Vikram (born as Kennedy John Victor on 17 April 1966) is an Indian film actor who predominantly appears in Tamil language films and has won six Filmfare Awards as well as one National Film Award and Tamil Nadu State Film Award amongst other recognitions and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the People’s University of Milan in May 2011.
Vikram was born in a Tamil Family as Kennedy to a Christian father and a Hindu mother in Madras, Tamil Nadu, on 17 April 1966. His father, John Victor alias Vinod Raj was a native of Paramakudi and ran away from home to start a career in films. His father however did not fare successfully, and only managed to act in supporting roles in Tamil films and television serials and this inspired Vikram to take part in theatre lessons and become professionally trained in classical and cinema dance forms to ensure he became a leading actor.Rajeshwari, Vikram’s mother, was a sub-collector and her brother, Thyagarajan is an established director-actor in the Tamil film industry; with his son, actor Prashanth, being Vikram’s first cousin. Vikram has a younger sister, Anita, who is a teacher and a younger brother, Arvind, who was previously set to make his film debut in the 2008 film Saroja but eventually did not feature. Vikram is used as a screen name as he disliked his original name, Kennedy; the name Vikram was composed by taking “Vi” from his father’s name, “K” from Kennedy, “Ra” from his mother’s name and “ram” from his sun sign, Aries.
Vikram was educated at Montfort School, Yercaud, a boarding school in a hill station near Salem and graduated in 1983. He has mentioned that he used his opportunities at school well by taking part in karate, horseback riding and swimming and noted that such early exposure to activities gave him confidence as a youngster. Vikram lurked in the fringes of the school’s theatre club for a long period and often took part in backstage work before being handed the lead role in a school adaptation of Molière’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself after the original lead had contracted chicken pox. Despite expressing his interest to join films after school, his father forced him to go through education with Vikram subsequently graduating in English literature from Loyola College, Chennai and working half way through an MBA programme. Through the prolific dramatics club, Vikram appeared in stage productions including college adaptations of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, receiving best actor awards for his performances. After winning a Best Actor Award at a function held at IIT Madras, Vikram was knocked down by a truck during a major motorbike accident on the way home and suffered a serious leg injury. He remained hospital-ridden bed for three years during college and subsequently went through twenty three surgeries to stop his leg being amputated. Vikram then returned to finish the final year of his degree after his accident and secured permission to finish his dissertation at home, as he was only able to walk on crutches for a short period.
Vikram met his wife, Shailaja Balakrishnan, for the first time when he was in crutches, following three years of being hospital-ridden after his broken leg in the late 1980s. Vikram got married to Shailaja in Guruvayoor in an event which saw dozens of other couples get married at the same time at the same place. The pair also then had a low-key wedding ceremony conducted at the church at Loyola College, Chennai. She originates from Thalassery, Kerala and now works as a psychology teacher at a leading Chennai school.Shailaja also worked in the team of Deiva Thirumagal by giving professional advice on how people with special needs are treated and helping develop the characteristics of the character played by Vikram. Vikram has a daughter, Akshita and a son Dhruv, with Vikram suggesting that his son is a keen actor. He resides near the beach in Besant Nagar, Chennai and has stated that he would remain based in Chennai regardless of any offers in other regional films.
He made his debut in the 1990 film En Kadhal Kanmani, which was followed by a series of small-budget Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films in the 1990s, many of which went unnoticed. However the success of Bala’s tragedy film Sethu (1999), in which Vikram appeared as a rogue turned lover, started Vikram’s successful career as an actor. In the early 2000s, Vikram appeared in a series of masala films, with Dhill (2001), Gemini (2002), Dhool (2003) and Saamy (2003) becoming commercially successful ventures. During the period, Vikram also appeared in diverse roles and received critical acclaim for his performance as a blind villager in Kasi and a Robin Hood-esque figure in Samurai. In 2003, Vikram’s performance as a gravedigger with autism spectrum disorders in Bala’s Pithamagan saw him win the National Film Award for Best Actor, with his character only speaking a couple of lines of dialogue in the entire film.His appearance as an idealistic lawyer with multiple personality disorder in Shankar’s blockbuster Anniyan (2005) also won critical acclaim, as did his appearance as a superhero in Kanthaswamy (2009). Vikram’s portrayal of Veeraiya, a tribal leader inspired by the Ramayana character Ravana, in Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan saw him secure further accolades, as did his appearance as a mentally challenged adult with the maturity of a six-year-old boy in Deiva Thirumagal (2011). He consequently appeared in multiple get-ups as a bodybuilder and a crippled hunchback, losing up to 35 kilograms for sequences, during the making of Shankar’s romantic thriller I (2015) and won rave reviews from critics for his performance. It is currently the third highest-grossing Tamil film of all time.
Vikram has promoted various social causes and appeared as the Youth Envoy for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in 2011. He has been a brand ambassador of Sanjeevani Trust and a school for special children, Vidya Sudha, which he stayed at during the making of Deiva Thirumagal as well as having long-term associations with the Kasi Eye Care and running his own welfare association through the Vikram Foundation.In 2016, he produced and directed the video to the flood relief anthem, Spirit of Chennai, as a tribute to the city’s volunteers following the 2015 South Indian floods.