With a constant smile, Vikram spoke about his respect for Mani Ratnam like a student would do for his favourite teacher. “Among all the directors I have worked with, I have had the best understanding with him. Sometimes, there are characteristics inside me that I don’t know exist, and he brings them out to enhance my roles,” said the actor during a press conference in Bengaluru as part of the promotions of the sequel of Ponniyin Selvan 1, which are based on Kalki’s five-part epic novel on the Chola dynasty.
Seated with him were his co-actors from the historical drama — Trisha, Jayam Ravi, and Karthi — and they couldn’t help but nod in approval of Vikram’s praise for the master storyteller. Ponniyin Selvan 2 hits the screens on April 28, almost exactly six months after the first installment released and went on to rake close to Rs 500 crore at the box office.
Raavanan, a retelling of Ramayana, was Vikram’s first association with the filmmaker. A ‘Mani Ratnam’ film is a dream for most actors, and after having starred in two, Vikram described, with his trademark off-screen enthusiasm, how it was a dream come true. “In Mani sir’s film, I wanted my character to be introduced while he is riding a bike with glares on. But here, in Ponniyin Selvan 1, I get introduced sitting on a horse,” he said with a chuckle.
The admiration is mutual, as expressed by Vikram when he recollected Mani’s unrealistic yet endearing promise to him. “After Raavanan, Mani sir had told me, ‘Kenny, I want to do 100 films with you.’ I told him 100 films will take a long time, but please give me my second film with you soon. Today, I am glad I have completed my second project with him,” he said.
Raavanan was a bilingual project (Raavan in Hindi), and Vikram pulled off a remarkable feat of playing two diametrically opposite characters in the Hindi and Tamil versions of the film. While he was the upright and furious cop Dev in Raavan, the versatile performer was terrific as the ruthless outlaw Veera in the Tamil version. It’s the latter’s character arch that resembles Aditya Karikalan, the prince of the Chola dynasty in Ponniyin Selvan films.
Vikram didn’t brush off the comparison. “Aditya Karikalan is a huge warrior. He is fearless. He throws away his crown, and royal life, and goes to war. He desperately wants to forget his love, but he becomes so vulnerable in the end and is willing to do anything for her. It’s almost the same emotion I portrayed in Raavanan. All said and done, people will like how Mani sir has knotted up my character in Ponniyin Selvan 2.”
The film’s trailer ends with Queen Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) coming face-to-face with her estranged lover Karikalan. The duo’s epic face-off and Nandini’s conspiracy to kill Karikalan are big draws for the film. “It was a difficult romance to pull off as it had many layers. The romance will unravel some nice surprises in part 2,” he said.
Vikram is known for pushing his comfort levels to don many roles involving body transformations and makeovers. He is still at it, as seen in the teaser of Pa Ranjith’s Thangalaan. It’s a career that’s never followed a template but stumbled many times for its brave choices. Does he ever feel like staying away from ambitious yet physically exhaustive projects? “I don’t think so,” he is quick to answer.
“There is so much to explore in cinema. When I did Pithamagan, my character rattled me. I never imagined someone could create a character like that. That lit the fire in me. I always wanted to do a historical film. I always dreamt of playing characters like Aditya Karikalan, Vandiyathevan, or even Karna, for that matter. Now I am doing Thangalaan, and it’s something that I have never engaged in. The minds of filmmakers are so fertile and evolving. Every filmmaker I meet has a fresh idea. So I don’t think I will stop being passionate about cinema,” he said.
Ponniyin Selvan 2 releases in theatres on April 28