Kattabomman to Kamal Haasan, the meesaikkaara Tamizhans who preceded Abhinandan

From the mustachio in ‘Thevar Magan’ to the mutton chops in ‘Virumandi’, Kamal Haasan, too, has been a consistent trendsetter of facial hairstyles.
Kattabomman to Kamal Haasan, the meesaikkaara Tamizhans who preceded Abhinandan
Kattabomman to Kamal Haasan, the meesaikkaara Tamizhans who preceded Abhinandan
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Even as the events between India and Pakistan brought two nations to the brink of war last week, the conduct of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman made headlines across the globe. The IAF pilot, who landed in the Pakistan territory, managed to remain calm and composed in the face of adversity. While he was ultimately released by Pakistan in a ‘gesture of peace’, Indians warmly welcomed him back. And not too long after, the pilot’s gunslinger moustache became a country-wide internet sensation.

While the social media jury is still finding the precise name for Abhinandan’s moustache style -- gunslinger, handlebar or a Franz Josef, it has sent men across the country rushing to their nearest barber shops to style their facial hair à la Wing Commander.

None of this, of course, comes as a surprise to Tamil Nadu, a state that has produced some of the most iconic moustaches the country, and why, even the world, has ever seen.

When history and cinema set the trend

No discussion about Tamil Nadu and men’s facial hair is complete without the mention, at the very beginning, of Veerapandiya Kattabomman, the original hipster who set the trend rolling. While the 18th-century freedom fighter’s original moustache may not be too well-known, it is Tamil thespian Sivaji Ganesan’s portrayal of him in Veerapandiya Kattabomman that put the limelight on this style.

In the 1959 cult classic film, Sivaji Ganesan, who plays the titular role, confronts Jackson Durai, a British tax collector in an iconic scene. When Kattabomman refuses to pay taxes to the colonial oppressor, the coloniser threatens him of dire consequences. In the verbal salvo that ensues, Kattabomman asserts, “My moustache quivers in rage, calmed only by the desire to seek friendship.”

YouTube Screenshot/ Aniruddha Brahmarayar

Speaking to TNM, Karthik, who runs a barbershop on LB Road in Adyar, says that the ‘Kattabomman meesai’ was quite the rage in the 60s. “My grandfather had a Sivaji Ganesan poster in his shop. Men would demand this type of moustache, especially before going to see a potential bride, since it was supposed to be a royal look. The moustache curls downwards but still remains stiff when it is adjusted, unlike the typical handlebar moustache,” he says.

In a state that takes many of its social, cultural and even political cues from cinema, Kamal Haasan has perhaps been the consistent trend-setter with many celluloid avatars sporting quirky facial hair styles. From the rugged, bearded look in Sathya (1988) to the mustachio in Thevar Magan (1992) to the mutton chops in Virumandi (2004), his onscreen looks have been emulated by men in real life.

The cop moustache was particularly popularised by Tamil actor Suriya in Singam, where the actor sported the gunslinger-style moustache.

“At one point, even police officers would come asking for the Singam look. Suriya has been their favourite ever since he played a cop in Kaaka Kaaka. It gives them a tough ‘strict officer’ look, so they like it,” says Karthik. 

Suriya in Singam(left) and Kaaka Kaaka(right)

If you were a much-coveted 90s kid, it was only natural to have associated the word ‘moustache’ with Veerappan. The sandalwood smuggling bandit, who operated in the forests of south India, sported his famous, thick, bushy moustache as he evaded the cops for over three decades. Terrifying tales of the man killing people, authorities and wildlife would regularly be featured alongside imposing photographs of the ‘Robin Hood’ of south India.

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