As someone who grew up in a “cocoon kind of a set up”, actor Chiyaan Vikram said cinema gave him a chance to live life through characters that are poles apart from his real self.
Be it the temperamental Sethu in Sethu, social animal Chithan in Pithamagan or a man suffering from multiple personality disorder in Anniyan (Aparichit), Vikram has built a repertoire for playing distinct and off-centre characters in movies.
The actor, whose real name is Kennedy John Victor, said art was always an escape for him from his rigid upbringing. “I studied in the boarding school where if I didn’t go to church I’d get beaten or stuff like that. It was all very strict. I’ve been in a cocoon kind of a set up all my life. The only way I could actually express myself was through the arts, through singing or drawing.
“I used to try everything and drama was what got me really excited when I was in third standard,” Vikram told PTI in an interview.
The 56-year-old actor said since childhood, he had the yearning to take on characters that were distinctively different from his personality.
“I’ve always wanted to do very different characters. Maybe it was because that’s not me. Even now, I go crazy when I’m with people I’m comfortable with or it has something to do with my craft, otherwise I’m a little closed.
“So I think, that could be a reason where I feel I want to explore something that’s not me and be all those people that I can never be. So, I gravitate towards those kinds of roles all the time.” It was this desire to take varied parts that led him to ace director Mani Ratnam, who first worked with the actor on his acclaimed movie Raavanan.
Ratnam, Vikram said, has had a tremendous influence on him as a performer.
“Mani came and changed the cinema on its head. As someone who has not worked with any other director, Mani learned a lot from others’ mistakes. So all of us have been blessed to work with him,” he added.
The duo’s latest collaboration is Ponniyin Selvan-I, a film that gave Vikram a chance to travel back in time. “I think every actor would love to do some historical characters or some kind of historical film. It is because you want to be a part of the past in some way,” he said.
Based on author Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 Tamil novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the early days of Arulmozhivarman, one of the most powerful kings in the south who went on to become the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I in the 10th century.
Vikram plays the role of Aditha Karikalan, the crown prince and the commander of Northern troops in Sundara Chola’s reign.
The actor said his process to play Karikalan, a character with a dark past, was similar to the one he adapted while essaying the role of Veeraiya in Raavanan.
“He is like ‘Raavanan’ and what I did in that. But here he’s somebody who’s that plus he’s also the crown prince. So it changes the whole canvas certainly for me and goes into another zone,” he added.
The film also features Jayam Ravi as Arulmozhivarman, Trisha Krishnan as Kundavai, Karthi as Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini.
Vikram said the movie turned out to be a rare collaborative experience.
“It’s a very rare thing to feel comfortable and not feel threatened by your co-actors. It’s very rare that you want them to excel in what they’re doing and want to keep up with that.” The actor praised the performances of his co-stars Ravi and Karthi.
“Karthi carries the whole film on his shoulder. The whole story goes through his character… It’s not straight at all, there are so many ups and downs. It’s a crazy trip for him. It’s a trippy character.
“And Ravi’s character is again something else, very different where he’s so composed and he’s so calm but there’s so much confusion and so many things going on in his head. At the same time, he has to be princely. And so these are roles that as actors you really want to get into,” Vikram said.
Ponniyin Selvan is also the first pan-India project of the actor, who has also worked in Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi movies. While he has done two Hindi films — Raavan and Bejoy Nambiar’s David, the actor has never done a Kannada movie.
“When you see ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, don’t think that this is a Tamil film. It is an Indian film. It is part of our culture… I was there for the dubbing of my character for all the languages, and we made sure that the movie sounds authentic in Kannada or Hindi,” Vikram said.
Ponniyin Selvan is backed by Ratnam’s production house Madras Talkies and Allirajah Subaskaran’s banner Lyca Productions. Music maestro AR Rahman has provided the music with cinematography by Ravi Varman.