Thamizh Talkies: New roles, new dreams
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
Two heroes. Two productions. Two happy steps for Tamil cinema. I’m talking about Vijay Sethupathi (VS) and Sivakarthikeyan (SK), and their respective productions, Merku Thodarchi Malai and Kanaa, films that are not in the so-called mainstream but important nevertheless.
First, let’s look at the idea of heroes thriving in pairs, a trend our film industry has always been privy to. It began with the PU Chinnappa and MKT Bhagavathar era (do Google if these names seem like Greek and Latin). Then came the swashbuckling MGR and the acting genius, Sivaji Ganesan. They were duly followed by Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth (listed in order of cinematic seniority). The late 90s and the new millennium saw Vijay and Ajith, and Vikram and Surya, who saw their respective success graphs rise alongside the other. And now, there’s an additional duo in Vijay Sethupathi and Sivakarthikeyan who have made it to this A-list.
In between, we also had heroes like Prabhu and Karthik who were box-office favourites in the 80s — just as Simbu and Dhanush are now.
These heroes are the biggies, the names that make the business of film work on their sole might and merit. Of the aforementioned creme da la creme list, let’s take note of those heroes who were also producers. MGR and Sivaji Ganesan had production houses which they leaned on only to make films that featured them in the lead. Based on the script and budget, they would decide if they needed to bring in their banner value to a film, like for example Nadodi Mannan or Puthiya Paravai. Sivaji Pictures became a big banner to reckon with, which went on to make films with other heroes too, during and after the thespian’s time.
In the early 80s, Kamal Haasan ventured into feature film production full-time and set the ball rolling for Raaj Kamal Films International (RKFI) with his 100th film, Raajapaarvai, and went on to make films featuring other actors too, time and again. Kadamai Ganniyam Kattupaadu starring Sathyaraj was a songless wonder of a film in 1987. So was Magalir Mattum (1994) which had three women take on the cudgels from the heroes. RKFI is among the tallest production banners founded by an actor, whose 45th production this year features Vikram in the lead. Rajinikanth too turned producer under his banner Rajini Arts with the film Valli. Now we have actor Suriya’s 2D Entertainment which has carved a path for itself by its focus on strong scripts — much like RKFI.
In this context, enter my current favourites, VS and SK, who lend their ‘market’ not just to films they act in, but also to the ones they produce. Both stars have banners named after them. Both artistes have risen up the ladder of success after much strife and failure. Facebook and Twitter feeds today have earlier film clips of VS and television clips of SK which go viral. Watch those videos and you will get an idea of what it actually takes for someone to become what we casually brush off with the misnomer, ‘overnight success’.
You could expect these heroes to merely bask in their glorious run. You could expect them to merely produce films that feature them in lead roles. But instead, what are they doing?
While SK announced a film like Kanaa featuring Aishwarya Rajesh (another current favourite) as a budding cricketer (do watch her in the behind-the-scenes prep in the song Oonjala), VS has backed a festival favourite like Merku Thodarchi Malai. This is heartening to see. This effort to enhance the space they are in is a wonderful move.
Yes, cinema is a business, but it’s important to remember it’s a business of creativity. If stories don’t work, there will be no business left to handle. The focus on story and not on some magical combination of names featuring themselves is what’s commendable about both these heroes.
I do not subscribe to labels describing SK as the ‘mass hero’ and VS as the ‘class hero’ as both of them are talented actors and ‘commercial’ in their own way. Both have chosen films that cater to their strengths as actors and producers. It is a well-thought-out path they are paving for themselves, a path that has brought them up to this point, where they can now afford to produce films with deserving new heroes and new writers/directors. If we look at a Merku Thodarchi Malai with pride and look forward to a Kanaa with excitement, it’s because the films can see a decent release thanks to the brand value of SK and VS.
The brands of Vijay Sethupathi and Sivakarthikeyan can handle the commercial gains or losses arising out of a film and hence their decision to back story-driven films and young talented filmmakers is a welcome move both for the Tamil film industry and us, its audience.