The man who did roles no hero would touch: The rise of 'Chiyaan' Vikram

Vikram was once told he may never walk again after a bike accident.
The man who did roles no hero would touch: The rise of 'Chiyaan' Vikram
The man who did roles no hero would touch: The rise of 'Chiyaan' Vikram
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While at college he almost lost a leg in a nasty accident while riding pillion on a motorcycle. 

Doctors attending to him prophesied that he might never walk again. Twenty three surgeries and three years later, Kennedy John Victor or Vikram, as he's known, bounced back to action, his passion for the silver screen intact and his morale high. 

However, he could not go very far and at one stage even had to turn into a dubbing artiste in Tamil films, speaking in the voices of actors like Abbas and Prabhu Deva. 

Malayalam and Telugu films beckoned but the roles were hardly substantial and gave him precious little aesthetic satisfaction, leave alone providing a fillip to his nascent career. 

Even a film like Ullasam, made under the prestigious AB Corp. banner owned by Amitabh Bachchan, did not set the box office on fire and for a time, it appeared that his career would not take off in a big way. 

That was when Bala, who had apprenticed under cinematographer-director Balu Mahendra approached him with the script of Sethu. It was this low budget film that first struggled to find a producer and then a distributor after it was ready, that brought Vikram into the reckoning as an actor. The audience and the industry saw him as a performer who could mould himself to suit the demands of the role he was given.

While the actor has never fought shy of doing commercial films and has breezed through roles in hits such as DilGeminiDhool, and Saamy, the films that really marked him out as a standout performer were ‘Sethu’ ‘Kasi’ ‘Pithamagan’ ‘Deiva Thirumagal’ and ‘I’

His roles in each of these films required a lot of physical effort from his side and were highly challenging. There were complex layers woven into each character and he had to take the entire weight of the films on his shoulders.

 A dissection of each of these roles will reveal how Vikram has approached them and how he stands unique in the industry for accepting such films, which no image conscious hero would have dared to touch even with a barge pole. 


 After working with Balu Mahendra for a pretty long time, director Bala decided to branch out on his own and Sethu was a script that he had been peddling for at least a couple of years to all the major producers in the industry. 

However, none of them wanted anything to do with it, till one man volunteered to give wings to Bala’s dreams. 

The hero of the film was a college tough who always let his fists do the talking. He loses his mind after the woman he stalks and tries to compel into a relationship rejects him. 

Vikram signed the film as it was for the first time that he had found such a substantial role, but not even in his wildest dreams would he have envisaged that it would take such a heavy toll on him. 

The first half of the film was a boisterous romp but it was the second half that was steeped in pathos as the hero battles the demons in his mind that turn him into a stark, raving lunatic. 

Six months of a near starvation diet that left him twenty kilos lighter, a clean shaven head and a body so lean and emaciated that he had to make an effort to even stand up, Vikram did all he could to meet the expectations of the first time director. 

Cinematographer Ratnavelu’s contribution to the scenes shot in the mental asylum was a green, soft focus lighting that added poignancy and also highlighted the agony of the inmates in no small measure.

Sethu had a tragic climax too and the hero who had been cured of his madness sets off to meet the woman he'd "loved" only to discover that she has taken her own life.

Gingerly he troops back to the vehicle that had transported him and drives back to the asylum with nary any reason to live on. 

The film was not expected to do well at the box office but surprisingly picked up steam after a dull start and ended up being a hit. 


Malayalam director Vinayan made Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Gnanum with the late Kalabchavan Mani in the lead role of a poverty-stricken blind singer. 

He remade the film in Tamil as Kasi and roped in Vikram for the lead role while retaining Malayalam actor Kavya Madhavan from the original cast.

This again was hardly a role for a mainstream hero and the director’s mandate to Vikram was to get a sunburnt, tanned look. The actor managed to accomplish this by taking regular sunbaths on his terrace. He also practised the art of rolling his eyes upwards so that the eyeballs looked invisible - this proved a tad difficult but not insurmountable for someone who had set his sights on the role which he realized had good potential to display his versatility. 

Although Vikram did come up with a praiseworthy performance, a surfeit of melodramatic clichés marred the film which, though a hit in Malayalam nosedived in its Tamil version.


Director Bala was reportedly piqued that Vikram was overlooked by the National Award Jury for Sethu and had promised the actor that he would prepare another script for him that would net him the coveted honour. 

Pithamagan was the result. 

The film released in 2003 was based on a novel ‘Nandavanathil Oru Aandi’ by Jnanpith Award winning writer Jayakanthan. 

The main protagonist of the film was a gravedigger Chithan (Vikram) who is cut off from civilization at a very tender age. He grows into adulthood, among corpses, unable to communicate in any language but imbued with a sense of loyalty towards anyone who does him a good turn. 

Dirty, betel stained teeth, dry, streaked, disheveled hair, shaggy beard, ill-fitting clothes and a glint in the eye characterized Chithan and Vikram ensured that he fit the role to a T.

 The entire film had the lead character mouth no dialogues, with only grunts and growls as the means of communication. 

Ably supported by a cast including Surya, Sangeetha and Laila, Vikram came up to the director’s expectations and also won the National Award for Best Actor that year.

Deiva Thirumagal

Directed by AL Vijay who had made a fine impression with Madrasupattinam, Deiva Thirumagal centred around  a young mentally challenged man with the maturity of a six year old.

He dotes on his daughter and his father-in-law moves heaven and earth to separate the duo. 

Of the five films under the scanner, Deiva Thirumagal was one of Vikram’s weakest performances, as a veneer of artificiality crept into the portrayal right from the first frame and lasted throughout the film. 

Vikram had prepared well for the film by spending considerable time with mentally challenged people but whether it was the director’s conception of the role or the actor’s interpretation, Vikram’s performance and the film in itself was hardly a patch on the American original.

Sean Penn had excelled in the same role in I am Sam. Audiences, too, found little to cheer in Deiva Thirumagal and the film received a lukewarm response.


The grapevine has it that director Shankar pitched three scripts to superstar Rajanikant who accepted two of them and two blockbusters Sivaji and Enthiran emerged from their partnership. 

The third was a film that revolved around a body builder and model who is injected with the ‘I’ virus by the villains. 

There was no way that Rajini would have done I, as apart from the six pack look that the role demanded, it also involved the character getting deformed and turning into a reed thin hunchback with a face full of boils and blisters. The superstar's diehard fans would have found it difficult to digest this. 

But Vikram who had earlier worked with Shankar in Anniyan, essaying the character of a meek, docile lawyer who suffers from a multiple personality disorder and turns into an avenger liquidating the villains one by one, was the apt choice.

 Vikram has gone on record to say that I was the most difficult film that he had ever done as he not only had to pump iron for months to play the body builder, he had to lose all the body mass to do justice to the hunchback’s role. 

A song sequence in the film also featured him as a werewolf. The actor had to patiently sit through hours of make-up involving prosthetic but managed to convey the essence of both the characters convincingly. 

I became a huge box office grosser. With the success of films like Irumugan, Vikram has struck a purple patch and has a number of films like Sketch, Dhruva Natchathiram etc all in various stages of filming. 

Vikram, who hails from Paramakudi, the same district as ‘Ulaga Nayagan’ Kamal Haasan has obviously taken his cue from the thespian who has an abiding passion for such offbeat, challenging roles, too. 

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