Yes, as you may have noticed, I have never called you Kenny. Because that’s what your closest, personal friends call you.
Though we ‘are’ friends, I am sure you appreciate I am paid to be a journalist and that’s what I do for a living.
So I, of course, only know you as Vikram. I have only met you when either of us have wanted to do a story on you or when we’ve needed something from each other officially – to attend one party or the other. I am thankful you were nice enough to come and watch my film and I hope you didn’t see that as a favour you were doing me. ☺
Earlier in February, two things happened:
1. Gautham mentioned Bheema as the film he hated in one of our columns in Cinema Plus. And before going on to say he hated it, he also said: “When a talented actor and successful director come together you expect something well thought out. I know they can come back and tell me the same thing about Pachakili Muthucharam but if you don’t like something, you don’t like it… That’s how it works, right? So let’s go for each other.” Little do you know that we pushed the story by a week to make sure it didn’t affect your film’s already dismal performance.
2. The following week in the same column, we carried the interview I did with you before my interview with Gautham where you had mentioned ‘Vinnukkum Mannukkum’ as the movie you hated. (You obviously had a problem that the paper carried your films in the column for two consecutive weeks. You even accused me of misquoting you. You forget I have it on record and it wouldn’t take me much to upload your interview on my blog for everybody to compare what else you said and that what actually appeared was a toned down version. You have a tendency to deny things you say… like how you rubbished Krissh and then chickened out after it appeared wondering what Hrithik was going to tell you. Which is why I recorded the interview and told you it was not “off the record”)
Anyway, the same day this column appeared, you asked me to treat your whole other big interview on Bheema off the record. I thought you didn’t need the story any more. I had no clue that was supposed to be some sort of a punishment for me.
After all, you had asked us if we can do an interview with you to boost Bheema’s run after complaining about the review we carried. Yes, though I may not agree to the reasons mentioned by our official reviewer, the truth is if I had done that review, I would’ve been far more critical of the film.
But when you asked me, I told you what worked for me and what didn’t.
I told you that the seed of the idea of Bheema was really good: the story of a second generation vigilante… what happens if a boy who grows up idolizing the vigilante takes law into his own hands in today’s context when the system is all powerful. I told you I liked the fact that your performance was restrained. It was a welcome relief after Anniyan and Maja. But I also told you I would have liked it if it were not as stylised in execution and it lacked a raw realistic feel that would’ve given it the grittiness of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya.
I even mentioned in one of my columns that Bheema ended up looking like a throwback to Brokeback Mountain. It wasn’t just my opinion. The entire hall was in splits. If you had watched the film in a multiplex, you would’ve died of embarrassment. I understand the mass reacts differently and there lies your audience and market. So it didn’t matter what the urban audience thought about the film.
Since we were wearing our ‘friends’ hats, I had even taken care not to hurt your feelings and sandwiched my criticism between layers of praise, over the phone.
But you just cannot expect me, or any journalist friend of yours, to do that ON PRINT.
A critic is paid to give his honest opinion. If I, or our official reviewer, hadn’t done that, I can’t imagine you respecting us. From critics, we would become the people you think you can control. I hope you understand the term “free press”. Friendship or not, a newspaper has to do what it has to do in the best interest of its readers.
This specific case of you being mad at me for carrying Gautham’s and your own opinion in the column even more than three months after these incidents, losing your cool enough to utter four letter words at a recent party, does not show you in good light to the media or your film fraternity.
I told you were mixing business and personal. To which you said, “My films are personal to me. Anyone who doesn’t like my films can’t be my friend.” To which I told you, I am a journalist first.
That being the case, you said you don’t need to give me interviews if I were just a journalist and not your friend. True that. I have news for you. I am not paid by my organisation to get your interview. I am paid to write what is the best interest of our readers.
Now that we are no longer wearing our ‘friends’ hats, here are a few tips from a guy who still wishes you well. Also, the reason I am writing this on my blog and not on the paper is because I am writing this not as a journalist, I am writing this as a fan.
You are a great actor. Very few actors put in the kind of effort you do for films. You put on weight, lose weight, get excited, lose sleep and are even willing to go blind in your passion for cinema and quite literally, when you did Kaasi or a Sethu. We, your fans, loved you for that and showed our appreciation for you in even your commercial entertainers: Dhil, Saamy and Dhool.
What we have liked about you hasn’t changed. But what you have become has. In your own words, you said you can never do a Kasi again because there’s a huge market and the minute you sign a film, the market value of it and the expectations increase. And whether or not you charge less, people distributing the film and the system will promote it like a big film. And that “in this industry, you are only as good as your last film.” Learn from Mr. Kamal Hasan please.
Ever since Anniyan… Be it Maja or Bheema, your films have become more about you and your superstardom, even if you are playing an ordinary henchman or a village bumpkin. You do not want to play an ordinary man again as an actor… Which you were in Sethu, Dhil, Saamy and even Dhool… you were up against odds larger than you but you fought them as a common man. Today, you are feeding the star more than the appetite of the brilliant actor that you used to be and still are capable of being.
I’m not going to mention things you told me off the record here but we both know what you think of yourself. It is good to have self-esteem. But narcissism is an entirely different thing. It is symptomatic when you ask why your name has been mentioned after two other women stars in an interview. What have you become Vikram?
You are the same guy who pawned your wife’s jewels to organise previews for Sethu. You came up the hard way. You deserve to stay. Are you going to throw it all away being hot-headed and taking criticism so personally?
Your refusal to understand Gautham Menon’s point of view is not a good sign of what you have become. He tells me you aren’t in talking terms. Everybody knows about your spat. Nobody from the industry ever is going to dare to tell you the truth about what they think about your work or your film. They are going to tell you what you want to hear. And when you fall, they will laugh at your foolishness.
For all you know, they are just waiting for you to fall. You used to be the guy people liked. Today you are wearing his mask. Your actions speak louder than words. Every film of yours speaks volumes of how full you are becoming of yourself. Let the actor in you breathe. Let your characters become flawed, complex and ordinary again. We like to see a struggler reach glory in our films and in life. Today, you believe you are infallible and that you can do no wrong. Even if you really believe that, be thick-skinned and do it with conviction (like yours truly) so that in the end you have only yourself to blame.
Yes, we know you’ve made crores and enough to support the next seven generations but there’s something called as respect. Do you want your kids to respect you when they grow up and see your movies for what they really were? Are you going to be proud of Bheema? I doubt. They’re probably going to cringe at Daddy Dearest’s Brokeback Mountain attempt in Bheema. They are going to be teased in college for it. They are going to be reminded of how their father became India’s first gay icon as Rampwalk Remo, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s one thing to do that intentionally and another to not know when you’re making a fool of yourself. Speaking of which, I hope you are not playing a superhero called Cock-Man in Kandasamy like the trailer indicates.
When friends tell you something, please listen. You don’t have to do something about it but at least pretend like you are listening or they will never ever tell you what they really think about you and your work. They have your best interests in mind. I still have nothing against you. Remember, I wrote the best story about you and the worst. You sure don’t want to lose an honest opinion. You don’t want to lose objectivity.