Dear Tamil Cinema, can’t you see Vikram is starving?

Written by
Manoj Kumar R
| Bengaluru |

Published: April 17, 2020 1:31:19 pm

Vikram Vikram turned a year older today.

Kamal Haasan once suggested that versatile actor Sivaji Ganesan’s unmatched ability was underused during the later years of his career because not many writers were able to create roles that really challenged him. That’s the main reason Haasan started writing movies for himself. The actor-filmmaker knew that his once-in-a-generation talent would be left to starve if he waited for somebody to bring food to him. So, he decided to put on an apron and cook massive meals that satisfied his creative pangs.

And Vikram is now at a juncture where perhaps he should consider following the path of Kamal. It seems there are not many writers in the Tamil film industry who can create roles that match his acting skills, which is in abundance.

The actor turned a year older today. He is 54 now, and I believe that filmmakers have hardly scratched the surface when it comes to utilizing his once-in-a-generation talent.

Vikram has come a long way in the last three decades. He started his career in the film industry with En Kadhal Kanmani (1990), and what followed was almost a decade of struggle to find acting jobs. He even stayed employed by accepting dubbing assignments. Nobody foresaw that he would reach the place where he’s today. Maybe because not many saw what he brought to the table. Except for a then-newcomer Bala, who helmed Sethu (1999) with Vikram in the lead. The movie about star-crossed lovers put Vikram on the map, and he has only sailed upwards since.

A few years later, he again collaborated with Bala and delivered a power-packed, award-winning performance in Pithamagan. It was another tragic story of a relationship that meets one of the ugliest of ends in Tamil cinema. In the movie, Vikram plays the role of a man called Chithan who is unmoved by deaths, because he grew up in a graveyard, surrounded by death than life. He is a loner and an outsider, who knows nothing about the functioning of human society. Vikram effectively channels his animalistic features to distinguish Chithan amongst other social beings. Chithan doesn’t understand greed, power, money or has no materialistic desires. He only knows hunger and soon learns the importance of companionship. He is loyal like a dog and strong like a bull. He mimics animals when he fights and runs. The role deglamorized the star-image that he made with the help of earlier movies like Dhill (2001), Gemini (2002), Dhool (2003) and Swamy (2003). These movies put him in the league of big stars. Many thought he was the heir to Rajinikanth. But, with Pithamagan, he showed us that he takes after Kamal Haasan. Of course, he nurtures lust for characters that allows him to have fun doing things a quintessential hero does. But, he is also ready to strip himself of everything, should he get a role that allows the actor in him to thrive.

After Bala, it is only director Mani Ratnam who took advantage of Vikram’s brilliance at physical acting. Ratnam’s reimagination of Ramayana humanized Ravanan, one of India’s greatest mythological villains. Raavanan (2010) narrated the story of the tribe that was considered the dark-side in popular narrative. And through Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Ragini, Ratnam probes the massive grey area between the light and dark, showcasing a different image of “the villain.” After all, Raavanan is the hero in his own story.

Vikram brought to life Ratnam’s vision for Raavanan with great fervour, creating a string of ever-lasting images of his character. The actor again got in touch with his animalistic instincts and displayed his masculine traits with unmistakable tenderness. While he undoubtedly excelled as “the villain” in Tamil version of Raavanan, he also nailed the role of “the hero” in the Hindi version Raavan, which had Abhishek Bachchan playing the role of a tribe leader who sends cops into a wild-goose chase in the deepest of forests. There is only so much Abhishek and Prithviraj could bring to their given characters. But, Vikram as an actor is limitless, as he delivered fully realized performances in two different shades. His mere screen presence in this movie is a thing of envy for other actors.

Mani Ratnam has set the bar really high with Raavanan for Vikram. Arguably, no other writer or director has invented a role for the actor that surpassed or even met the benchmark he set with his outstanding performance a decade ago. Now, don’t rush to remind me of Shankar’s I (2005). His physical transformation for the hunchback role just underlined Vikram’s commitment and undying passion for cinema. It is a classic case of an actor doing more to the screenplay than the script does for him.

Perhaps, the 2020s could bring out more of Vikram’s untapped potential. Director Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Dhruva Natchathiram and R. Ajay Gnanamuthu’s Cobra hold a lot of promise. We can only hope we get more writers who can create ingenious roles that could keep the acting-giant in Vikram well-nourished. We also hope Vikram understands that he is too overqualified for movies like Swamy Square and Sketch. It is like a scientist choosing to be a pharmacist, instead of working in the lab to find a cure for coronavirus.

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