Two of the biggest stars ever in Tamil cinema, MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan, ruled the roost in the industry for several decades. While Sivaji held people in a thrall with his emotion laden performances, MGR swayed the masses with his swashbuckling ways and his propensity to inevitably save the damsel in distress from an assortment of villains in the nick of time.
However, while their careers ran parallel to each other the duo shared screen space in just one film, Koondu Kili, directed by TR Ramanna which hit the screens in 1954. Although their popularity had not peaked then, both had considerable fan followings. However, the film turned out to be a damp squib.
The other popular hero of that era, ‘Kadhal Mannan’ Gemini Ganesan worked with Sivaji in several successful films including Kappalottiya Thamizhan, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Pasamalar etc and in just one film Mugarasi with MGR. Seasoned directors like Sridhar and Balachander too were always keen on working on concepts with two heroes.
Sridhar’s films like the tear-jerker Nenjil Oor Alayam with Kannada hero Kalyan Kumar and Muthuraman, the laugh riot Kathalikka Neramillai with Muthuraman and Ravichandran and Ilamai Oonjaladukirathu with Rajini (supporting role) and Kamal were all box office hits.
Balachander, however, fared badly with his Naangu Suvargal where he had popular heroes Jaishankar and Ravichandran’ sharing screen space for the first time.
The Rajini-Kamal era
Balachander tasted success by making small budget films with his protégés Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in the lead roles and their combination came good in movies like Moondru Mudichu, Avargal, Ninaithale Inikkum etc and in Rajini’s debut film Aboorva Ragangal.
Incidentally, both the actors were finding their feet in the industry at that point of time and owed it to the star-maker for providing an early fillip to their careers.
Rajini and Kamal also featured in director Bharathiraaja’s debut film Pathinaru Vayadhinile. Though Kamal as the protagonist hogged the frames in the role of a village bumpkin, Rajini stole the thunder in a villain’s role with his punch dialogue ‘Idhu Eppadi Irukku’.
They have not worked together since long but Kamal has gone on record to assert that he would love to work with Rajini, provided they could find a filmmaker who can afford to cast them together.
A highly successful actor like Ajith Kumar has never shied away from multi-starrers. Always confident about his ability to hold his own, Ajith worked with Arvind Swamy (Pasamalargal), ‘Ilayathalapathy’ Vijay (Rajavin Parvayile), Prashanth (Kalloori Vasal), Vikram (Ullasam), Sathyaraj (Pagaivan), and Karthik (Unnidathil Ennai Koduthen).
He has also worked with Malayalam superstars Mammootty (Kandukonden Kandukonden), Suresh Gopi (Dheena), Prabhu (Billa) and Bollywood badshah Shahrukh Khan (Ashoka).
In the more recent Yennai Arindhal directed by Gautam Vasudev Menon, actor Arun Vijay, a hero in his own right, was cast as the antagonist opposite Ajith and the combination worked wonders for the film with both actors excelling in their respective roles.
Vijay too has worked in multi-starrers - with Surya in the Siddique directed Friends and with Mohanlal in Jilla.
Other directors who have tasted success with themes that had two heroes sharing the credits are Bala with Pithamagan (Vikram and Surya) and Avan Ivan (Vishal and Arya), and Mani Ratnam.
Jayam Ravi’s elder brother Mohan Raja’s Thani Oruvan with Ravi as a cop and Arvind Swamy as a crooked scientist made hay at the box office but the pair could not repeat the same magic in Bogan directed by Lakshman.
Mani Ratnam has often revealed a penchant for multi-starrers and has experimented with themes that have had adequate scope for all his heroes. Agni Nakshathiram with Prabhu and Karthik in the lead was one film that appealed to the youth and had the added advantage of Sriram’s cinematography and Ilaiyaraaja’s enchanting musical score.
Films like Thalapathi and Iruvar too featured heroes like Rajinikanth, Mammootty and Mohanlal, Prakash Raj in pivotal roles. However, his three hero subject Auyudha Ezhuthu (Surya, Madhavan, Siddharth) was not in the same league as his other films.
Mani, whose last film Kaatru Veliyidai, bombed at the box office has now firmed up plans for a new movie with four heroes in the lead, Arvind Swamy, Silambarasan, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil.
Madhavan, one of the versatile actors in Tamil cinema is another star who shines best in tandem with another hero. His role in the Sundar C directed Anbe Sivam had a lot of depth in it. Despite a powerhouse like Kamal Haasan in the lead, Maddy, critics felt, even upstaged the Ulaganayakan in a couple of scenes.
Having worked with an accomplished Bollywood actor like Aamir Khan in films like Rang De Basanti and Three Idiots Madhavan’s latest hit Vikram Vedha helmed by the director duo Gayathri and Pushkar had him crossing swords with Vijay Sethupathi. The slick, fast-paced film found both actors in their elements and Vikram Vedha did well at the box office.
The heroes of today are not the kind who would jump at any opportunity to work in films with more than one hero. Unless they find some meat in the roles offered to them, they will not touch them with a barge-pole. Such projects happen, therefore, only when films starring two or more heroes have storylines that clearly define each role. It also requires a director who can balance the talents of the stars and can extract great performances from them.