made them really happy ... Dad and mom are teachers."

Their apprehension is understandable. In a land of whites his colour could come in the way of his ambition. "Yes ... my chances are limited. As far as the whites are concerned I am ethnic... But these days their ideas are changing and perspectives are wider." Actors like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah finding a leeway in the West has inspired aspiring youngsters like Bruno and Jeevan.

It all began when Bruno came across an ad that called for background artistes and applied for the same. "They are called extras there ... " Here too, you tell him. He was asked to report and the moment he entered the set he knew that's where he always wanted to be. "It was a defining moment," he beams.

Bruno has come a long way since then. He is a martial arts choreographer, has done a few American and Australian films and television shows, is a popular face in commercials and has also just written and directed, "Sleeping Car", an English short film. Bruno is already committed for a Tamil film that has Prashanth as the hero. "I have no problem playing a negative role as long as it is distinct," he says.

He relives the moment when he got to know that Mouli and Kamal Haasan had decided to cast him in "Nala ... " When he got a mail from Mouli that he was part of the cast, it was too much of a surprise. I told my friends to read the mail a couple of times to see whether I had understood it right ... "

And it was one enjoyable experience for Bruno with Madhavan, Sriman, Geetu Mohandas, Anu Hassan and Mouli. On the one hand he has worked with the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme and on the other with Madhavan.

Bruno wants to work both in Hollywood and here. With dreams in his eyes and confidence in his tone, "It can be done," he says. And that's one reason why he's got himself an agent and is moving over to L.A. Catch him at

Unlike Bruno, Jeevan doesn't wish to continue doing anti roles. A villain becoming a successful hero after a few films is almost a norm in Tamil cinema. But it is vice versa in Jeevan's case. The hero of "University" is the ruthless Pandya of "Kaakha Kaakha" who kills at the drop of a hat. " I don't wish to continue in the same vein because I don't want to be typecast... probably after a couple of main roles I might do it again. And for that I am willing to wait even if it takes some time ... " So that's why he's cut his hair? "Yes ... that's why," he replies.

But knowing how the industry works it may not be that easy for Jeevan to shake off the Pandya image. "Why not ... I believe in the technical crew I work with. Director Gautam ("Kaakha Kaakha") proved my belief right. When he told me that it was a role that Manoj Bajpai was approached for I was thrilled. From Surya ("A big actor but the coolest dude I've ever seen") to Jyotika, from the cameraman Rajashekar to the fantastic art director Rajeevan, it was a great team and the results are gratifying. I wish to do a hero's role next with such a capable crew."

What about his debut film "University"? " It was producer Sathish and his Mayapuri Screens which gave me a launch pad. I feel very grateful to him and "University's " director Pragadish... " He also remembers art director Muthuraj, whose association has proved fruitful.

Jeevan did not come across as a good dancer in "University". "It's not that I am not comfortable in dance. If it's a disco kind of jig I can go on for hours ... now I am training seriously for the filmi kind of dance," he explains.

Jeevan's parents weren't very happy when their son decided to fly to the U.S. to graduate in theatre, only because they would miss him. They are now glad that he is finding work here.

He trained with the Stella Addler Academy of Acting in the U.S. where he had the likes of Melanie Griffith giving guest lectures. Soon he was into theatre and also found a job at Louis XIV, the hotel which famous film artists and casting directors frequent. He did a lot of theatre — in his case the colour of his skin hardly seemed to matter. "I am invariably mistaken for an Italian, Mexican or Caucasian ... " laughs Jeevan.

Jeevan had signed for "Kaakha Kaakha" even when he was working in "University". Every one of his friends dissuaded him from accepting the negative role but Jeevan didn't budge. It has proved a paying decision and if everyone likes Anbuselvan IPS (Surya) many also like the killer Pandya. "When they clap for me it makes me happy ... " — Jeevan walks in and out of the cinema halls without being recognised. " Filmmakers call me up for anti roles and when I tell them that I've cut my hair, they hang up saying that they'll call up later," he smiles. Jeevan is not disappointed. Because what he wants is a change of image. "I am willing to wait ... " he says.

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