Thamizh Talkies: Heroes from across borders
The writer celebrates the actors who have made their mark outside of their home turf
Generally speaking, actors are only as good as the parts they get to play, but some of them have gone beyond that rule. Last week’s release, Velaikkaran, saw an actor really make his presence felt - the sparkle in his eyes, the body language, and the clear diction combined with a shining screen presence marked the Tamil debut of the immensely talented Fahadh Faasil, in a role, which if performed by a lesser actor would’ve become a mere caricature. Fahadh seems at ease speaking Tamil and this is heartening because this crossover of talent results in films that aren't just targetted at one regional market, which means bigger budgets for directors and more revenue sources for producers.
Meanwhile, there was an announcement on December 23 which caused many hearts to go aflutter -- about Vijay Devarakonda aka Arjun Reddy making his Tamil debut next year in a film directed by Anand Shankar and produced by Studio Green. While Mahesh Babu had to wait nearly two decades to make his Tamil debut this year with Murugadoss’ Spyder, heroes today are making the transition sooner and blurring lines between regional film frontiers. Malayalam cinema has of course already given us Mammotty, Mohanlal, Jayaram and Prithviraj, but this trend goes way back to when all of South Indian cinema operated from the huge studios in Vadapalani.
The late Nagi Reddy and LV Prasad were famous for multi-star casts and bilinguals. While MGR and Sivaji didn’t speak other languages with ease, NTR, ANR, Prem Nazir, Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan all began their acting careers in Tamil films and spoke Tamil fluently. This also explains why the children of many Telugu superstars pursued their education in Madras (Nagarjuna, Venkatesh, and Mahesh Babu to name a few). Megastar Chiranjeevi also started his career a few years after Rajnikanth in our city; he was working in the hotel industry before becoming an actor. When the studios and technology shifted to the respective Southern states, so did the films and their actors. For a few years, there was a gap in other language heroes making time for Tamil films. Now, the one odd film in another language is seen as a route to expanding one's market.
This naturally helps a producer sell his film beyond one State. Tamil films dubbed in Telugu have an immense reach in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Kerala, which has always welcomed Tamil releases, is seeing an increase of dubbed films of Telugu heroes. Kamal Haasan is an actor who transcended the language barrier early in his career and in fact established himself in Malayalam and Telugu as a hero even before he became one in Tamil. His success stint at the Kerala box office during the 70s is the stuff of legends. Another Tamil actor who became successful in Telugu cinema before he hit the hall of fame with his cameo in Mani Ratnam’s Mouna Raagam is Karthik.
As 2017 draws to a close and I think of the performances of leading men who have impressed me - I can’t help but add Fahadh Faasil for Thondimudhalum Drikshasaakshiyum and Vijay Devarakonda for Arjun Reddy along with our own Vijay Sethupathi and Karthi. So, yes, thumbs up to seeing more of other language heroes in Tamil films next year. Fahadh has already signed up for Mani Ratnam’s biggie and Vijay Devarakonda is gearing up for his debut. Newer benchmarks for acting look to be set next year.