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March 27, 2000


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'All that matters is a hit'

Vikram It has been a long wait -- of 10 years -- for Vikram for a film like Sethu to happen. But when it did happen, it was like a big bang!

Trade pundits say that after Padayappa, Sethu is the biggest hit of recent times, a surprise hit, of course. A film which no distributor was willing to buy, a film which no big theatre owner was willing to show became one of the stunners in the Tamil industry.

It was first released in a suburban theatre and later it got a noon show slot in the city for a couple of weeks. After one week, the theatre management was forced to make it a regular show. Soon Sethu was running simultaneously at nine big theatres in the city. It was unprecedented, perhaps in the history of Indian cinema itself.

With Sethu, Vikram, who acted as Sethu, has catapulted into stardom, which he richly deserves. As the film nears 100 days in the city, Shobha Warrier met Vikram at his residence and talked to him about his role in Sethu.

Was it a very long and difficult 10 years for you?

Yes, it was. Getting into movies itself was a major step and once you do that, you feel, ha! I have made it. But it is more difficult after you climb the first step.

What made you choose films as your career?

I didn't want to be anything but an actor. My father ran away from home to be an actor. So, I think it was a little infectious and I too got infected by the film bug ever since I was in the eighth standard. Till the eighth, I was first in studies and from the eighth, I was last in the class since I was obsessed with films.

I studied in a boarding school in Yercaud and we had all the opportunities in the school to pursue extracurricular activities. So, I learnt karate, swimming, dancing and played all the games because I felt it might come useful when I became an actor! You won't believe but if I had to fetch a ball, I would jump the wall because I thought that would help me in films later!

Did you continue with your studies? Or, were you obsessed only with films?

Vikram I was obsessed with films, but I continued my studies for my dad's sake. I went on to do my graduation in English literature from Loyola College, but let me tell you, in my mind, I had only one ambition -- I wanted to be an actor. I did some courses in computers and then as I was doing my MBA, I got an offer and suddenly left everything to be an actor.

That was in 1989. I did Meera with a lot of expectations, but I did not become a sensation. But I knew Ullasam (ABCL's first Tamil film with Ajith and Vikram) wouldn't do well. I didn't like the soft character that I was portraying in the film. I don't like soft roles.


I always felt only action-oriented roles would make you a big star. Even in Malayalam cinema, look at Jayaram, so many of his movies are big hits, but he is not a superstar. He is just a star. Only Mammootty, Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi are superstars because they do action-oriented roles.

In Tamil films too, the situation is no different. The hero has to be a larger-than-life character. But after Ullasam, I got a lot of female fans because they like soft characters!

Your latest film Sethu took two years to complete. Were you tense at any point of time?

I was a little depressed as it took two years and, I had stopped acting in any Tamil film for the sake of Sethu. And in those two years, I didn't act in any Malayalam and Telugu films either. By the end of the second year, it was my mother who ran my house.

When you first started shooting Sethu, did you feel that it would be a major film in your career? If so, how did you get the inkling?

From the very first scene itself, I got a feeling that it would click. Bala is a new director. But I knew he was making a good film. He was so confident about himself that he didn't compromise at all. When he narrated the story, I knew this guy had something. Sethu, the character that I portrayed was larger than life, really large, and I felt the audience would identify with his ideals and whatever he stood for.

In the second half of the film, there was a lot of scope for performance. So, I knew it would click. I knew that it would give me an opportunity for acting. And it worked.

So, you gave all your energy to this film?

Vikram in Sethu Yes. I didn't think of anything but Sethu in those days. I lost weight. I shaved my head. I changed my appearance. I did all that expecting the film to be over in three months. But six months passed, another six moths passed and even after one-and-a-half years, we were not finished. I couldn't take up another film because of my appearance. I did some dubbing, that's all.

It must have been a big gamble...

Yes. But I believed in the movie and I used to tell everyone that this movie is going to do wonders for me. Finally after two years, it was ready. Those who saw the rushes said, wow! People clapped after the preview! But no one was buying the film. I started feeling jittery. I must say, hats off to the producer, because he released the film himself.

It started off as just a noon show film, didn't it?

Yes, that too in a suburban theatre. That was because we didn't get any good theatre. I was very disappointed. Nobody goes for a noon show except college students. I went to the theatre in the first few days. In a theatre, which had a capacity of 650, there were hardly 250 people on the first day! I thought all our hard work had gone waste.

But I found that even those who leisurely walked in half an hour after the film started sat through and started clapping by end. Suddenly, I felt hopeful. You can say the audience that comes to that particular theatre are like those in the smaller places like Trichi or Salem. And, the audience increased by the day and finally the shows started getting full.

You won't believe -- I was going there almost every day to keep track of my film. I was so desperate about Sethu. But after the first show itself, I was sure that it would click. I told the producer to wait for 10 days.

There was no publicity at all about the movie and I have heard that it became a success through word of mouth publicity. Is that true?

You are right. People went to see the film because somebody else told them it was a good movie... Later, the film moved to a big theatre in the city as noon show with just 25 people watching the first show. After a week, they called us and said that they were going to make it a regular show.

Is it not for the first time that a movie which was first released in a suburban theatre as a noon show went on to become a success of this sort?

It was showing in nine theatres simultaneously in the city! Till it completed 75 days, it was there in all the nine theatres and now it has been removed from only two of those theatres. This is the first time in my life that I have gone to a theatre and seen my film so many times. My film! This is the first time in my life that I saw people clapping and whistling to a film of mine. They lifted me, kissed me and almost ripped my shirt off after a show here in Madras. Oh, what an experience it was! I just loved it.

When did you finally relax?

After the second or the third week, I knew it would be a hit. But again, I felt depressed after one month. I had been listening to stories from the day people realised that Sethu was a hit. I might have heard 150 stories in the first one month, but I couldn't find a single challenging script. I had decided that I wouldn't do a film unless the script was really good. Then, why did I wait so long?

Vikram I became very, very depressed, more depressed than I was before the release of Sethu. Sethu was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and even after that, if I could not find a challenging script, what would I do? Sixty-five days had passed after the release of Sethu and I had not accepted any film.

People asked me, 'are you mad? You waited for 10 years for producers to flock to you. And, when they come with offers, you are not accepting any film. Why don't you accept all?' But the problem was I couldn't.

What are you looking for now, good story, good producer or a good director?

Good story, of course. I want good, strong characters. I then look for a director who is capable of making that story into a good film. Then I will see the production company. I do not want to do insipid roles even though the story is good. I am relieved now because in the last 10 days, I heard some really good subjects from good producers. I had two choices -- I either accept any movie or hope it runs. Or, wait a little more for a good script. I decided to wait and it has paid dividends finally.

After Sethu, producers and directors are coming to sign you. Don't you feel they ignored your talent all these years and now only because you had a big hit that they are after you?

That's how it is, that was how it was and that is how it will be. See you don't have to be good looking, you don't have to act well, you don't have to fight well or dance well -- all that matters is a hit. If your movie does well, people will look up at you, but if your films flop, however much talented you are, they will ignore you. I always knew that I would be successful one day.

How could you remain so confident even though they sidelined you all these years?

I think it is my blood type: I am B+ve. So, I have always been positive. Do you know I had a major accident when I was in college and I didn't walk for four years? Three years, I didn't walk at all and then for one year, I was on crutches. The doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to walk. But I was adamant that I would walk one day and I would be an actor. That confidence was what kept me going. If I could come out of such a serious setback, I could come out of anything.

So, the last 10 years was nothing. Yes, I felt a little low, that's all. I was not dismissed all these 10 years. But I had not given a hit like Ajith or Vijay, and both of them came after me.

It was not that I was not getting offers. Earlier also, I was getting offers, but not good roles. Now I am getting a lot more offers and good roles. It is not money that lured me into this profession, you know.

So, artistic satisfaction is more important to you than money?

I want satisfaction. If you love what you do, what more can you hope for? I love acting. I love acting on stage. I love acting in films. I want to act. I want to do good characters, challenging characters. Yes, nobody does any work for free. I too need money, but I don't want money to take precedence over artistic satisfaction. I didn't compromise all these years. So, why should I compromise now? No, I will never.

You had acted in quite a few Malayalam films too...

Sethu See, I had been doing a lot of good small roles with Mammookka (Mammootty), Suresh Gopi and Jayaram all these years. For pocket money! And, in Sethu, if they describe my acting as good, it is only because of the experience I got from those Malayalam films. I had watched all these great actors act and the natural acting that I do now is not even five per cent of what they do in Malayalam films. And, I want to do good roles in Malayalam cinema too now because I love those films. I want to do the kind of strong roles that Mammookka and Mohanlal do there.

Do you get into the characters or the characters get into you?

I try getting into the characters but eventually, Sethu got into me. In the second half, after I shaved my head and became thin, I became the character.

Did you carry the character with you especially after shaving your head and looking so different?

Yes, I did. My wife and father used to tell me, 'don't walk like that, don't look like that.' Sethu used to be so irritable and look in a particular way. Even after shooting, I used to be like him, I just couldn't get over him. Even now, I cannot forget Sethu. It has become a part of mine.

Photographs of Vikram by Sanjay Ghosh

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