“This place is very special to me,” says Vikram Prabhu, as he poses for our photographer against a picture of his grandfather, “Every day, I stand here, and pray for a while before I head out.”
We’re at the landmark Annai Illam at Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Road (South Boag Road) that has seen the who’s who of tinseltown in the last five decades, since the family moved here.
“It has always been full of people,” he says, “Thatha used to sit in the hall, interacting with visitors. He loved the house.”
It would’ve looked busy then, but it’s silent now, with a few domestic help scurrying around. Lovely portraits of Sivaji Ganesan adorn the walls, four fans run suspended from the high ceiling and the chandeliers are big and bright. It echoes when you speak; the high windows are almost always open.
Vikram is busy this week; he has a film, Idhu Enna Mayam, releasing today. He’s just back from London, where he holidayed for a week, while also promoting his release. “Vijay, the director of the film, has a knack of eliciting subtle performances from his actors. He narrated a 15-minute storyline and I really liked the idea. It’s a youthful story, and can be watched by all audiences,” he says about the rom-com.
It’s coming back to this colourful, urban role that got Vikram hooked, after his rural outing in his last film Vellaikara Durai. It was too commercial, people said. He agrees, “It took me three days to go watch it because I couldn’t initially see myself doing such a film.”
But it’s the kind of film that works, he feels, because there are audiences who like to indulge in such storylines. “There are always people watching commercial flicks,” he explains. “When you go to parts of rural Tamil Nadu and walk the streets there, you get a better perception of how the business works. Having said that, there are audiences here too who like such films. In fact, I asked Vijay (director of Idhu Enna Mayam) to watch that film. He watched it at Sathyam and loved it.”
Vikram debuted in Tamil cinema with the hit film Kumki and went on to do others like Arima Nambi andSigaram Thodu. Point out to him that these flicks did not enjoy the same kind of buzz that his debut vehicle did, and he says, “Kumki was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of a project. A film like Baahubali today has to rely on CG to bring out scenes featuring animals; we did it with live elephants while shootingKumki. While I’d like all my projects to be as successful as my debut, it cannot be so. I’d like to try out films in different genres; that’s the only way to grow as an actor.”
He learnt that primarily at San Diego, where, despite going for an engineering degree, he decided to shift tracks to acting. “I loved theatre, I was interested in direction,” he recalls. “I took up an advanced acting course and directed a three-hour play there.”
And from theatre came his dreams to enter films. “Didn’t my grandfather do the same thing,” he smiles. “I knew that when I got back to Chennai, I wanted to be part of the movie business. I spent a couple of years in Sivaji Productions, our production house, and then got interested in facing the camera.”
Wasn’t that always on the cards, considering that he hailed from an illustrious family closely linked with the movie world? “When we were in school, it was always about studies. My grandfather always thought that if he had studied and knew English better, he’d have done better for himself. So, he wanted us kids to get a good education before we decided what we wanted to do with our lives,” he recalls.
It’s those good old times at Annai Illam that were an integral part of Vikram Prabhu’s growing-up years. “We were a huge, joint family. And we looked forward to Sundays. We always gathered for lunch and it would be a feast that we’d cherish,” says the actor, pointing out that living in a joint family taught him to understand people better.
Vikram grew up almost unaware of his grandfather’s superstardom. “At home, he was just a grandfather. He loved spending time with us, perhaps because he didn’t get to spend a lot of time with his children.” It was during the re-release of Saraswathi Sabatham, which Vikram watched as a young boy, that he actually understood how much Sivaji Ganesan was revered. “I remember that day in the theatre. It was just a re-release but people were going mad, chanting, crying and reciting all the dialogues.”
He’s looking forward to experiencing that euphoria again, as a re-release of the thespian’sVeerapandiya Kattabomman is lined up. “I’ll surely watch it FDFS with his fans,” he says, “It will be such an experience.”