What makes Vikram Kollywood's superstar? His ability to play diverse characters
It was late 1999, when I saw director Bala’s Sethu starring Vikram. The movie had such a profound impact on me that I couldn't sleep over the next few nights. Vikram or Chiyaan, as he was called in the film, delivered a stellar performance as a college rowdy who turns into a mentally-challenged person. This movie catapulted him to stardom.
17 years since, Chiyaan Vikram has proved that he is one of the most versatile stars in the Tamil film industry.
Vikram (née Kennedy John Victor) stepped into the film industry in 1990 but struggled for many years before he got his big break. Working in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films, Vikram didn’t say no to any offer. This was indeed a good decision because director Bala’s film Sethu showed Kollywood and the audience his acting prowess and there was no looking back for him after that.
Throughout his career, Vikram made sure he chose alternate scripts that were commercial and fun, and those that were dramedies. With director Dharani, he did Dhill (2001) and Dhool (2003) which portrayed the star as a commercial action hero. These films went on to become blockbusters. In director Vinayan’s Kasi (2002), he played a blind village singer and he went on to snag the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil.
In fact, director Bala and he had a great working relationship and their subsequent film, Pithamagan (2003), earned Vikram the National Award for Best Actor among others. All his years of hard work and struggle had started to finally pay off.
Another major turning point in his life was when director Shankar signed him on for Anniyan in 2005. Vikram performed three roles in the movie with ease moving from an action star to a simpleton effortlessly. In fact, Shankar called him the ‘life and soul’ of Anniyan. The actor dedicated many months of his life to the film ensuring he put on a paunch for one role and pumped up to turn macho for another.
Vikram’s ability to play multiple characters and be totally dedicated to a film and its director was well-known but Anniyan showed that he could go to any lengths for the success of a film.
This is perhaps what made director Shankar sign him on again for I in 2015. Other than Superstar Rajinikanth, Vikram is the only star whom director Shankar has worked with twice.
When Mani Ratnam signed him for his Hindi- Tamil bilingual Raavanan (2010), there was excitement as this was the first time the ace director and star were working together. Plus, it was the actor’s Bollywood debut as well. This was also the first time that a Kollywood star was enacting two diametrically opposite roles in the same film. In the Tamil version, Vikram played the gangster while in the Hindi version he played the cop. And he earned accolades for both.
For nearly every role of his in his career, Vikram has practiced and worked for months ahead to get the look right.
In Sethu, he had to look weak and thin in the second half of the film so he drank only juice for weeks. For Kasi, he practiced drawing his eyeballs into his eye sockets. Now, he wears glasses because of the after-effects. For Samy, he bulked up to play the cop. For I, he lost 20 kgs to play the hunchback. These are just a few examples of his power to transform to be the character he plays on screen.
Like most actors, Vikram has had his share of highs and lows in his career. But that doesn’t seem to faze him because top directors want to work with him for his sheer talent and dedication. The audience can’t get enough of him either as they want to know what he’s going to play next on screen.
Vikram’s repertoire of films from Sethu is one that is possibly envied by other actors. His roles on screen have been diverse and at extreme ends of the spectrum – and that perhaps is what makes him more fascinating as an actor. From a young village Casanova to a cop to a model to a visually-challenged man to a man who grows up in a graveyard to a hunchback to the rowdy to suave romantic hero – this actor has done them all.
Today, he has Dhruva Natchathiram with Gautham Menon and Sketch in his slate. The film with Menon is the first spy thriller the actor has done and what’s more, he has a new look (yes, another one) in this film. The film’s teaser has nearly 9 million views and it looks like the audience can’t get enough of Vikram’s new avatar.
For now, Chiyaan Vikram looks set to dabble with more roles and characters. He told The Hindu, "I'm not in a race, it's the passion for the craft that drives me."