20 Questions With...Ramon Tikaram
Date: 1 July 2002
Actor Ramon Tikaram, currently appearing in Bollywood musical Bombay Dreams, talks about his career post-This Life, Steven Berkoff & why the time is right for an Asian invasion of the West End.
Fans of This Life, the cult 1990s TV series about lawyers in love, will recognise actor Ramon Tikaram immediately as the sexually confused but still sexy motorcycle courier Ferdy.
Tikaram's other television and film credits include Dream Team, Daylight Robbery, Judge John Deed, Crossroads, Kama Sutra, Waiting at the Royal and Codename Wolverine.
In 1997, Tikaram made his musical theatre debut playing Judas in the West End revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Though he'd never trained as a singer, musical ability does obviously run in the family - his sister is the singer Tanita Tikaram.)
Ramon Tikaram's other stage credits include The Ramayana, LA Plays and Amphitryon. He is now returned to the West End to take on his second big-budget musical, starring as jilted fiancé Vikram in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bollywood musical Bombay Dreams at the Apollo Victoria.
Date & place of birth
Born 16 May 1966 in Singapore.
Lives now in...
Stoke Newington, east London.
National Youth Theatre and Kent University First big break
This Life (1996), let's be honest. I'd done the film Cutthroat Island, with Geena Davis, before that, but it was playing Ferdy in This Life that got me noticed. Suddenly, there was a real gay anti-hero that found massive appeal with the female audience as well - I guess because I wore a lot of leather and had a massive bike.
Career highlights to date
Having my head crushed by an elephant when filming Kama Sutra. Playing Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End. Playing the nastiest of all nasties in Daylight Robbery on television. And playing a god in The Ramayana at the National.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
I've not worked on any that I didn't like, but Bombay Dreams is my favourite so far. I've never felt such a united front. It's an all-Asian cast and we all want it to work so much. This is the first large-scale Asian production of its kind and I think it will really get Asians into the West End.
I've had a few really funny ones, some who were just terrible actors but I shouldn't say who. Amongst my favourites are Luisa Bradshaw-White who played my compadre Kira in This Life and Tom Redhill who I worked with on the Dream Team series.
Steven Pimlott (who's directing Bombay Dreams) - he's up there. Also Indhu Rubasingham (director of The Ramayana) who is a shining light, so energetic.
Steven Berkoff. We've recently become mates. He's such an interesting and powerful character, but actually sweet and very intelligent in the process. Shakespeare comes to mind, of course - he has a rather nice turn of phrase! Also, Lorca, Tom Stoppard and Dennis Potter.
Favourite musical writers
Andrew Lloyd Webber. And, though he's mainly done films prior to this, AR Rahman - he's an absolute genius. Leonard Bernstein wrote my favourite ever musical, West Side Story - it can't be topped.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Caliban in The Tempest. I would love to do a season with the RSC.
What differences do you find performing on stage versus television?
The differences are massive. With television, you can get away with doing very little. TV is a cheat; it's just really easy to do because it's only ever little bits of you. You have to be very large on stage. To be totally immersed in your character for two-and-a-half hours is a very exciting thing to do and a much more exciting thing to watch. You just do TV for the money.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Clubland, directed by Indhu Rubasingham at the Royal Court. It was a fabulous production done with such limited resources, just a couple of flats and a door. But the acting and the lighting were extraordinary.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
More money for writers.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I was going to be a lecturer. I got a first in English at Kent University and they asked me to come back and help with the undergraduates. I haven't needed to yet.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Mahatma Gandhi. His solution was always simple and pure. He was a man totally confident in his convictions and at ease with the world - and what vision. If not Gandhi, then Hugh Hefner.
Einstein's Dream by Alan Lightman and Ulysses by James Joyce.
Favourite after-show haunts
I go to Century, Teatro or Soho House occasionally. For the next year while I'm at the Apollo Victoria, though, my haunt will be the Cinnamon Club.
Favourite holiday destination
I don't have a regular one, but I like Fiji. That's where my father's from and I still have relatives there, which is quite handy. I'm a bit antipodean at heart; I like that side of the world.
Why did you want to accept your role in Bombay Dreams?
My character, Vikram, is a campaigning lawyer and the fiancé of the heroine, Priya. I wanted to do the role because I thought it was a chance to take something that could be very two-dimensional and make it more perplexing. Vikram's got his hubris - he cherishes Priya too much - so is inevitably going to fall. He's actually an incredibly fucked-up guy, which is what drew me to him.
What do you like/dislike about doing musicals?
Song is very strong in our family. Growing up, I always sang. It's just something I can do. But this is actually only my second musical. I approach it with the same Rottweiler attitude as I do any other part. Of course, musicals are more physically demanding.
What are your favourite numbers from Bombay Dreams?
"Wedding Qawwali". That's the one I sing and it's an extremely difficult piece of Sufi music. Also "Chaiyya Chaiyya" and "Shakalaka Baby", which has been released as a single.
Why do you think Bollywood is so fashionable at the moment?
It's about time. The British Asian is pretty much integrated into society now; we are part of the cultural, economic and social fabric of this country. The popularity of Bollywood is partly I think just the media latching onto that now, but it also reflects where we are and how far we've come. If they'd tried to do Bombay Dreams in the 1970s, it would have bombed, but I think it'll take off now. I hope so.
What are your plans for the future?
To write. I've published a book of short stories (Fragile Earth) but I'd like to write a novel now, a clever crime novel perhaps.
- Ramon Tikaram was speaking to Terri Paddock
Bombay Dreams is playing at the West End's Apollo Victoria theatre, where it opened on 19 June 2002 (previews from 31 May).