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Sailing with SHAAM

With "Iyarkai" all set for release, actor Shaam talks about the ups and downs in his career

With "Kutty" Radhika in "Iyarkai"

MEETING THE hero a couple of days before the release of "Iyarkai", you expect to notice at least a trace of tension. But Shaam is a picture of confidence as he welcomes you into his office, flashing a genial smile. And even if he is anxious it doesn't show. "There's no point in getting worried, yaar. I strongly believe that whatever's happening is for the best."

Shaam may have a point. Otherwise why should director Kadhir test him for "Kadhalar Dhinam" and find him unsuitable? The debut would have been a debacle then. Not that "12B", Shaam's first film that came later, did fabulous business. Yet it was an intelligent attempt (by director Jeeva) that made the audience and film folks take notice of the new handsome hero — a dream entry for the novice who was paired with top heroines Simran and Jyotika! All the same, despite the fabulous break, followed by big banners, talented auteurs, lovely heroines and outstanding technicians to boot, Shaam's films have so far not been major crowd pullers. "Iyarkai", a technical treat, in which Shaam has put in a truly commendable show, will probably change all that.

"No film is one person's work, though it is the hero who's worst affected when a film bombs at the box office," he says. But Shaam's case has been more an exception than the rule. It could be because he seems perfect hero material, with the right looks, screen presence and a well worked out physique, and his performance has always been pretty decent. Hence the audience seems to like him and producers continue to approach him.

Shaam hails from Madurai, though the family shifted to Bangalore long ago. He's the maverick in the family who dared to tread the unfamiliar terrain of films. "Even in my first year of college I had decided that I wouldn't get into the family's glass and crockery business. Dad encouraged me to get into sports and I did very well in football. Later when I decided to pursue modelling as a stepping-stone to a career in films he gave me money for my workouts at the gym. But he wasn't alive to see me as a model or an actor," reminisces Shaam. It was Shaam's mom who was against her son's passion for films. "Why are you encouraging him, she would chide dad," he laughs. Shaam has three brothers and two sisters, of whom Thambi, the eldest is a fierce critic. "What ever he feels about my portrayal, he says it to my face ... he never minces words." Wife Kashish is always supportive. "Though we have not been married for long, we've known each other for quite some time. She knows about my every effort to make it in cinema," muses Shaam. And that includes his modelling stint with the likes of Prasad Bidappa and Mark Robinson and his crash course at Roshan Taneja's acting school, Mumbai.

After proper preparation Shaam listed 10 filmmakers, whose doors he would knock at, with portfolio intact. "I did not have a direct ticket to stardom like a hero's son. So I ensured that I at least met the directors in person, even if the person outside tried to shoo me away." Four years of unrelenting attempts led him to the doorsteps of cinematographer Jeeva, who was planning his first directorial venture. Model coordinator Biju Jayadevan was the one who told Shaam about it. "My four years of struggle was over within two minutes of meeting Jeeva," recalls Shaam. "I introduced myself to him in English and began talking. `What's your mother tongue,' he asked. When I said `Tamil', he said, `Then why don't you talk to me in Tamil?' Two minutes later I was in the film." Shaam is also the hero of Jeeva's next film, "Pepsi", with Laila.

When Shaam called up his mother in Bangalore and told her that he had signed to star opposite Simran and Jyotika, she thought her son had gone mad. "She called up my relatives in Chennai, saying, `something's wrong with Shaam, please send him back to Bangalore," Shaam laughs aloud.

"I strongly believe in destiny and God. And if your preparation to achieve your goal is sincere, you are bound to reach it."

As of now Shaam cannot be faulted for his choice of stories, banners and roles. His action hero role in "Bala" has gone down well with the people in the smaller towns. "They call out to me as "the Bala hero" when I go to those places," he says and adds, "Probably action appeals to them more."

"When I failed in Class VI, dad said, `don't try to run away to another school. Face it here... .' I put up with the insults I had to face from my schoolmates and became bolder. Today when the same school (St. John's High School, Bangalore) has invited me to preside over the 150th anniversary celebrations on December 7, I am proud," Shaam makes a point.

And as Shaam goes on, you remind him that it is nearly time for him to break the day's fast. (He regularly observes the 30-day fast during Ramzan) He must be tired. "Not at all," is his enthusiastic response. "I have been doing it for 20 years now. The rest of the year I eat well. Can't I give it up for just 30 days? Any way do I really look exhausted?"


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