Readers Write In #279: My ‘Chiyaan’ Vikram story

Posted on October 8, 2020

55


(by G Waugh)

I think one has to reach at least twelve to fifteen years of age to be able to process and understand cinema properly. During my childhood all I have of memories of being at the theatre are all those of pop-corn and ice-cream-filled first halves, a period of unavoidable slumber in the middle and finally the climax where all your characters of the first-half have become so different and serious, as evidenced by the somber mood in the theatre. I know I have slept through almost all the movies I have seen at the theatres until I reached adolescence, and for wasting an evening-show ticket that was not worth more than twenty rupees, my father need not have ranted that much while returning home in an even more expensive auto-rickshaw on our way from Thousand Lights to Teynampet.

It was already early 2000s when I had mastered the art of staying awake in theatres only because, by that age you were supposed to have developed your own cinema-consciousness to acquire at least some amount of respect among your classmates in school. Frankly, till my adolescence I had never been a fan of any heroes of that era, for multiple reasons. Whenever I was asked about my favourite hero, my answers were never constant – ranging from Arjun to Vijayakanth and sometimes even Karthik. It must have been 2001 I guess when a neighbor of mine, Geetha akka asked who my favourite actor was and she suddenly couldn’t hide her laugh when I told her, “Satyaraj”. Since I was the tallest guy in my neighbourhood I always had a great fascination for tall people like Mohammad Azharuddin, Satyaraj and even Raghuvaran.

When she laughed mockingly at me, I asked her, “Why do you laugh? I like Satyaraj very much. Haven’t you seen Walter Vetrivel?”

She replied, “Satyaraj belongs to an older generation. Shouldn’t you like someone from the latest generation for your age? Like Vijay, Ajith, Prashanth

But the manner she laughed at me festered like a wound, for quite a long time. Right from my childhood, I had been brought up to admire and learn from MGR songs, watch Sivaji delivering heavy-duty performances (whose range even Kamal Haasan hasn’t beaten till date) and since my father had hated gaana songs which were the staple of that time, I too had developed an aversion towards them, even if they were racy and catchy. And also that was not the first time I was called “old-fashioned” by someone. And even if nobody had called me that, I very well knew that it was true. “Old-fashioned” what a terrible word that was! It was almost like an existential crisis for me and I had to devise a way to get out of that.

I thought of becoming a fan of Vijay then, but he was busy dreaming about a girl who had a mole beneath her navel and following her throughout a film. Shit! What about Ajith? No, I couldn’t bring myself to like him for some reason. Prashanth was too soft and none of his movies till then had any use for his masculine abilities. I had to find a hero and become a fan of him as soon as possible or else, my entire life, I thought would get tagged with the word, “old-fashioned”.

***

It must be 2001, the same year when Geetha akka laughed at me when I was seeing a show called ‘Natchathiram’ in Sun Tv one afternoon at my neighbor Subramani Uncle’s house. It was a half-an-hour programme which usually featured an upcoming star of that time and showed selected footage of the best scenes he was in. One such scene from a new movie Dhill was shown there. When Laila gets teased by a rowdy Ashish Vidyarthi in the beach, despite the fact that I have seen similar situations in films before, something in the scene disturbed me terribly. I really felt like slapping Ashish. Enter a man, with cropped hair and a prominent, yet compact moustache, with an unusually tucked-in T-shirt. Laila calls him, “Velu” and Subramani Uncle introduces him to me, “This is a new guy called Vikram. He does really well”. And what follows is a fantastic fight-scene at the end of which Ashish gets his face torn. I still remember the impression that particular scene left on me that day and one part of me felt happy that I would not have to feel ashamed about being called “old-fashioned” by anyone, anymore. Here was Chiyaan Vikram for me whose fan, I thought, I had already become!

***

When you are a fan of some actor, well and good.But the more versatile your star is, the more easily your ‘star’ goes up among your friends. The same year, Vikram’s Kaasi released and his performance as a blind-man stunned critics and audiences alike. A lot of people had thought Sethu was just a flash-in-the-pan but Vikram’s action avatar in Dhill came as a surprise to everyone. But this man had followed it up with yet another ‘off-beat’ role in Kaasi and I remember that many newspapers articles were finding it difficult to box him into a category.

In 2002, Rajni’s much-hyped Baba released and tanked at the box-office. The same year, a few months ago, curiously Vikram’s Gemini had released and had broken a lot of box-office records. At the end of the year, many newspapers began lamenting the fact that there already was a vacuum at the highest levels of stardom in Tamil Cinema alluding to Baba’s colossal failure which lead the superstar to settle distributor’s losses out of his own pocket. Even upcoming stars such as Vijay and Ajith were finding their going difficult , a phenomena that had reportedly led some theatre-owners to turn their cinemas into marriage-halls in order to obtain more assured incomes.

But these box-office aspects aside, I had already become a fan of Vikram for some of the following reasons. One among them was that he was the first among this generation of actors to have a well-built physique which looked attractive even when he was shirtless, as seen in Dhill. I even remember a 14-year old me arguing with a Vijay fan at school, “Can your Vijay lift a loaded bar like how Vikram did in Dhill?”

Another factor was that he was the first among his generation to try out films not belonging to Tamil Cinema’s most famous ‘stalking’ genre. Vikram was the first one in his generation who did pure action films and even my father, an ardent MGR devotee had to admit that this was the first time he is seeing someone whose stunts look like he is actually fighting people out there. Imagine what a big smile such a comment would have brought on my usually sullen face.

***

2003 was the year. The Pongal opened with releases from Kamal Haasan, Vijay and Vikram. It was a time when we had moved from Teynampet to Chromepet to our own ‘single-bedroom’ flat and my father had stopped taking us to the cinemas owing to rising prices of tickets. But he compensated for that by buying a Thomson ‘5-in-1’ player which could play movies out of something called compact-discs. He brought one evening, a pirated copy of Dhool and told me that we need to finish it before the next morning to avoid paying a penalty to the lending store. The songs of Dhool were already a big hit and I still remember a trailer in KTV which introduced the film with a machine-like staccato voice, “The story of a one-man fighting machine. It is Dhool”.

What a night it was for me and my family! The stunts in the interval block just blew me away and when Vikram walks into the frame to a Paravai Muniyamma’s ‘Madura Veeranthaane’ song I could imagine how glorious it could have been, had I had a chance to savour the film in the theatres. But that was okay, all I needed was another knock-out punch from my hero Vikram so that I could leave all my Vijay and Ajith fans at school, panting for their breath and Dhool had given me that.

But Dhool’s success had changed a lot of things in my school. Many Vijay and Ajith fans were slowly turning into converts for Vikram and a lot of neutral fellows were also turning my hero’s way. His hand gestures that borrowed a lot from Rajni were also becoming a recurring theme right from Gemini extending into Dhool and many of my friends were copying all of that during our casual conversations.

The same summer, on May Day, Vikram’s Saamy released and within weeks, I was reading reports in the Hindu and some Tamil weeklies that the Kavithalaya production had broken even the collections of Padayappa, the biggest grosser in Tamil Cinema till then. It normally took at least a month to get a proper, watchable version of a new movie in pirated CDs and during that time while I was waiting to watch it, no conversation in my school was complete without a reference to my hero’s Saamy. Once in June, we were asked by the school management to take a rally out on the streets of Chromepet to create awareness on the benefits of rain-water harvesting. We were asked to shout catchy slogans and one of my teachers suggested that we shout “Mazhai Neerai Saemi! Solluvadhu Saamy!”(Save Rain Water! Says Saamy!) and you can imagine my beaming face brimming with unadulterated joy each time when my hero’s film was referenced during the rally.

But as non-fans, you people might not realise fully how important a film like Saamy, was for people like me. It was an action film no doubt, but there was more work for the brains of the hero than for his muscles in the film. And when I say muscles, you can if you have time, go to Youtube and check the interval block of Saamy. A hurt Trisha runs away from Vikram after getting to know about his lack of ‘honesty’ and Vikram in a sleeveless banian, runs behind her before giving up helplessly. He lifts his right arm high in a fit of agony to slap his forehead, finds that his palm is still full of the rice he was eating just a moment ago and irritated, he just cups it and looks ahead with confused helplessness. Just pause right there and see how enormous his right arm is. It looks like the severed trunk of a banyan tree and till that very moment, I had seen biceps of such proportions only in WWE episodes.

But it was not just his physique I was in awe of, in Saamy. If you see more closely, the film just did not restrict itself within the easy bounds of masala. In some parts, it even approached the proportions of a character study especially when it moved into its flashback, which unusually for an action film, has very little to do with the main thread involving the hero and the villain. Do you remember any other mass film where the hero gets engaged to someone other than the heroine and his marriage gets stopped due to situations out of his control? And when I said character-study, I also wanted to emphasize it from a ‘performance’ standpoint as well. Vikram plays the mass-hero role with the earthiness of a common man and reserves his ‘massy’ flavours only for scenes that really needed them. When he returns home for his first night after his first one-on-one clash with Kota Srinivas Rao, a worried father played by Vijayakumar asks, “Enna pa? Prachna onnum illaye?” Look at how Vikram replies,“Onnum Illa pa” with his right-hand fingers scratching his sweaty chest. His words try to play down the situation but his voice and body language simply betray how troubled he is at the sudden escalation of circumstances with Annaachi.

Similarly, towards the closing portions, after Vijayakumar dies a painful death, Vikram tones his performance down and moves ahead with restraint similar to what you see in Vettayadu Vilayadu’s Raghavan played by Kamal Haasan. The pre-climactic scene with officers and MLAs coming down on a bereaved Aarusamy is one great example where Vikram brings in subtle variations to a powerful masala character, which only help making it more human and endearing to the viewer. This level of maturity in handling masala roles came to Vijay and Ajith only in the later phases of their careers but back then, Vikram with Saamy, had registered his name alongside the likes of Rajni and Kamal in the masala annals of Tamil Cinema’s history.

The same year, Kavithalayaa celebrated the 125th day of Saamy inviting Rajni, Vijay and Surya to the function. Rajni ended up crowning Vikram as the next ‘superstar’ who in his words, had managed to captivate ‘100 percent of Tamil audience’ with his latest hit Saamy. I remember going through articles in Junior Vikatan and other Tamil magazines with interviews of distributors and producers showering encomiums upon Vikram for having brought audiences back to the theatres. By the end of the year, Vikram had, in the estimation of everyone beat the likes of Vijay and Ajith despite their respective bigger fan-bases and whenever Vikram’s films released along with those of others in the multiplexes, the bigger screens were generally reserved for the former.

But it was Diwali 2003 and Vijay’s Tirumalai, Ajith’s Anjaneya had released alongside Vikram’s Pithamagan. It was a fantastic closure to a fabulous year for Vikramthat happened in a manner that was never seen before in Tamil cinema. Kamal Haasan, by the end of the 90s had vacated the masala space to Rajni and Vijayakanth to move towards more arty adventures. No hero after that, having achieved so much success in their new-found action image had ever attempted to move towards difficult, performance-oriented roles. In one of the scenes in Pithamagan, Vikram, who had in the previous film chased away goons with his lathi and guns, to everyone’s shock, was found at the wrong end of a woman’s broom. His performance which barely had any dialogue stunned the audiences and almost everyone had to acknowledge the fact that Vikram was in many ways, as in cartoonist Madan’s words, Tamil Cinema’s ‘treasure’, a term that could simply not be applied to many of his peers.

***

In 2004, Vikram-Hari’s second combination Arul released on May 1 similar to their previous illustrious outing Saamy. Just fifteen days back, Vijay’s come-back film Ghilli had released and had been declared a blockbuster but it was shifted to smaller screens all over Tamilnadu to make way for Arul. But Arul did not do well on account of two reasons- one, the massive success of Saamy had set an insurmountable bar for the new Vikram-Hari film to clear and two, the obvious weaknesses in the screenplay that came to characterize Hari’s future outings as well. But when you see the film in KTV today, the film doesn’t look as bad as it did then and it is surprising that it ended up a box-office failure considering the fact that films that were a lot more ordinary featuring Vikram’s competitors were able to manage better results at the box-office later. But this is one remarkable feature that began to characterize Vikram’s future career as well.

2003 had three Vikram films and all of them were superhits. 2004 had only one release and that was a flop. Before Vikram, no star apart from Rajni and Kamal had the guts to do less than two films per year and it was a conscious decision on his part to take a big risk. Vikram joined hands with a big director in Shankar for the first time who told openly that the film had been written with none but Vikram in mind. The film Anniyan was produced by ‘Oscar’ Ravichandran and was touted to be the costliest film ever made in South India. The budget was close to Rs.27 crores and the producer told that the film had obtained additional financial assistance from the IDBI. A lot of trade pundits were skeptical about the prospects of the film since the scale of Tamil cinema’s market was not so huge to accommodate a film as costly as this.

In June 2005, the film released and by then, the composition of my school’s fan base had been sharply divided between Vijay and Vikram fans. Ajith fans were nowhere to be found and I remember that the star in one of his interviews had openly complained about his worsening record at the box-office.

I watched Anniyan at a local theatre in Nanganallur and needless to say, Vikram’s performance had easily beat the ‘commercial’ acting standards set by Kamal Haasan and stood proudly alongside Sivaji’s yesteryear works in Tiruvarutchelvar and Navarathri. Three different roles, all of which requiring totally contrasting traits to be displayed on screen and Vikram had aced all of them like a virtuoso at the peak of his powers. Ananda Vikatanin its review of the film, called Vikram, a ‘Jambavan’ a title that is usually reserved for legendary actors like Rajni and Kamal. The climax sequence that alternated between the docile ‘Ambi’ and the barbaric ‘Anniyan’ characters was met with a stunned silence in the theatre where I saw the film. Fans usually respond to great scenes with hoots and whistles and remain silent in the theatre only when the film gets so bad. But this kind of reception I am sure was one that I had never seen before, in my life.

Anniyan was a blockbuster and formed the basis for Shankar’s elevation as one of the most sought-after directors in Tamil Cinema. He rode on this wave to join hands with Rajnikanth who had orchestrated a stirring comeback with Chandramukhi the same year, an association that would go on to endure for more than a decade. With the smashing success of the film, Vikram’s market had burgeoned almost twice its size and even if Vijay was making a comeback with action films quickly, Vikram was the sole favourite of both fans and family audiences at the same time. Kumudam and other Tamil magazines starting calling Vikram, ‘Rajni plus Kamal’ with respect to his potential and it seemed that he had already entrenched himself as a firm successor to the decade-old Rajni-Kamal hegemony. Older, lesser known films of Vikram in other languages were revived by distributors all over TN subsequently and given re-releases in many theatres.

***

But the peak of Vikram’s career in 2005 not many could have noticed, also turned out to be the beginning of his undoing. Vikram’s market had expanded into both Kerala and Andhra Pradesh then, with Anniyan equaling and sometimes bettering even the best box-office performances of the biggest stars in these states. It was rumoured soon that Vikram had decided to do only films that were bigger in scale and sumptuous in characterization, as a result of which a lot of smaller films it was said, were being removed off his list. Apart from that, the audiences too had started setting too lofty standards for Vikram’s films on account of his remarkable track record and if some of his films strayed even a bit from these ‘sacred’ expectations, they were quick to punish them ruthlessly. The second reason played a big role in the failure of what was a moderately funny, eminently watchable, masala film titled Majaa that released the same year on Diwali day. In my opinion, Majaa was one of the funniest masala films ever made in Tamil cinema, bolstered by solid dialogues written by a not-so famous, but talented writer Viji (who wrote Mozhi and directed Vellithirai later) and catchy songs tuned by an in-form Vidyasagar. The failure of Majaa must have strengthened Vikram’s conviction that people were expecting only bigger, extravagant and heavy-duty films from him and this became one big reason why smaller film-makers such as Cheran were never allowed to enter Vikram’s radar.

The success of Anniyan had also deepened Vikram’s belief in physical transformations for playing a character and for his next film with the hottest director of that time, N Lingusamy he decided to sport a never-seen before, beefed up look. The first-look posters of Bheema which released on Pongal 2006 took Kollywood by storm and everyone was expecting yet another massive success from Vikram. I waited close to a year for the film by which time I had joined college, finishing school in 2006. A lot of my college-mates were either strong Vijay fans or ‘tired of waiting’ Vikram fans whose loyalties I could see, were slowly fraying. To make things worse for me, Ajith’s Varalaru released in Diwali the same year and turned out to be a blockbuster. Ajith’s performance in the film was stand-out and I could understand, though with pain, why some of my friends were eager to jump over to the other side.

2007 came and Bheema still was nowhere to be seen. It was quite obvious that Vikram was beginning to be forgotten and this was the first time I was seeing a star of Vikram’s stature wasting so much valuable time on finishing just one film. However, Vikram’s absence was once again, properly utilized by Ajith whose Billa released in December 2007 and turned out to be a smashing success. In terms of technical achievement, Billa was one of a kind and I remember many of my friends comparing Ajith’s demeanour and style with Hollywood’s top stars, an act that hurt the Vikram fan in me too personally. I remember telling some of my friends then that even if Ajith had established himself as a Hollywood-style action hero, it would take only one film for Vikram to simply dethrone him from that position.

***

2008 came, Bheemaa released and bombed at the box-office. Vikram, in an interview to a Tamil magazine told that he had turned down four films during the two-year waiting period for Bheemaa and had lost close to sixteen crore rupees. He did not sound like a pessimist at all and even prided himself for his dedication that came at the cost of fame and money. But the failure did not seem to deter him at all. He soon signed up for another big budget film, this time to be helmed by a new director Susi Ganeshan who had come fresh from the success of a runaway hit, Thiruttu Payalae. The film was launched with digital invitations bearing the teaser of the film and according to the producer Kalaipuli Dhanu, the film was to have twice the grandeur of Shankar’s 2007 super-hit Sivaji.

This time the wait spanned for more than one and half years and Vikram soon, was left behind Vijay, Ajith and a fast-rising Surya. As a result, the number of Vikram fans in my class dropped to just two, including me and a new crop of fans for Surya had emerged suddenly out of nowhere. It was August 2009 when the Susi Ganeshan-directed Kanthaswamy released and the most heartening thing for a Vikram fan like me about the film was the massive hype surrounding it, despite Vikram’s long absence from the theatres. Abirami Mall had given all of its screens to Kanthaswamy and it was heartening for me to see even non-Vikram fans among my friends cutting their classes to catch a glimpse of the film.

But the good things ended right there. Sudhish Kamath of The Hindu gave a scathing review of the film and I was incensed at the lack of respect the reviewer had given to the director and the hard work of the crew (How silly I was!). Gnani Sankaranin Kumudham,wrote a story that centered on Kanthaswamy’s terrible screenplay and making, even if he took a sympathetic tone towards Vikram in particular. I remember Gnani crediting Vikram as the true successor of Sivaji Ganesan in the article who could act better than even Kamal Haasan while simultaneously lambasting the choice of his scripts.

The next week, Vikram had reportedly fought with The Hindu team for Sudhish Kamath’s review and they published a report in Metro Plus the very next week, praising the box-office performance of the film to compensate for their mistake. Everyone knew that the film was a disaster but here was a report that was completely misleading and that too from a newspaper as renowned as The Hindu. If anything, this was the first time I was getting a glimpse into the dubious equations that underlay media and their apparently ‘spotless’ relationship with the film fraternity.

This was also the time when I came across someone called Baradwaj Rangan who wrote a review of Kanthaswamy for The Economic Times. I still remember the words, ‘a maddening misfire’ and some lines that showed some amount of sympathy for Vikram but apart from that, I could understand barely anything from the review.

Needless to say, my prestige at college, being a dedicated Vikram fan was at an all-time low and my other idol Rahul Dravid’s dipping form was also not helping things either. But I was in for a great surprise soon.

***

Mani Ratnam was joining hands with my hero and for the first time AR Rahman was composing music for Vikram. This was exactly the kind of news that I badly needed which sent all my rivals in college running for cover. I could see so much envy in the eyes of Ajith fans who had a terrible habit of concocting fake, over-blown stories of their idol being constantly pestered by the hottest film-makers all over India to give them at least one ‘chance’. After all, Mani Ratnam was the only director in Tamil Cinema who never had his films panned even once by anyone so far and Vikram, for all his recent failures I was sure, was going to hit the jackpot with Ravanan.

From what I had known then, Mani Ratnam was a great planner and none of his films had so far, taken more than a year to make it to the theatres. I was happy that at least this time, the waiting time for a film’s release would be much lesser and even if the film got delayed, I would get twice the satisfaction by seeing Vikram in two languages at the same time. But soon, it was reported that Mani Ratnam had taken ill due to a massive heart attack during the making of Ravanan. The shoot was stalled and for a fan who had seen only two releases of my idol in the last five years, it was not so difficult to cope with the delay and resign to the situation. But I kept alive and intensified the practice of giving unpaid publicity to my hero through my Orkut profile sharing news about him and his shooting updates, all the while.

***

It was June 17, 2010. Ravanan/Ravan was ready to release to packed houses all over India the next day. Even Hindi channels were full of news regarding Mani Ratnam’s bilingual and given the unblemished track record of the director, Ravan’s success according to trade pundits, was simply a no-brainer. This was also the first time an actor was playing two different roles in two versions of a film and many Ajith fans in my college were afraid that Vikram would end up becoming a pan-India star that would only mean one thing for them- the beginning of my hegemony over them. Sub-urban railway stations all over Chennai had installed televisions that kept relaying Ravanan’s trailers throughout the day and Vikram’s name was almost back on everyone’s lips.

But sadly, that was that. The film was panned all over North India and even in TN, many newspapers were confused about their judgement about the film. Despite taking a great opening in the five-day long weekend, the collections dropped steadily and soon Ravanan was put into the category of average grossers. Frankly, this was the first time a Mani Ratnam film was received so coldly by critics while some of them even went on to criticize the decline in his craft. As a Vikram fan, it was frustrating for me to note that a legendary director’s decline had to coincide unfortunately with his association with my hero and despite a fantastic performance that broke new ground, I was pained to see that Vikram was not given his real due.

***

Today, it has been more than ten years since Ravanan released and Vikram’s fan-base and his appeal to the masses has only declined further in the last decade. His career since then has seen only rehashes of what has already been described above –much-hyped associations with good, talented/established film-makers who end up reserving their worst solely for Vikram and/or films with scripts that offer nothing more than only one interesting question for the viewer- ‘How did Vikram agree to do a script like this?’

N Lingusamy, fresh from the success of Sandakozhi joined hands with Vikram only to bite the dust with Bheemaa. Susi Ganeshan met the same fate with Kanthaswamy. Shankar joined hands with Vikram in 2012 after delivering blockbusters in Endhiran and Nanban and when fans like me were expecting an Anniyan encore, he ended up giving the most boring and the most disgusting film of his career with ‘I’ – which released after three years in 2015. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I had to suffer a bout of depression for a week after having all my three-year old, inflated expectations steamrolled by the first-day, first-show of ‘I’, which I saw as early as 5 at a local theatre in the morning.

Suseendran, one of the finest, young film-makers of the last decade, joined hands with Vikram for Rajapattai only to give my hero, the worst film of his career in 2011. When Vikram joined hands with Vijay Milton who had redefined masala cinema with Goli Soda, 10 Endrathukulla was the result. In my opinion, 10 Endrathukulla was not such a bad film at all compared to what Atlee-Vijay, Siva-Ajithhave been giving us all these years, reaping enormous successes in return. But only when it was the turn of Vikram to deliver bad masala films, people somehow found it right to respond to them brutally as they did with Thandavam and 10 Endrathukulla. Anand Shankar’s blockbuster debut Arima Nambi gave him a chance to work with Vikram and the result was a pretty bland Iru Mugan thatreleased in 2016. 2017 was the year, Gautham Menon’s Dhruva Natchathiram was announced and this is the first time a film of this scale is lying in the cans for so long, for want of money.

As you can see throughout this essay, Vikram is such an interesting actor who is associated with so many ‘firsts’ in Tamil Cinema. Even if Kamal Haasan had started the practice of ‘physically’ preparing for a character, it was none other than Vikram who institutionalized it in Tamil Cinema.

Anniyan was the first to start the trend of releasing a single film in all theatres on the same day, a practice that turned predatory later and lasts till date crowding out the space for other films. Anniyan’s success gave producers the confidence to take risks with regard to budget, without which a landmark film like Endhiran wouldn’t have happened at all. But curiously, for an actor whose star-value is perceived to have been declining over the years, Vikram is the only one who continues to be associated with big-budget films in Tamil Cinema. Last year, he was announced to be part of a film written by Jeyamohan, directed by Ennu Ninte Moiden-fame RS Vimal that is estimated to be made on a budget of 300 crores, with music composed by AR Rahman. He is also associated with the most ambitious film of Mani Ratnam, Ponniyin Selvan which is expected to be made on an even bigger scale.

But having said that, Vikram’s image on the consciousness of Tamil people is not so easy to define. In my opinion, he is the only actor now, who can do both ‘mass’ and ‘class’ roles with equal and unmatched intensity. If in future, a multi-starrer with Vijay and Vikram in the lead happens, I am sure Vikram will be the one who will end up grabbing the most eyeballs among the two. A two-minute teaser of Dhruva Natchathiram changed completely Vikram’s perception among the masses who had forgotten associating the words ‘style’ and ‘charm’ with him all these years.

***

When you love a person, your feelings for them could be called‘genuine’ only if you don’t know why exactly you are in love with them. Similarly, my obsession with Vikram is larger than what I have tried to describe in this essay. I will be glad if you allow me a little to indulge in him here and I am sure I will not bore you people down.

I just like the way his eyes leave three or four wrinkles on the sides when he smiles; I like the enormity of his forearm when he shakes hands with people; I like it when he raises a single eyebrow to turn and look at a person, when called from behind; I like the silver ring that he wears on his right- hand finger in all his films which made me proud of another one that I own and wear till date; I like the way his shoulder remains stiff and majestic even when he is busy bashing goons; I like the way he avoids bending his arms while driving a bike that ends up displaying his massive biceps, Oh God, I can keep writing about him all day.

But on a very serious note, Vikram for all his achievements, I still think is an actor who is unsung and terribly underutilized at the same time. For an actor who can deliver ‘showcase’ performances like Pithamagan, he can also do caricature-type roles like what we saw in Anniyan. For a commercial masala movie, you need that kind of ‘artificiality’ in the acting and this is one reason why fans of serious cinema still think that Vikram often ‘over-acts’. If you want to know how ‘realistically’ he can perform, you can watch Saamy. Or if you think he cannot act without inviting too much attention to himself, please watch Bejoy Nambiar’s David. If you think he is fit for only physical demanding roles like what Bale does, please watch Ravanan. It is the first film after Nayagan from Mani Ratnam’s stable that depends too heavily on one man’s performance similar to how a There Will Be Blood hinges so much on the great Daniel Day Lewis act.

Vikram’s use of his eyes in Ravanan in and almost all of his films,is a subject that deserves something like a serious documentation. Look at the way Veera’s eyes beam in the scene when he realizes in solitude that he has fallen for Ragini and the mischievous glint that sparkles in them. Look at how he closes his eyes with a forbidden fulfilment that you derive from a whiff of weed, when he sails through the tresses of an attacking Ragini. Look at how he proposes to her with his greedy eyes feasting on her when he asks, ‘Kuruvamma, yen koodairupeegala?” in a rotating boat that swirls around with children. Look at how he closes his eyes in complete surrender to the divine enormity of Ragini when he says, “Poraamaya Iruku Saami”in a moment of envious worship. When he decides to free her at last at the end of his physical confrontation with Dev, his eyes approach a leaving Ragini with the desperation of a dog that sees its plate of bones being taken away for someone else. When she returns to confront him with a question, look at the incredible delight that runs through his eyes which later instantly morphs into a chilling alarm when he realizes that he has been besieged on all sides suddenly. After all, Vikram’s Veera is a ruthless animal whose finer qualities come into play only in the presence of someone as lofty as Ragini and when he realizes that he has finally been ensnared, all his primal qualities of aggression and rage simply reappear within a second.

A ‘List of top 100 performances of the last decade’ that appeared in the Film Companion some months ago, glaringly omitted Vikram’s performance in Ravanan which led me to write a scathing letter to one of its editors Baradwaj Rangan the very night.

***

Vikram is an actor who in my opinion, is just trapped by the deficiencies of his birthplace. Had he been born in North India, he would have been the rarest actor who could play both Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shah Rukh Khan at the same time. But all of this I would like to remind my reader, should not be read as a desperate attempt of a fan to conceal his hero’s glaring deficiencies. His case I very well admit,is not that of someone who does everything right all the time and yet unfortunately, ends up always on the losing side. It cannot be denied that it was his sheer ridiculousness and inflated ‘ego’ that made him throw away his ‘prime’ years for films as forgettable as Bheema and Kanthaswamy which in turn eventually led to the gradual erosion of his fan-base in the last decade. It is only after facing too many reversals during the last decade, that Vikram had realized that he is not an Aamir Khan finally and that he could survive only by doing multiple films at the same time. And this realization even though late, is slowly and for good reason, giving rise to associations with young and talented minds such as Karthik Subbaraj. With the salivating possibilities of alternative cinema thrown in by emerging technologies such as the OTT, I will wait –as I have always done for my hero, and see whether he makes use of them and finishes his career like Bryan Cranston or fades away without a trace like his relative Prashant into the sunset.

***

Last year, one morning I reached office a bit late, after catching a morning show of Vikram’ sKadaaram Kondaan.

My manager Sekar came to my place to ask me about an update. While I was giving him that, he asked me suddenly, “How was the film?”

I hadn’t told him that I was going for the film at all, but he had called me when I was in the theatre for some reason. I had managed to exit the hall, talk to him and return back to my seat but I was surprised to see that he had actually found out.

Meanwhile, my team-mate, a Malayali Verghese had also joined Sekar and asked, “Oh! You went for a Vikram film? Great”

Before I could tell them anything, Sekar replied to Verghese, “Oh What is great about a Vikram film? It would have been boring as usual!”

I was angry but I could understand why Sekar had said that. But Verghese came to my rescue, “Oh! Isn’tVikram a great actor? Had he been a Malayali, we would have made him a superstar! Only in Tamilnadu, you don’t respect him much”

“Verghese, you are right!” I told him.

“Oh Jeeva! You like Vikram and that is why you are so partial to him! His last good film came out almost a decade ago. Can you deny that?”

Yes, but” I did not want to argue with him any further.

“You are a Vikram fan, may be the only one in Tamil Nadu, aren’t you?” Sekar asked me in a mocking tone.

“No, no. I like Vikram, but I can’t say that I am a fan of him! I am not a fan of anybody actually” I replied with a mild jerk.

Sorry, thalaiva, didn’t have a choice. But it is all your fault.