The Tamil film industry has had several directors who've stepped in front of the camera and proved their mettle as actors.

From Visu to Samuthirakani Kollywoods director turned actors
Flix Kollywood Monday, February 12, 2018 - 14:43
Written by  CV Aravind

The Tamil film Mayandi Kudumbathar directed by the late Rasu Madhuravan was released in the year 2009. What was unique about the movie was that for the first time in the history of Tamil cinema, the film’s cast comprised as many as eleven directors.

While some of them like Manivannan, Seeman, Tarun Gopi and Ponvannan were well-known faces in the industry, the others were still striving to find their feet and had helmed one or two films. The experiment was partially successful as the film with a rural backdrop had an average run at the box office and did not burn a hole in the producer’s pocket. Some of these directors have been pursuing an acting career and one of them, Singam Puli, is a much sought after comedian these days.

However, directors donning the greasepaint and stepping in front of the camera is not a recent phenomenon. One of the earliest directors who also acted in his films was the veena vidwan S Balachander who had a yen for horror films. He played stellar roles in whodunits like Bommai and Nadu Iravil which he also directed. This trend has caught on in a big way as far as Kollywood is concerned as more and more directors are announcing ‘pack up’ where their directorial careers are concerned and are evincing interest in acting.

Playwright turned directors like Visu and Mouli inevitably ended up reprising the roles they had enacted in their plays while directing the screen versions. However, an actor like Bhagyaraj, who was seen in small roles in his mentor Bharathiraaja’s films, suddenly found himself in the hero’s garb when Bharathiraaja cast him opposite Rati Agnihotri in the film Puthiya Varpugal, the director’s fourth venture.

Capitalising on the success of the film, Bhagyaraj went on to make several hit films like Antha Ezhu Natkal, Mundanai Mudichu and Darling Darling Darling, donning the hero’s mantle and also doubling up as director. Among his assistants, Parthiban and Pandiyarajan too followed in their mentor’s footsteps. While Parthiban directed national award winning films like Puthiya Pathai, Pandiyarajan also impressed with an Aan Pavam. While Parthiban continues to direct an odd film or two, Pandiyarajan has now become a full time actor.

Bharathiraaja, whose directorial venture Bommalattam with Nana Patekar in the cast was a colossal flop, has now taken to acting in cameo roles in films and has even begun to land plum roles on the small screen as well.

Cheran is another filmmaker who was fast developing into a fine director with films like Bharathi Kannamma and Vetri Kodi Kattu when he turned lead actor in his own films like Autograph and Thavamai Thavamirunthu. Unfortunately, he has not directed a film for quite a while now and the acting offers have also dried up.

Two directors who really found their niche as actors are the late Manivannan and Sundararajan. Both of them were brilliant at their craft and while Manivannan had hits like Nooravathu Naal, Pudhu Vasantham, and Amaithi Padai, to his credit as director, Sundararajan’s hit films like Amman Kovil Kizhakhale and Vaidehi Kathirunthal turned him into a household name.

It was his role as an antagonist in Rajinikanth’s Kodi Parakuthu directed by his mentor Bharathiraaja that convinced Manivannan that his future lay in acting. But unlike Sundararajan whose forte remains comedy, Manivannan could play various roles with consummate ease. He excelled as a villain and comedian in films like Suryavamsam and Avvai Shanmughi where he was cast as a rich Chettiar in relentless pursuit of Shanmughi (Kamal Haasan).

Mani was also adept at essaying intense, emotional roles and delivered powerful performances in films like Thullatha Manamum Thullum and Sangamam. His untimely passing was a big loss to Tamil cinema for he was both a gifted director and actor as well.

Rare is the Tamil film which does not have director Manobala in the cast. The thin as a beanstalk Manobala who has directed several films is one of the busiest comedians on the circuit and though he is required to play only inconsequential comic characters, his combination scenes with ‘Vaigai Puyal' Vadivelu and Santhanam have never failed to regale audiences.

One prolific director who appears to have realised that acting is not his cup of tea is Sundar C who along with his wife, actor Khushbu is also a successful producer. Sundar, who had a string of hits as a director to his credit including the acclaimed Anbe Sivam with Kamal Haasan and Madhavan in the lead, was bitten by the acting bug. However, his roles in films directed by him did not click in a big way. The biggest disappointment was the film Veerappu, a remake of the Malayalam superhit Spadikam where he was hardly a patch on Mohanlal who had delivered a towering performance.

Sundar who also appeared briefly in his films like Aranmanai is now back to direction with the sequel to his hit film Kalakalappu and is also all set to direct what could be his magnum opus Sangamithra.

KS Ravikumar who directed superstar Rajinikanth in blockbusters like Muthu and Padayappa and Kamal Haasan in Tenali and Avvai Shanmughi had, like Alfred Hitchcock, made fleeting appearances in his films. But now, with not many directorial offers coming his way after films like Kochadaiyan turned damp squibs, he is chancing his arm as an actor and has bagged a few roles.

From the younger lot, you have Samutharakani and Sashikumar who are actors as well as directors. Samutharakani, who worked in Sashi’s film Subramaniapuram directed the latter in the smash hit Nadodi. The actor, who has already won a National Award for Best Supporting Actor for India’s Oscar entry Visaranai, is now flooded with offers not only from Tamil filmmakers but also from Mollywood where his portrayal of a homicidal maniac in the Pridyadarshan directed Mohanlal starrer Oppam was much appreciated.

Samutharakani has also firmed up plans to direct Sashikumar in a film in the near future.

Other director- actors who deserve a mention are Raj Kiran, T Rajendar, Ramarajan, Myskkin, Ameer, Ram S J Suryah ( who was cast as a diabolic villain in Murugadoss directed Spyder) and Ramesh Khanna, Of the lot Myskkin, Ameer and Ram continue to be hotshot directors as well. That directors have a flair for acting is well known as part of their job is to act out scenes for the performers. And as any director would tell you, acting is far less taxing than direction, with the additional risk of having to own up if a film tanks at the box office.

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