Saturday, November 28, 2009

The baddies are not so bad

There’s something sad — even sinister — in the direction the villains are heading to in Tamil cinema. Despite a select set of actors like Raghuvaran, Nasser and Prakash Raj instilling hopes that the baddie could be bad and yet as endearing as the righteous protagonist, the characters of our villains today seem to recede to those times when their sole purpose was to be the men we’d love to hate. Traditionally, in Kollywood the importance of a villain has always been on par with the hero when it comes to storyline. In fact, one acquires the status of a hero only after his encounters with this savage-tempered, foul-mouthed, devious baddie, whose sole aim seemingly would be to get bashed at, to enhance the hero’s physical might and sense of right.

In this unending saga of hero-villain one-upmanship in Kollywood, a set of unwritten rules emerged for ready reckoning of a villain and a hero. The baddie’s mental shiftiness had to be matched adequately by loathsomeness in his looks and foibles. If his physical appearance didn’t easily lend itself to such hatred and easy identification as the villain, he had to be handed over a gesture: a regular clicking of the tongue (like in Veera) or the folding and massaging of the palms (immortalised by the late M N Nambiar): a strong sign to suggest that he would be the man you would want to vanquish, a job your hero will take up for you.

And even as the heroes have gotten themselves a modern makeover, the villain largely remains the man he was like in the Nambiar-MGR times. Somewhere along the years, some actors showed villainy packaged better.

Raghuvaran proved it could be convincingly etched, without being physically imposing. One look at Baasha, and you’d fall equally for both the hero and the villain (even if the hero is a colossus like Rajinikanth). Cochin Hanifa in Mahanadhi was a classic example of the real life fraud one would encounter, sans frills. Even Prakash Raj, despite his over-the top performance in the blockbuster Ghilli, conveyed his villainy in such a hilarious way, that a film critic, years later, would quip that box-office disaster like Kuruvi “was just a ghilli with a poor villain”.

Suman convincingly played a baddie in the Rajni-starrer, Sivaji The Boss in which he would sincerely inform his opponent, ‘Sivaji, Naan romba sensitive type’ (I’m a very sensitive person), making it, perhaps, the first time such a dialogue was ever mouthed by a villain. Similarly, Prithviraj made his debut in Tamil with Kana Kandein playing a suave classmate of the heroine, who would later reveal his dark, repulsive side.

However, such changes were few and the industry is backing the histrionic likes of Kalabavan Mani, Aashish Vidyaarthi and Kota Srinivasa Rao constantly for its bad blood.

Recent additions like Mukesh Tiwari in both Pokkiri and Kandhasamy, or Akashdeep Saighal in Ayan, have done nothing new that yesteryear villains like Vinu Chakravarthy or Anandraj didn’t try in the 1980s.

Industry insiders, however, contend that Kollywood is facing an acute shortage in options for baddie roles. With Raghuvaran’s death and Prakash Raj opting for more character-based roles now, Nasser remains the only one still doing such roles. Pasupathy, who was gaining fame as a villain through films like Virumaandi, Sullan and Dhool, has also taken to supporting and lead roles.

In a role reversal of sorts, actor Jayaram, who has been known for his witty repartees, was tried as villain in Dhaam Dhoom and Saroja recently. Such a dearth for men to play such roles has cost the industry dear, and newer options are being tried out.

Rahul Dev was roped to play villain in Suriya’s Aadhavan. Rajni’s Endhiran The Robot will bring to Kollywood Danny Denzongpa, while Mani Ratnam has cast Prithviraj to play the villain in Raavana. Milind Soman, who was the villian in Pachai Kili Muthucharam, will soon be starring in similar roles for Vithagan and Paiyya.

And yet, the industry is yet to find its staple villain, like a Nambiar, Raghuvaran or Prakash Raj (who did baddie roles regularly even about four years ago). Until then, it will be back to meatless, pigeonhole villain’s roles. And there will always be men to enact them.

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