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Thamizh Talkies: Vikram calling the shots- Cinema express

Thamizh Talkies: Vikram calling the shots

The writer is a producer and art curator

Published: 29th May 2022
Kamal Haasan in Vikram

The year was 1985. The streets of Mylapore were agog with excitement. Camera and lights got the sedate Arisikaran street buzzing, with the crew hustling around, but I still had to go to school. The nonchalance my mother had to all this frenzy meant that I didn’t have a choice. But that day was unlike any other I’d seen because it’s not every day that you came down the stairs and saw Kamal Haasan sitting in the hall. The clapboard had the name Vikram on it.

There was a shortcut from my school to my house and I remember coming back with a couple of my schoolmates during the lunch break unknown to my mother (I didn’t go inside the house till it was time for me to come back from school). I saw the (now-famous) parkour stunt scene being rehearsed. I specifically recall how the entire stunt sequence was first done by the late Dharma Master and then by Kamal Haasan. Both were quite indulgent to a talkative kid like me and didn’t seem to have the weight of having to do risky stunts that day. I asked Dharma Master why he did everything first (running on rooftops and the temple terrace), and he explained he was the ‘hero’s dupe’ and went on to explain what the job entails. He said, “You have seen me do the whole chase. Now, see him do it”, and pointed to Kamal Haasan who smiled and told me not to bunk school, adding that I could come back the next day and he would still be around. Saying so, he saw his face in the hand-mirror and said, “Ready.”

Within minutes, he had swiftly climbed a ladder which he had to move to the opposite side of the building for the shot, with this weight (it’s not like they were men holding this tall ladder either). He then had to scale up the wall and start running on the roof. This was our own Marvel movie hero; he had no special powers like a Spider-Man but his own stunt skills. This was my first introduction to watching Kamal Haasan on a movie set. This was not a song or a scene (aspects he was famous for in the 80s), but a high-voltage stunt sequence, where 37 years ago, he was jumping on rooftops like his life depended on it.

Apart from the chase on undulated terraces and sloping roofs, there was also a ‘jump’ that had to be filmed. First, the stunt man (being chased) jumped down from the tallest building on the street. They had placed some beds to ensure he didn’t hurt himself, but the height still made it dangerous. Next, Kamal Haasan had to jump. The crowd gathered, and the camera rolled. Kamal assessed the height and had a word with Dharma Master (who, later, came to be known as Vikram Dharma after this film). He readied himself and just jumped on hearing the word, “rolling”. From where I was standing, I can tell you that a hero never looked taller as Kamal did that day! Loud applause followed and he just got up from the floor, dusted himself and went about asking if the jump was okay. Three days was all it took for this shot then, whereas the same sequence today would take a minimum of five days, with the aid of ropes, harnesses, and computer graphics.

Vikram released on 29th May 1986, and now, cut to 36 years later, we have Kamal Haasan in Lokesh Kanakaraj’s Vikram creating a storm within the film and outside of it, while wearing his age like an armour. The big screen beckons its best talent this June 3, and Kamal will show a new generation what it takes to wield a gun.

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