“Your peti (interview in Tamil) with Vikram today will not be good, Saar.” Making the prediction was Kalaipuli S.Dhanu. The veteran film producer was in Hyderabad to promote Mallanna, the Telugu verion of Tamil film Kanthaswamy, along with the lead cast Vikram and Shriya.
For those who do not know, Dhanu is the man who as the Chennai distributor for a Tamil film called Bhairavi in 1978, dared to christen a young Rajinikanth as the ‘Superstar’ that he eventually became. This when thespian Sivaji Ganeshan was still ruling the Tamil film world.
But this Friday, Dhanu’s prediction was wrong. My interview with Vikram went off quite fine. I had met him thrice before and he had never given me any reason to be disappointed. Though we spoke more about Raavan (Vikram’s next film with Mani Ratnam) than about Kanthaswamy.
The reason for Dhanu’s apprehensions had been a scathing review of Kanthaswamy that morning in the Chennai edition of one of the main national dailies. The critic had torn into Kanthaswamy praying to God to “give a remote to every person who watches Kanthaswamy so that they can survive the onslaught”. He had concluded, “this movie is a surefire cure for constipation”.
Having spent 32 crore rupees on the project, Dhanu was aghast that an outsider had so bluntly called his baby ugly. “What right does a critic have to write like this?” To Dhanu, this amounted to asking people not to watch the film. “Can I put up posters in Chennai, asking people not to read this newspaper?” He attributed motives by a lobby led by a celebrated actor who Dhanu hates passionately, alleging a clique was at work to damage the film’s prospects at the box office.
I am not reviewing Kanthaswamy here. I have not watched the film. The trailors suggested far too much focus on form rather than content for my liking. Outlandish costumes and done-to-death modern-day Robinhood sagas do not appeal to me. Sure, Vikram and Shriya look wow. But that is not good enough to keep me glued to the seat for three hours (forget the money spent on the tickets and popcorn !)
Vikram is a brilliant actor. That he managed to keep his anger and disappointment about the review masked from our camera was proof to me of that. I have loved him in Saamy, Dhool, Pithamagan. Sethu is among my wife’s favourites. I loved him as Ambi in Anniyan. But with Majaa, Bheema, Vikram lost his grip. Friends who have watched Mallanna in Hyderabad have given it the thumbs down. The twelve costumes that Vikram gets into in the film, they say, just don’t work. And the tale is stale.
But don’t write off Vikram yet. He is a man who remembers what the Superstar said about him to a packed audience after watching Saamy. Rajinikanth called Vikram his heir apparent. In an interview to me in March 2007, Vikram confessed, “It felt very good. All my contemporaries were on stage. Rajini sir is not like other actors. He is not afraid to praise anyone else because he is very confident about himself. It was nice, I was on cloud nine for quite many days after that.”
And Vikram is in a hurry to get back there. “Enough of taking time off to work on my looks for every film,” says Vikram. He is clearly irked at the time each of his films take in the making. Bheema took three years and Kanthaswamy two. So now he is working on two films at the same time, Raavan and Selvaraghavan’s next, a psycho thriller.
Vikram plays the negative character in the Tamil version of Raavan and the good guy with shades of grey in the Hindi version. No, he is not looking for a passport to Bollywood, he insists.
In stock market parlance, Raavan most likely will give Vikram the opportunity to wipe all the losses of Majaa, Bheema and Kanthaswamy. Won’t be a surprise, when he has Mani on his side !