Tuesday August 25, 2009
Superhero with style
By SHARMILLA GANESAN
Tamil superstar Vikram was in town last week to promote his new movie, Kanthaswamy.
HAVING played a serial killer, a cop, a gangster, a blind man and an autistic man, just to name a few, what else is there for Tamil film actor Vikram to bring onscreen? What about a superhero? In his latest film, Kanthaswamy, Vikram does exactly that – playing a superhero-type character who takes money from unscrupulous tycoons to help the poor and needy.
Known for his acting chops after playing challenging roles in films like Sethu (where he plays a brain-damaged man) and Pithamagan (where he depicts a man who grew up with virtually no human contact), Vikram is also a bankable star who has produced box office smashes like Gemini, Dhool and Samy.
Being possibly the first Tamil film to take on a superhero theme, Kanthaswamy boasts high production values and gorgeous locales including Italy and Mexico. Besides the much-hyped special effects and stunt work, the movie features exclusive costumes from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and New York, with styling done in Italy. From shooting in a bullfighting ring in Mexico to a stunning opera house in Italy, director Susi Ganesan spared no expenses in giving the film a slick, sexy, blockbuster feel.
Already hype has been building around the movie. Advanced ticket reservations in Chennai, India, for the film set an all-time record for the first week, and audio sales sold 100,000 within the first week of its launch. In Malaysia, the film opened on 60 screens across the nation last Friday, topping even Rajnikanth’s blockbuster Sivaji (which opened in 2007 on 55 screens).
In Kuala Lumpur last week for Kanthaswamy’s Malaysian premiere, Vikram, 43, shared that the film, while being totally larger-than-life and commercial, comes with an important message.
“I’d like to say that it is a modern day version of Robin Hood, but by saying that, I actually diminish the importance of the script. The film talks about the disparity of wealth we have in India, where we have very rich people and very poor people.
“Most of this is because so much wealth has been amassed by corruption, and thousands of billions of dollars have been taken out of India. If all that money were to be brought back to India, it will make a big difference (to the poor),” said the star who hails from Paramakudi, in Tamil Nadu, India.
To get this message across, Vikram and the filmmakers decided to use a formula that audiences would easily relate to.
“We thought we’d take this serious message and make it into something very pleasant, something that even children would understand,” explained Vikram. “It’s in the garb of a superhero film, but it’s not a superhero film. It’s actually about the message.”
At the same time, the film strives to be “very classy”, going for a polished look, “like something made in Hollywood”, the actor said.
“It’s not the run-of-the-mill presentation. We’ve tried to depict everything in a very different way, including the song sequences and fight scenes. Even though it’s such a commercial film, the director has also gone very deep into the subject.”
Even more impressive is the way the production team walked the talk of the film. Embodying the mantra that the well-off should extend help to those in need, the filmmakers adopted the two villages where Kanthaswamy was filmed, providing the residents with basic amenities and mooting a welfare scheme as well. This initiative soon swelled to include 30 struggling villages, and the team is encouraging more people in the film industry to follow suit.
Starring alongside Vikram is Tamil cinema’s current actress du jour, Shriya Saran. Sporting a messy, short hairdo and über-sexy outfits, she isn’t only eye candy, but also the perfect foil to Vikram’s character.
Vikram says the audience will see a new facet to her in the film.
“Shriya has always been known for being pretty and having a good physique, and she has done some good work. In this movie (however), we’ve utilised a different side of her. People are going to be wowed by her acting. Her role is on par with mine, and she easily stole the show on most occasions,” he said.
For Vikram, Kanthaswamy presented the opportunity to play a character different from any he had played before. Playing both the superhero and a Central Bureau of Investigation officer, his character is cool, calm and collected; and what’s more, the naturally charismatic actor gets to show off his stylish, charming side too.
“My character is almost like an Indianised version of (James) Bond, very cool. What I mean is, Bond is not someone who gets flustered, and that’s how my role is.
“At the same time, the film has let me take on many different roles; I dressed up as a woman, and as an old man, too. And of course, there’s the superhero character, who is (modelled) after a rooster, which was great fun,” Vikram enthused.
For the star, it’s about evolving as an actor. He refuses to be pigeonholed as either an “arthouse” actor or a “commercial” star.
“I love cinema in any form, and I always want to blend the two,” he said. “What I try to do is make films like Pithamagan or Kasi (where he plays a blind man), but with commercial (appeal). Likewise, with my more mainstream films, I make them performance-oriented. I (consciously) create and play different characters.
“I want to look, act and laugh differently in every film. In Tamil, we have a saying that goes, nadai (walk), udai (appearance), bhavanai (expression); I want that to come through in each film. My strategy is: I don’t want to act, I want to become the character.”
This approach has served him well in Kanthaswamy.
“I’ve done some really good films in my career, and I’d say Kanthaswamy is easily one of my best. It’s a fantastic character, a fantastic canvas. It’s going to be one of those huge blockbusters that I’m going to be really proud of, and I’m going to tell my grandchildren: ‘That’s my movie.’ ”
■ Kanthaswamy is currently playing in cinemas nationwide.