A double game

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By Tamil superstar Vikram switches roles in more ways than one for the Hindi and Tamil versions of Raavan, says Aarti Dua
  • Published 23.05.10

Switching roles comes easily to Tamil superstar Vikram. He has, after all, delivered blockbusters like Anniyan, in which as someone with a multiple personality disorder, he effortlessly switched personas from a rule-abiding lawyer to ramp model to vigilante. But even he admits that his latest film was a challenge.

That’s because Vikram faced a twin challenge during the shooting. Firstly, he’s acting in his first-ever Hindi film — Mani Ratnam’s Raavan — in which he plays Dev Pratap Sharma, a suave cop who’s married to classical dancer Ragini, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Secondly, he’s also acting in the Tamil version of it — as the diametrically opposed Beera, a volatile tribal leader who abducts Aishwarya and falls in love with her. Abhishek Bachchan plays Beera in the Hindi Raavan, which is Ratnam’s modern take on the clash between good and evil — with several shades of grey.

Vikram’s on-screen chemistry with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
in the Hindi Raavan

“It’s very challenging and I’m very excited. Normally, when an actor does a movie in two languages, he plays the same role. But this is a unique situation,” says Vikram.

He’s also excited about reaching a wider audience in Hindi. And he has fulfiled his long-held dream of working with Ratnam too. “It’s the best break anyone can get in any language,” says Vikram or Chiyaan, as his fans down south call him after his character in his first blockbuster Sethu.

How did he play two such different characters in Raavan? “I have a penchant for playing multiple characters and transforming myself,” says the National Award-winning actor. But unlike in the past, when he could physically transform himself like when he shed 16kg for Sethu, he admits that Raavan presented new challenges.

“We had to shoot both films simultaneously. So the only change I could make was in the body language and attitude. But I’ve pulled it off. People who see both films won’t believe it’s the same guy playing the two characters,” asserts Vikram.

A still from Sethu, the film that propelled Vikram into the Tamilsuperstar league

The two roles have also satisfied his need to “be a star who appeals to the masses and be an actor too”. That’s because as the cop Dev, Vikram plays a smooth and stylish guy — and a lethal one too. The on-screen chemistry between Aishwarya and him is already generating a buzz. “When people see me as Dev, they’ll get attracted to me in a way they never have before,” he says.

As for the more rustic Beera, he says: “I like Beera’s volatility. He’s very layered and complicated. The Tamil Beera appeals to me as an actor while the Hindi Dev appeals to me as a star.”

No, he didn’t watch Abhishek —they’re good friends — shoot for Beera, or vice versa either. “We both interpreted it in our own way. That’s the thing with Mani Sir,” says Vikram, who’s a huge fan of Ratnam.

Was it difficult acting in Hindi? “I was a little wary initially but I was inspired by actors like Simran and Jyothika, who didn’t know Tamil and yet became big stars,” he says.

Indeed, after working hard at it, he’s confident about dubbing his Hindi dialogues himself. And in a year, he says he’ll be speaking it so fluently that he’ll get back at his wife — she teaches psychology — and daughter, Akshita, and son, Dhruv, for laughing at his attempts to learn the language. “I’ll show them,” he says with a grin.

For now, Vikram’s anticipating the release of both versions on June 18 even as he’s busy promoting the film — after Cannes, he heads off for a pre-release world tour. “It’s the first time that I’ll reach a larger Hindi audience. It’s a new phase in my career,” he says. As for his Tamil audience, he admits that he’s “a little smug” about Beera “because I know what I’ve done”. But it too will “take my career to a new level”, he feels.

It’s a career that Vikram says he was “genetically coded” for. Indeed, the acting bug bit him when he first “played a dumb tree” on stage in Class 3. “Even then, I loved being on stage,” he recalls. By Class 8, when he got his first hero’s role, “I knew that I wanted to be in films”, he says. His rank had dropped from the top five to the bottom five by then but he was busy dreaming about “signing autographs and driving a red sports car”.

Having failed in his own attempts to be an actor, his father tried to dissuade him. And Vikram did get a B.A. in English Literature and even began an MBA. But he dropped out after the first year to pursue his dream.

The going wasn’t easy. He struggled for almost 10 years doing bit roles before hitting the big time with Sethu in 1999. “For a long time, I didn’t get a real break,” he recalls.

Sethu changed that. And he hasn’t looked back since, giving huge hits like Dhill, Kasi, Dhool, Saamy and the Rs 100-crore-grosser Anniyan, which was dubbed as Aparachit in Hindi. He has won critical acclaim too with films like Pithamagan for which he got a National Award. “I’ve consciously done different roles in all my films,” says Vikram.

He has also done fewer films with just one release every 18 months or so. But he’s determined to change that now. So he has already signed up for five Tamil films. There’s Vedi, in which he plays a funny cop. Then, he’s doing Selvaraghavan’s Sinbad, a psychological thriller in which he has a triple role, and two period films too. And he wants to do more Hindi films too. The offers have started coming, but Vikram’s waiting for “something interesting”. Till then, he’s “dreaming, sleeping and breathing Ravaan”.