Actors who showed character
Sujatha Narayanan writes about the character artistes who have made a mark in Tamil cinema
Name your favorite character actor in Tamil cinema--male or female, old or new. This was my query on Twitter and FB. The top five names I got were Nagesh, S V Ranga Rao, M R Radha, Manorama, and Raghuvaran. On further asking my friends to name actors from recent films, names like Delhi Ganesh, Pasupathy, Jayaprakash, Kishore, and Sharanya came up. Usually when I throw forth such questions, there is a difference between the answers given, based on whether the users are from Twitter or Facebook. Twitter users mention the recent--usually from films not more than five years old. Facebook users, on the other hand, delve deep into nostalgia. But this was the first time the answers matched!
Tamil cinema has traditionally had the best lineup of actors, probably only surpassed after the 80s by the acting talent in Malayalam. Take any Malayalam movie from the 80s till now, and you will usually find more than six actors occupying a single frame, playing characters naturally and convincingly. Tamil cinema in the black and white era also had such exemplary actors who took turns, playing many types of roles. Ranga Rao, a personal favourite, would play Saroja Devi's father in MGR's Enga Veettu Pillai, and then, go on to play an Englishman with the perfect 'Tamil-English' accent, taking on Sivaji Ganesan in Kappalottiya Thamizhan. The audience accepted Nagesh memorably playing his innumerable comic-friend roles in MGR films, as much as they loved him as Dharumi or Vaithy in Thiruvilaiyaadal and Thillaana Mohanaambaal.
Post that era, two actors whose names came up in this survey are Raghuvaran and Pasupathy. The ability to transform into good or evil irrespective of physical appearance made Raghuvaran stand apart. His Brando-like dialogue-delivery stood in stark contrast to the loud villains of his times, and his dignified stature lent tremendous character to his non-villain roles.
Pasupathy is an actor I'd like to see more on screen now. The gleaming, vengeful eyes in Virumaandi turn soft and romantic in Veyil and becomes helplessly comic in Idharkkuthaaney Aasaippattai Balakumara. Getting good character actors to shine in roles means writing good characters in the first place. Actors like Jayaprakash and Sharanya give you good vibes the minute they appear on screen; unless, of course, the director is Mysskin or Karthik Subburaj, who may cast them against the grain. Yet another personal favourite from Tamil cinema of yore, who also made his mark in early Maniratnam films, was V K Ramasamy. Watch him play grandfather to Jyothika in Dum Dum Dum. It's amazing to know he made his acting debut in 1947, and yet, remained relevant till 2001.