MUMBAI: Actor Vikram says people should celebrate and be proud of the country's illustrious past as he gears up to present a pivotal chapter from Indian history with Mani Ratnam's magnum opus "Ponniyin Selvan - I".
Based on Kalki Krishnamurthy's 1955 novel, the much-anticipated Tamil historical drama chronicles the story of the early days of Arulmozhivarman, a powerful king of the south who went on to become the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I.
Vikram, the star of Tamil hits "Sethu", "Pithamagan", "Anniyan", "Raavanan" and "I", essays the role of Aditha Karikalan, the elder brother of Arulmozhivarman, in the new movie.
"We talk about superpowers today. In the ninth century, when all this happened, we had the biggest maritime naval force in the world and it went all the way to Bali, Malaysia, and China. What was the superpower doing then?
"America hadn't been discovered by Columbus till five hundred years later. Think about our culture, think about how advanced we were, we need to be proud of this. It's nothing to do with North or South India, East or West. We are Indians and we need to be proud of that... We should celebrate our history," the 56-year-old actor told reporters here.
Vikram was speaking at the film's press conference on Saturday where he was joined by Ratnam, co-stars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Trisha and music composer AR Rahman.
The actor said people often speak highly about the beauty and architecture of pyramids but nobody ever wonders about India's majestic temples and how they were built.
"In India, we have so many temples but the one with the highest 'Gopuram' is there in Thanjavur which is where the Chola dynasty happened. Rajaraja Chola had built it. The top stone, a single stone, alone weighs 80 tons. How did they do it? And do we know about it?
"We all go to the pyramids, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa... We appreciate a building that doesn't stand. It's falling over and we are like 'Wow! Let's take a selfie!'. We get excited but we have temples today that stand. And they didn't use plaster," he added.
The actor praised the great emperors of Chola dynasty for being ahead of their time and helping people through various initiatives.
"This particular king (Rajaraja Chola) built 5,000 dams in his time. He had made a water management ministry at that time, he had elections for the village leaders and he named cities after women.
"He said why should they be named after only men, why can't they be named after a Queen. They had free hospitals, and he used to give loans to help people to get dignity, not just throw money around. So, this is something that is so illustrious and this happened in the ninth century," Vikram said.
His co-star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan said as people move forward, they should not forget about history.
"History is your foundation, we are because of the past. We all arrived into this world from the past... You have to recognize, respect and acknowledgement of history is what takes us forward and you learn, you unlearn and then you relearn again," she added.
Music composer A R Rahman said through the trailer of "Ponniyin Selvan - I", many people in the country now already know about the Chola dynasty.
"Half the people know about the Cholas through this movie already, through the trailer. So that's an important statement. And even for the present generation to know the greatness of what existed thousand years back is very important for them to get their self-esteem and to know where to go from here. Not celebrating the past but what they could do and what they are capable of," he said.
Backed by Ratnam's banner Madras Talkies and Allirajah Subaskaran's Lyca Productions, "Ponniyin Selvan I" is set to hit theatres on September 30. It will be released in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.