Two things have been a constant in Vikram's career since Sethu: a thirst for acting excellence and a desire to stand out. "Even in Kadaram Kondan(KK), I have done something different with the role. The beefed-up body, the tattoos, the hairstyle... We wanted to shock the audience by making the character look unpredictable. I believe it has worked," says Vikram, whose upcoming film by Rajesh M Selva is produced by Kamal Haasan's Raaj Kamal Films International. "Kamal sir has been a huge inspiration for me. I didn't even think twice when asked to be part of his production venture."
While the promotional content of Kadaram Kondan is making all the right noises, there are also comparisons with his role as John in Gautam Vasudev Menon's long-awaited film, Dhruva Natchathiram. "Both are fast-paced, international-looking films, but they are completely different. While Dhruva Natchathiram unravels over a time frame of two-three months, KK is about incidents that happen in a day. I liked the urgency here. While both are stylish characters, my role in KK is more menacing. He is somebody in complete control."
While on films, Vikram opens up about the impact of the digital boom. He denies any potential plunge into the digital space soon, but recognises that the phenomenon is here to stay. "Opportunities are now wide open. Earlier, only the theatrical run guaranteed a film's success. Now, you have digital and satellite rights. It is so good for cinema as it provides alternate options for the filmmakers to make money. If you can use these platforms to release the film in multiple languages and have an all-India presence, there's nothing like it," says Vikram.
This perhaps explains the nature of his forthcoming projects, which include Mani Ratnam's upcoming film adaptation of the Tamil novel, Ponniyin Selvan, and RS Vimal's big-budget film, Mahavir Karna. The latter, a Hindi film, is to be dubbed in as many as 32 languages.
Vikram speaks at length about the growing importance of making films with a universal appeal. "Language is not a limiting factor anymore. Take Prabhas, for instance; any movie he does will be an all-India film. We are moving towards pan-Indian films," says Vikram, whose Kadaram Kondan will get released in Telugu as Mr KK. "Everyone saw Arjun Reddy. Everyone saw Premam. If you are doing movies with universal appeal, you don't have to worry about language."
Did the universal appeal of Arjun Reddy prompt Vikram to choose Adithya Varma as the launch vehicle for his son, Dhruv? "It's a remake of a cult film. I don't think it was one of those films that ran because of sensationalism. The audience in favour of Arjun Reddy was not restricted to a particular class or gender. Everybody loved the treatment of that love story."
But with the growing criticism against Kabir Singh, the Hindi remake of Arjun Reddy, does he think Adithya Varma will receive similar backlash when it releases? "Adithya Varma will actually be a little more innocent than both Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy. Dhruv is more a college student than both Vijay Deverakonda and Shahid Kapoor. Even director Sandeep Vanga felt that Dhruv was most suited to play this role. Dhruv's character won't have the bravado or overt machismo seen in the other two films. Although it is a remake, there are no attempts to amp up the shock value. So, I feel the reaction won't be the same here," he believes.
Meanwhile, the success of Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy has given rise to questions about the 'responsibility of a filmmaker'. "As far as I'm concerned, I am a performer who wants to tell stories. I want people to build conversations around my stories. I want to entertain them. Maybe there will be a film of mine that has an underlying message, but that's not because I force it in. If that were the case, then I'd be a saint in every film."
I can't help but ask him if he gets bogged down by the negativity that stems out of a box office failure? "No one wants to deliver a failure. The thing is, it does affect the number of scripts that come to you. If you deliver success, you are flooded with offers. I have to admit that there were times when days went by without my being offered scripts. And one day, I would suddenly get ten scripts. You just hope for the best," says Vikram who is quick to add that the only way to tackle negativity is to stay away from it. That perhaps explains his limited presence on social media.
"Even if there are a hundred good things to say, there are at least two people who say bad things about you. And those two things can scar you for life. So why bother allowing it?" asks Vikram, who goes on to thank his Chiyaan Vikram Fans group for being his ears on social media, and supporting him unconditionally.
As a parting note, I wanted to know what keeps him going despite the crests and troughs in his career?
"I just do my work and hope everybody likes me. I see posts and messages that say, 'Zero Haters for Vikram'. Isn't that a very nice thing to say about a person? I think that is what keeps me happy," he signs off.
(This story was originally published in cinemaexpress.com)