Opinion
The characterisation of Gemini Ganesan, especially, has stirred a hornet's nest.
  • Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 15:11

The biopic Mahanati, which revolves around the life and times of actress Savitri who was a popular heroine in Telugu and Tamil cinema in the 50s and 60s, carries a caveat right at the beginning. It states that the film is a fictionalized account of the late actor's life.

This disclaimer absolves the makers with regard to the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the narration of the story, and in the depiction of the events in the life of the late star. But just as biographies often turn into hagiographies, biopics too can present a highly favourable picture of the protagonist, concealing warts if any and needlessly exaggerating hidden virtues while presenting other characters in a less than flattering light.

Apart from a fleeting reference to thespian Sivaji Ganesan with whom she starred in several films, mostly tearjerkers, her association with actors like MGR and even her husband Gemini Ganesan with whom she worked in a number of hits has been given the go by. She was equally popular in Tamil cinema as she was in Telugu and had a huge fan base in Tamil Nadu as well.

But what has stirred a hornet’s nest is the characterisation of the man who shaped her life and destiny from a very young age, Gemini Ganesan. The authorisation to make a film on Savitri was given by Savitri’s daughter Vijaya Chamundeswari, who also provided vivid insights into her mother’s life and career. While she has not noticed any flaws in the representation of her father Gemin Ganesan on screen, Gemini’s daughter by his first wife Alamelu (Bobji), Kamala Selvaraj, a leading doctor in Chennai has taken umbrage at the supposed raw deal meted out to Gemini.

Kamala is sore that in their overzealousness to put Savitri on a pedestal, they have allegedly denigrated Gemini. The late actor is alleged to have introduced Savitri to alcohol at a party and that eventually led to her lifelong affair with the bottle which ultimately took a heavy toll on her health and led her to an early grave. While this fact has been vouched for by those who were close to the actor, Kamala vehemently denies such a development.

The film has also chosen to overlook the agony suffered by Gemini’s first wife when the realisation dawned on her that Gemini had taken on a new and much younger wife. But Savitri’s angst on hearing about the actor’s infatuation with a contemporary, Pushpavalli (mother of Bollywood siren Rekha) has been well documented. Did Gemini desert Savitri and leave her to her fate or was it vice versa is another matter where the film has taken a contrarian stand.

This apart, Dulquer, the Malayalam actor and megastar Mammootty’s son who essays the character of Gemini is shown in a few frames as a jobless actor hanging around the sets where Savitri is shown as busily shooting for her films. This is in stark contrast to the real situation as Gemini was, right through his long and eventful career, a highly rated actor, third in the pecking order after MGR and Sivaji Ganesan. He also had a considerable fan following. As a matter of fact it was Savitri who struck a lean patch towards the fag end of her career when she began to pile on the pounds and her health took a beating with diabetes setting in. Only directors like the late Dasari Narayan Rao continued to cast her in their films but the spark had long gone out of her acting and her performances too began to suffer.

The first part of the film has detailed her advent into cinema, how she first met Gemini, then a manager in a studio and how she slowly worked her way up the ladder to fame and prosperity. She was by no means stylish or svelte like the actors of today but she had the innate ability to light up the screen with her nuanced portrayals. She was the ultimate tragedienne but was also adept at comedy. The film has highlighted all these features of the star in the early frames.

Savitri’s alcoholism was not the only factor that debilitated her and turned her into a physical and mental wreck. Like Gemini who had a nose for business and invested heavily in real estate, Savitri too took a leaf from his book and followed suit. But where she really put her foot wrong was in turning director and producer. She ignored the sane advice given by, among others, the famous scriptwriter of the time, Aroor Das, who was also a close confidant. She sunk a fortune into the films she produced only to end up on the verge of bankruptcy as her ventures turned into duds at the box office.

Generous to a fault she never turned down any request for money and this trait was often exploited by sycophants and hangers on who fleeced her. In the final analysis one can safely conclude that Mahanati is a biopic that blends fact and fiction. The makers have delved deep into the life of the star and have brought out the essence, highlighting her rise and fall in the process. But a dispassionate view of the roles played by all those associated with her at various phases of her life and her own failings is indeed conspicuous by its absence.

(Views expressed are author's own.)

Mollywood
'Bhayanakam' won three National Awards this year.
  • Wednesday, May 02, 2018 - 12:37
Facebook/Jayaraj Nair

Malayalam cinema has reaped a rich harvest at the National Awards for 2017 and three of those awards were won by the yet to be released film Bhayanakam.

 The awards were for Best Direction (Jayaraj), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jayaraj) and Best Cinematography (Nikhil S Praveen). For director Jayaraj who helmed his first film Vidyarambham in 1988 and is still going strong, this was his second National Award for Best Director. The first came way back in 1997 for the internationally acclaimed Kaliyattam starring then mainstream hero Suresh Gopi in the lead role.

Apart from several National Awards, Jayaraj's work has also won international honours at various film festivals. An engineering graduate, Jayaraj was drawn to films after being fascinated by classics like Akiro Kurosowa’s Rashomon and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. Fortunately for the young man, he had as his neighbor one of Malayalam cinema’s most celebrated directors, Bharathan. Bharathan took Jayaraj under his wing and their first collaboration together was Chilambam.

Jayaraj assisted the veteran in six more films, including the lavishly mounted Vaishali. After getting his first break with Vidyarambham, Jayaraj went on to direct several films that did precious little to further his career. Most of them were commercial ventures like Aakasha Kottayile Sultan, Johnnie Walker, Highway, Arabia, Kudumbasameham etc. But the first film in which Jayaraj showed flashes of his brilliance was Desadanam, released in 1997.

The film which eschewed commercial ingredients in toto, narrated the story of a young boy all set to renounce material life and embrace the life of a sanyasi and the emotional churn in the lives of his parents who are loath to part with him. The film turned out to be a commercial success and also won the National Award for the Best Regional Film. But the film that created a greater impact was Kaliyattam, also released in 1997 an adaption of Shakespeare’s Othello.

The principal characters of Theyyam artistes were played by Suresh Gopi, Lal and Biju Menon, with Lal playing Iago to Gopi’s Othello and Manju Warrier, with her large expressive eyes was cast as Desdemona. Misled by Paniyan ( Lal), Kannan Perumalayan (Suresh Gopi) suspects his wife’s fidelity and slays her, only to realise later that she was innocent of his suspicions. Stung with remorse, Perumalyaan kills himself.

Jayaraj won the National Award for Best Director for the film and Suresh Gopi was adjudged the Best Actor. After flirting with comedy in Thilakkam, starring Dileep and Kavya Madhavan, Jayaraj again captivated audiences with his hard hitting film 4 The People, a story of four engineering college students who raise a banner of revolt against corruption. The major highlight of the film, however, was Jassie Gift’s music score with a few numbers turning into chartbusters. While 4 The People was a hit, the other two films which were part of the trilogy - By the People and Of the People turned out to be damp squibs.

Jayaraj embarked on a series of films, dubbing them as a ‘navarasa’ series and the culmination of the journey was Bhayanakam. The films were titled ShanthamKarunamBheebats (Hindi with Seema Biswas and Atul Kulkarni), Adhbudham, Veeram and Bhayanakam. Except Bhayanakam which is expected to hit the screens this month, all the other films were released commercially to varying degrees of success. 

Veeram, which had Bollywood actor Kunal Kapoor in the lead, was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and was a period film set in 13th century Kerala. A painstaking effort by Jayaraj, his cast and technicians, the film which had Kerala’s celebrated martial arts discipline ‘kalari’ as a backdrop met with little success at the box-office.

Bhayanakam was based on a couple of chapters that were a part of Jnanpith winning author Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai’s epic novel Kayar. A simple film with a few characters, Bhayanakam is set in the days of World War II and the protagonist isa postman (Renji Panikkar) who delivers money orders from soldiers to their kin in a village in the pre-war days. With the outbreak of war, the same postman turns into an omen of death, carrying telegrams conveying tragic news of ultimate sacrifice on the war front and becomes a dreaded figure.

Among the oeuvres of this director who has always trodden his own path, was Naayika, the story of an actor. It had Urvashi Sharada in the role of a diva past her prime and Padmapriya as her younger version. Jayaram, as the evergreen hero of Malayalam cinema Prem Nazir, played his part to perfection, bringing to life the mannerisms of the star and his perfect diction as well. Naayika won critical acclaim but bombed at the box office.

But, perhaps the one film that should deserve a pole position among Jayaraj’s works was the much admired Ottaal, the plot of which he borrowed from the play Vaanka by the Russian playwright and author Anton Chekov. The film narrated the story of an emotional bond between a young orphan boy and his grandfather, with their simple joys and profound sorrows forming the nucleus. Brilliant acting by Ashank Sha as the young boy and Kumarokom Vasudevan (a fisherman in real life), as the grandfather, haunting visuals and Jayaraj’s deft directorial touches were the highlights of the film. Ottaal won all the major awards at the International Film Festival of Kerala and also the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The film also had the distinction of being the first Malayalam film to be released in the theatres and online simultaneously.

While Jayaraj has worked with superstar Mammootty in three films Johnnie Walker, Loudspeaker and The Train, he is yet to make a single film with the other reigning superstar Mohanlal. Jayaraj has plans to direct films based on the arts, Shringara, Roudram and Hasyam in the coming days. His greatest strength so far has been the discerning viewer and most of his films have catered to that segment of film aficionados.

Tollywood
ANR, Nagarjuna, Naga Chaitanya and Akhil Akkineni - how has each generation contributed to Telugu cinema?
  • Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 14:25

In the sixties and for even a good part of the seventies, Madras (now Chennai) was the Mecca of south Indian cinema. Sprawling studios like Vauhini and AVM, recording theatres and labs were all situated in Madras. In those early days, when outdoor shoots were rare, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada filmmakers made a beeline to Madras to shoot their films. 

Two men - actor Nageswara Rao and producer D V S Raju - were instrumental in Telugu cinema shifting gradually to Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. 

The thespian Nageswara Rao also founded Annapoorna Studios with state of the art facilities and slowly, Tollywood began to warm up to functioning in its own territory. The two superstars of the time, N T Rama Rao and Nageswara Rao, dominated Telugu cinema for several decades before handing over the baton to others, including their sons. Rama Rao’s son Balakrishna, and Nageswara Rao’s son Nagarjuna, along  with the likes of Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu.

The Akkineni family is now in its third generation, as Nagarjuna’s sons Naga Chatianya and Akhil Akkineni continue to hold the family banner aloft.

ANR

Nageswara Rao faced a lot of challenges in the initial stages and was cast in women's roles in theatre before he began to be noticed by filmmakers. 

Biographies and mythologies  were a rage in those days and Nageswara Rao found his métier in performing vital roles in such films as Tenali Rama, Mahakavi Kalidasu, and Bhaktha Thukaram

He also landed the plum role of Abhimanyu in Maya Bazaaar, one of the biggest grossers at the box-office. Rao further essayed the characters of Mahavishnu and Arjuna as well. His ability to emote and deliver lengthy dialogues stood him in good stead and he added several notches to his popularity as a mass hero. 

However, the role that really brought him into the limelight was that of Devdas in a  bilingual film of the same name, (Devadasu) released in 1953 and based on a story by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. 

The role of a besotted alcoholic was performed with panache by the actor and it was reported that Dilip Kumar, who acted in the Hindi version of the film lauded Nageswara Rao’s performance, rating it above his own portrayal of the role. 

With the slow fade out of mythological roles, Rao drifted towards social themes and here too, he tasted a great deal of success with hits like Prem Nagar, Premabhishekam, Megasandesham, Dharma Daata etc. The Nageswara Rao – Dasari Narayana Rao combination proved to be a formidable one and Dasari’s film Premabhishekam not only broke several box office records but also ran for more than a year in theatres across the state. 

Nageswara Rao donned dual roles in films like Iddaru Mithrulu and Buddhimanthudu. Apart from being a good singer, Rao was also a fleet-footed dancer and could match steps with gifted dancers like Jayaprada, Jayasudha and Sridevi among others with consummate ease.

 A simple man with spartan habits, Nageswara Rao who also produced films under his home banner, excelled in a whole gamut of roles during his long and eventful career. A Padma Vibhushan awardee,  Rao won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honour  in Indian cinema. Their home production Manam, which brought together all the three generations of the Akkineni family, was released after he passed away at ninety. Manam, which fared well at the box office, had Nageswara Rao as an aging patriarch of a family with Nagarjuna and his two sons Naga Chaitanya and Akhil Akkineni also in pivotal roles. Samantha, who would later go on to marry Naga Chaitanya, was part of the cast, too.

Nagarjuna

Unlike his father who could not even afford primary education, Nagarjuna passed out with an automobile engineering degree from the Michigan University in the US but was inexorably drawn into films, following in his father’s illustrious footsteps. Nagarjuna, though a chip off the old block, never aped his father’s acting style or mannerisms and embarked on his career, largely relying on his handsome looks and electrifying presence on screen. 

Although he acted in several pot boilers like Aatma Porattam, Janaki Ramudu and others, the two films that gave a distinct fillip to his career were Mani Ratnam’s Geetanjali and Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva, both released in 1989. 

Varma’s Shiva became a cult film and Nag’s role of a fiery student leader won him plaudits galore and the film too became a blockbuster. One trait that Nagarjuna shared with his father was a penchant for biographical films, a genre that none of his contemporaries with carefully cultivated images were willing to touch with a barge pole. 

Nagarjuna’s performances in films like Annammayya, Sri Ramadasu and Shirdi Sai were a far cry from his commercial avatars where he was cast as a swashbuckling hero opposite the biggest heroines of the time like Sridevi, Vijayashanthi and Ramya Krishnan.

 His home production Ninne Pelladatha, directed by Krishna Vamsi, Gharana Bullodu and Allari Alludu were all big box office hits. Ninne Pelladatha also won a National Award for the Best Telugu Film of the year. Nagarjuna ventured into Bollywood and acted in Mahesh Bhatt’s bilingual Criminal, the Amitabh Bacchhan starrer Khuda Gawah and also films like  Zakhm, Agni Varsha, and LOC Kargil. However, his foray into Tamil cinema with Rakshagan, opposite Sushmita Sen cut no ice with the viewers.

Naga Chaitanya and Akhil

Although he has been around for nearly a decade, Naga Chaitanya, Nagarjuna’s son, has to go a long way to go before he can come anywhere near the lofty standards set by his father and grandfather. He, however, has the benefit of training in a Film Institute in Mumbai and in Los Angeles as well. 

Naga Chaitanya impressed in Gautam Menon’s Ye Mayave Chesave as a lovelorn young man  and in Sukumar’s 100% Love but films like Autonagar Surya and the latest Rarandol Veduke Chudham and Yuddham Sharanam did little to further his career. Bejawada, where he played the role of a college student who turns gangster, was perhaps the worst of the lot. Tadakha, a remake of the Tamil hit Vettai was a face saver and Naga Chaitanya did full justice to the role. The Telugu Premam, remake of the popular Malayalam hit, also did well.

Nagarjuna’s son with actor Amala, Akhil Akkineni who picked up his acting lessons at the famous Lee Strasberg Institute, made his debut as a full fledged hero in Akhil, after playing a cameo in Manam. He also has a film Hello to his credit and this was helmed by Vikram Kumar who also directed Manam. Like his step brother Naga Chaitanya, Akhil, too is on the lookout for meaty roles that can provide adequate scope for his acting talents.

Sandalwood
After Dr Rajkumar, it was Ambareesh and Vishnuvardhan who ruled the Kannada film industry.
  • Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 13:51

MGR and Sivaji Ganesan after their long tenures at the top passed on the baton to Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. The duo ruled the roost in Kollywood for decades.

Likewise, Sathyan and Prem Nazir, the superstars of Malayalam cinema, ceded their positions to Mammootty and Mohanlal. A similar phenomenon also prevailed in Tollywood where NT Rama Rao and A Nageswara Rao had able successors in Chiranjeevi and Nagarjuna.

However, in Sandalwood, the one hero who held the fort for a considerable length of time was Dr Rajkumar who ploughed a lonely furrow till two young men who would eventually metamorphose into macho heroes appeared on the scene in the early seventies.

Vishnuvardhan and Ambareesh have had long and illustrious careers in Kannada cinema. Vishnu, however, passed away in 2010 when he was just a year shy of his sixtieth birthday, having served the industry for close to four decades.

Ambareesh, currently in the autumn of his acting career, has been balancing politics and films and has now taken to doing character roles in a few Kannada films.

Both the actors have been prolific and have more than 200 films to their credit.

Vishnuvardhan was introduced to films in the year 1972 by actor-director Girish Karnad in the National Award winning film Vamsa Vriksha, based on the novel by the same name penned by SL Byrappa. But the real mentor for both Vishnuvardhan and Ambareesh was one of Sandalwood’s most acclaimed auteurs Puttana Kanagal.

The film Nagarahavu featured Vishnu as a hot-headed young man Ramachari and in his first full fledged role, the actor revealed flashes of his potential. Incidentally, Ambareesh had only a cameo role in the film that marked his debut in Sandalwood. Nagarahavu was a super duper hit at the box office and was the launching pad for the two stars.

Some of Vishnu’s films that afforded him a lot of scope to reveal his mettle were Rajendra Singh Babu's Bandhana, Muthina Hara, S Narayan’s Veerappa Nayaka, Simhadriya Simha, Gandhada Gudi, Sooryavamsa and Santosh Sivan’s ‘Navarasa’. Among his latter day films. P Vasu’s remake of Manichitrathaazhu, Aptha Mithra and its sequel Aptha Rakshaka fared well at the box office.

Incidentally, Aptha Rakshaka was released in theatres after Vishnu breathed his last. Many of his earlier films were directed by Rajendra Singh Babu and the 1984 film Bandhana in which he was paired with Suhasini still remains green in memory. More so, it was the biggest hit in his career.

Vishnu has also acted in films in other languages. His Tamil films like AlaigalMazhalai Pattalam and Kauravar caught the audience's attention. In Telugu, he did a couple of films Okkadu Chalu and Sardar Dharmaanna.

In Malayalam, Vishnu worked in films like Adima Changala, Mazhakala Megam and Samarpanam. He made his debut in Bollywood with Ek Naya Ithihas and went on to do films like Inspector Dhanush, Ashanth and Zalim.

Vishnu brought to bear a great deal of charm and grace in his portrayals and looked every inch a swashbuckling hero. Dubbed the Phoenix of Kannada cinema for his comebacks, Vishnuvardhan was also fondly called as ‘Sahasa Simha.’

Veteran singer S P Balasubramanian who sang for Vishnu in Nagarahavu remained his favourite playback singer and even in his last film Aptharakshaka SPB rendered as many as five hit numbers. Incidentally, Vishnu himself was no mean singer and had sung in as many as twenty films, apart from cutting a few discs comprising religious songs. His duets with acclaimed singers like P Susheels, S Janaki and K S Chithra were all chart busters.

The careers of Vishnu and Ambareesh ran parallel to each other and the duo’s popularity levels too matched a lot.

Ambareesh who earned the title ‘Rebel Star’ impressed audiences as a tough as nails Inspector Amarnath in Chakravyuha and went on to act in successful films like Diggajaru (with Vishnu), AnthaRanganayakiEllu Suttine Kote, Masanada Hoovu, Shubamangala, Gaddu Bheranda, Operation Antha (sequel to Antha) and Sree Manjunatha’ among others.

He later went on to do supporting roles in films like Upendra’s Katari Veera, Surasundarangi.It was his performance in the film Chakravyha that fetched him the title ‘Rebel Star’.

Ambareesh also excelled in dual roles in Antha as a cop and a prisoner. He matched strides with thespian Rajkumar in the film Odahuttidavaru. Ambi Ning Vayassaithu and Kurukshethra where he plays the role of Bheema are the films that the star is presently shooting for. 

Vishnu and Ambareesh shared a lifelong friendship and were like two peas in a pod before the icy hand of fate snatched Vishnu away. Both married co-stars and while Vishnu tied the knot with Bharathi, Ambareesh found his soul mate in Sumalatha.

Their saga of success had a lot to do with the way they shaped their careers. They knew their limitations and range and their directors too ensured that the kind of roles that they signed up for were right up their street. A remarkable aspect in the long innings that the duo essayed on the silver screen was that they managed to keep their fan bases intact. Nearly eight years after his passing, Vishnu’s birth and death anniversaries are observed by his diehard fans who do their best to contribute to the charitable causes that he espoused during his lifetime.

Kollywood
Most directors prefer to play safe when choosing themes for their films but not Mysskin.
  • Friday, March 09, 2018 - 11:42

Most directors prefer to play safe when choosing themes for their films as any kind of adventurism in this regard could cost them dearly. A bagful of awards or critical acclaim might not fetch them their next assignment if the film fails to click at the box office and the producer’s returns fall short of his investment.

But there are a few directors who are made of sterner stuff. They prefer to chase their own rainbows and make the kind of films that provide them aesthetic satisfaction and which they feel will also touch a chord with audiences.

One filmmaker who makes the cut in this respect is the burly Mysskin ( Shanmugha Raja ) who has, right from the outset, swerved considerably from the beaten track. Right from the choice of subject to the delineation of the plot and the casting, Mysskin has always preferred to rely on his own intuition and his confidence in his ability to deliver. Most times his gamble has paid off and though he has helmed just eight films so far, most of them have retrieved their investment with a tidy profit and have also merited rave reviews.

Mysskin, who served his apprenticeship with director Vincent Selva for a while, got off the blocks with his small budget venture Chithiram Pesuthadi a romantic tale featuring two Mollywood stars Narain and Bhavana. The hero, a henchman of a ruthless don decides to turn over a new leaf after he meets the heroine, employed in an NGO. Just when the nuptials are round the corner, he is whisked away by the police. The heroine is devastated and her father dies of shock. How the lovers finally unite form the crux of the film.

The film returned to the cans in record time but after a number from it, ‘Vaalai Meenukkum’ sung by Gana Ulaganathan, turned chart topper, it was re-released in Chennai and elsewhere and did brisk business.

Mysskin’s fascination for gangster movies continued and his second film Anjaathe turned out to be an edge of the seat thriller. The theme of good versus evil with the former triumphing at the end was shot well and the technical brilliance was clearly visible. Narain, the hero of Mysskin’s debut film played the role of a tough cop and Prasanna and Panidarajan were cast as the antagonists. Audiences lapped up the fast paced venture. The film brought back memories of Hollywood gangster movies and one could clearly discern that Mysskin had drawn his inspiration from films like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. The film had a phenomenal run with the music score and the lyrics too contributed to its success.

With two hit films under his belt, Mysskin was ready with the script of his third film Nandalala,  but when he pitched the film to a few top actors in Kollywood, all that he got was a thumbs down. A disheartened Mysskin was clearly unwilling to abandon the project and decided that he would himself don the protagonist’s role. The theme of the film, which was borrowed from the Japanese movie Kikyiro narrated the story of a mentally challenged adult and an eight year old boy in search of their mothers.

The film which ought to have been Mysskin’s second before Anjaathe had its share of troubles and was almost shelved after producers backed out of the project. A dark tale of human suffering with hardly any formula ingredients, Nandalala, however won international acclaim when it was screened at the Norway Film Festival where it won the Critics and People’s Choice Awards. Mysskin’s understated performance in the main role, however, proved to be a handicap and it was largely propped up by Ilaiyaraaja’s score with Mysskin collaborating with the maestro for the first time.

While films like Yuddham Sei (2011) and Mugamoodi ( 2012) did little to enhance Mysskin’s reputation as an auteur, he came back strongly with Onaiyum Attukuttiyum which he wrote, directed and produced under his home banner Lone Wolf Productions. In a clear departure from norms, this film had no songs and no heroine either. The movie was a neo noir thriller with a story line that encompassed the events occurring in a single night in the dark lanes and alleys of Chennai.

Sri who made his mark with Vazhakku Enn 18/9 was cast in the role of a young medico who saves the life of a mortally wounded gangster and has to lock horns with the cops who are on the trail of the killer. Slickly shot, the film had its dose of dark humour and emotional content and with nary a single dull moment, received rave reviews as well. Ilaiyaraaja entrusted with the background score did not disappoint. The box office success of the film enabled Mysskin to prove his credentials as a serious filmmaker who could hold the attention of the audience with his brand of storytelling.

Mysskin’s last two directorial ventures were Pisasu produced by director Bala and Thupparivaalan which was made under actor Vishal’s banner ‘Vishal Film Factory’. Pisasu, which marked Mysskin’s first foray into the world of the supernatural, was released in 2014 and its USP was the taut screenplay by Mysskin and the action sequences deftly choreographed by a Hong Kong stuntman who had earlier worked with Mysskin in Mugamoodi. Newcomers Naga and Prayaga Martin enacted the main roles and Pisasu was clearly a shade above many of the ghost films that had been hitting the screens with monotonous regularity.

Thuipparivaalan was the outcome of Mysskin’s fascination for Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes and featured producer Vishal in the role of an intrepid detective Kaniyan Poonkundram with Prasanna as his Watson-like assistant. The detective on the trail of a missing dog stumbles on the sudden death of two people struck by lightning and senses that diabolical forces are at work. With the crafty villain one step ahead of the hero the story moves at a fast pace. The film had its lighter moments too and both Vishal and Prasanna carried off their roles well. The film however ended up as an average grosser.

Savarakathi where director Ram has played the hero is the latest venture from Mysskin’s production house and he has also penned the script for the film directed by his brother Aditya. Mysskin has for the first time in his career, donned the villain’s role and his performance has won him accolades. However Mysskin the director is clearly streets ahead of the actor who donned the greasepaint more out of compulsion than choice. As a singer too he is yet to make his mark. And while he will be game for acting assignments, another film with Vishal is on the cards.

Sridevi
While Sridevi's father Ayyappan was thrilled to have daughter interviewed by an English magazine, the star herself was uninterested.
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 12:14
Screenshot/YouTube

Balachander had roped in his proteges Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan for the main roles for his film Moondru Mudhichu and had begun the search for a heroine. He stumped his assistants by rooting for a teenager named Sridevi. Balachander had seen the actor essay the role of Lakshmi’s kid sister Irene in Julie, the Hindi version of the Malayalam film Chatakkari. The director, who had a high regard for the Malayalam filmmaker KS Sethumadhavan, who had helmed both the versions, felt that Sridevi who'd been picked by the latter should fit the bill in Moondru Mudichu

Sridevi, who had faced the arc lights at the age of four, had no hang-ups about doing the role but skeptics wondered how the slip of a girl would be able to play Rajinikanth’s step mother and the second wife of a widower (Calcutta Viswanathan) convincingly. But Balachander’s gamble paid off and Sridevi did full justice to her part.

Her film with debutant director Bharathiraaja titled Pathinaru Vayadhinile was entirely a different kettle of fish. Pathinaru Vayadhinile originally titled Mayil after the Sridevi's name in the film was a heroine oriented subject and offered the young star an opportunity to reveal her histrionic talent. Although both the scene stealers Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth were around in this film, too, it was Mayil who stole the thunder with her vivacity and joie de vivre.

As a freelancer moonlighting for a number of film magazines, I was able to approach the actor for an exclusive interview with a now defunct journal named Star & Style. Despite her glamorous appearance in Pathinaru Vayadhinile, Sridevi was quite shy and demure and I could easily discern that her impending stardom post the film’s release had not begun to rub off on her.

In those days, when visual media had not yet made an impact, interviews in film magazines were highly prized and actors through their PROs would often cajole writers to feature them in their journals. Sridevi’s father, Ayyappan, an advocate by profession who was managing her fledgling career at that point of time, was thrilled that his daughter would be getting some exposure in an English journal, that too from Bombay ( now Mumbai). Sridevi, however, was hardly excited, and answered all my queries in monosyllables. Though her exuberance was evident, a passion for cinema was perhaps still in an embryonic state.

Kamal Haasan, in a teary eyed tribute to the star, had recalled his meeting her when she was a teen on the sets of Moondru Mudichu and observing that she had a childlike innocence about her. It was this blithe spirit that cinematographer-director Balu Mahendra captured so vividly in his 1982 film Moondram Pirai where he cast Sridevi as an amnesia struck waif who loses her bearings after an accident and is rescued by a professor ( Kamal Haasan ). He nurses her back to health and in the process falls head over heels in love with her, only to lose her in the climax as she fails to recognise her benefactor.

This role, which both the actors reprised in the Hindi version Sadma as well, should rank as one of her finest ever. The film was critically acclaimed and also had a phenomenal run at the box-office. Rumours were rife that Sridevi would win the National Award for Best Actress for her portrayal but she missed out by the proverbial whisker. Kamal Haasan won the Best Actor award that year for the film.

Speaking to Balu after the jury had announced the awards, I could see that he too had been piqued at the jury bypassing Sridevi. Until then, Sridevi had been playing glamorous roles and her transformation in Moondram Pirai was a revelation. On interviewing her after the release of the film and the announcement of the awards, I could see that Sridevi , far from being crestfallen or depressed, had taken it in her stride and was all set to move on.

The State Government’s Award for Best Actress was a consolation as were the plaudits that came her way. My bond with the actor who was destined to touch much greater heights in the days ahead grew when she injured her leg during the shooting of a song sequence for the film Shankarlal. Explaining the chain of events, she observed that she had to enact a slow motion scene for a duet and had landed heavily on her right leg, fracturing it in the process. Incidentally, Sridevi was an exceptionally gifted dancer who had attained great proficiency in classical dances like Bharathanatyam, so much so that dancing became her forte when she became a superstar in Bollywood.

Biweekly visits to her humble rented abode became a habit and she would be propped up in her four poster bed, busy poring over a comic book with a stereo system blaring in one corner of the room. Four teddy bears had been placed strategically in the four corners of her bed and the teenager would often glance in their direction, all the time making small talk with me. But such was her dedication to her craft that she continued to dub for the film albeit with her leg in a plaster cast.

Before Bollywood made her its own, Sridevi had a long and fruitful career in Tamil and Telugu cinema and also Malayalam, where the industy saddled her with roles that called for skimpy costumes and risqué scenes. But that innocence that flashed in her eyes always remained and Sridevi unfailingly managed to pull off even such roles, emerging with her dignity intact.

My last interview with Sridevi was in 1983 on the sets of the Jeetendra starrer Himmatwala directed by Raghavendra Rao, where she was participating in a dance sequence. Child artiste Baby Shalini (who later acted in Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthe among other films and married Tamil actor Ajith Kumar) was perched on her lap, and in between shots she would take questions from me. Her films with Jeetendra would rock the box-office and the piece de resistance in the films would be the dance sequences with Jumping Jack Jeetendra matching steps with the queen of dance, Sridevi.

A humble, genial personality, with no airs whatsoever, Sridevi exuded a lot of warmth and always endeared herself to one and all. Considering the fact that she had made a comeback to films, the industry and her legion of fans will certainly miss her.

Obituary
What is remarkable about her rise to this throne is that she never had any godfathers in any of the industries she worked in.
  • Sunday, February 25, 2018 - 03:32

Fifty years ago, in a studio in Chennai (then Madras), a young girl faced the cameras for her debut as a child artiste.

Not many in the audience that watched this wisp of a girl would have wagered that this lass with luminous, bright eyes and a prominent nose would one day become the toast of not just South Indian cinema, but Bollywood as well.

Sridevi performed as a child artist in a number of films, but landed her first significant role in a Hindi remake of the Malayalam hit Chattakari. Titled Julie and directed by veteran director KS Sethumadhavan, the film saw Sridevi cast as the heroine Lakshmi’s nubile younger sister.

But, the biggest challenge of her fledgeling career came to her in the Tamil film Moondru Mudichu, directed by star maker and the man with the Midas touch – K Balachander. As a thirteen-year-old, she was saddled with the role of the wife of an aging widower (played by Calcutta Viswanathan) and the stepmother of Rajinikanth.

Kamal Haasan had a guest role in the film and the highlight of the film was the sequence of scenes between Sridevi and Rajinikanth. Balachander was later to cast her in another successful film Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, which had Kamal in the lead, and Sridevi in the role of a young girl with a wayward father who falls for Kamal.

Another director who played a stellar role in turning Sridevi into a household name was Bharathiraaja. His debut film Pathinaru Vayadhinile, a pastoral drama, had Sridevi playing the central role of the village beauty, Mayil, with Kamal Haasan as a physically challenged Chappani and Rajinikanth as the scheming villain Parattai.

The film turned out to be a blockbuster hit. Sridevi, who had not yet established herself in the industry, threw caution to the winds, exhibiting the voluptuousness of her lithe frame, sending the front benchers into raptures of delight.

Bharathiraaja again cast her opposite Kamal in the suspense thriller Sigappu Rojakkal, where Kamal played a homicidal maniac hunting down the heroine only to perish in the climax. The Sridevi-Kamal Haasan pair was a rage in Kollywood for several years, and the duo worked together in over forty films, including comedies like Meendum Kokila and intense dramas like Moondram Pirai.

Moondram Pirai, helmed by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, was a milestone in Sridevi’s film career. It tells the story of a professor (Kamal) who picks up an amnesia-struck waif, rendered senseless after a near-fatal accident. He takes her home and shelters her in the cocoon of his heart, but eventually loses her in a dramatic denouement when, after recovering her mental faculties, she is unable to recognize him as her saviour.

But for the climax, where Kamal goes overboard with his emotions, the entire film belonged to Sridevi. Glamour took a back seat in the film as the actor essayed her role with aplomb, touching a new height in her career, dwarfing even a seasoned performer like Kamal. Ironically, it was Kamal who won the National Award for his performance while Sridevi was overlooked in the Best Actress category.

Sridevi also worked with other Tamil heroes like Sivakumar in Kavi Kuyil and turned in a memorable performance in the Mahendran-directed Johnny opposite Rajinikanth, with whom she had also acted in the SP Muthuraman directed Priya.

Sridevi forayed into the Malayalam and Telugu industries too, and while Mollywood only cast her in lacklustre roles, well fleshed-out roles came to her in Telugu opposite veterans like Nageswara Rao (Premabishekam, a smash hit), NTR, Krishna, Shobhan Babu and so on. Sridevi was the heroines in such Telugu hits as Konda Veeti SinghamKshana KshanamVeeragadu, Sardar Pasparayudu and Bobbili Puli.

Sridevi’s first foray into Bollywood as a heroine was with Bharathiraaja’s 1978 remake of Pathinaru Vayadhinile titled Solva Salwan, which however turned out to be a damp squib. It was in Himmatwala released in 1983, where she was paired with Jeetendra, a favourite of producers down South, that she created a significant impact. Suddenly, Sridevi and her ‘thunder thighs’ came into sharp focus across the nation.

The Sridevi-Jeetendra pair was much like the Sridevi-Kamal combination down south, and films like Mawali and Tohfa clicked in a big way, while almost all their other films too did brisk business. Jeetendra, dubbed ‘Jumping Jack’ for his dancing prowess, was in awe of Sridevi. In a recent interview, he commented that he found it tough to match steps with her in the dance sequences as she was such a brilliant dancer.

Not all her Hindi films did justice to her talent or versatility as they were mere potboilers focusing on entertainment. But there were notable exceptions like Sadma (the remake of Moondram Pirai), Mr India, ChandniChaalbaaz (in a dual role with Sunny Deol and Rajinikanth), Khuda Gawah (again, playing dual roles of an Afghani mother and daughter, opposite Amitabh Bachchan), Lamhe, and Gumrah.

Shekar Kapur’s Mr India (which critics felt should have been titled Miss India as Sridevi hogged the limelight) was a delightful comedy caper, where she acted opposite Anil Kapoor. The “Hawa Hawaii” song, where she danced with gay abandon, became a craze, as did her Chaplinesque act that brought the roof down.

Ace director Yash Chopra was so fascinated with her talent that he cast her in the dual role of a mother and daughter in his film Lamhe. Already, she had won hearts in his earlier film, Chandni, in a role tailor-made for her. Commercial hits like NaginaKarma, and Janbaaz kept coming, right down to her last project before bidding au revoir to the industry, Judaai.

Marriage to Boney Kapoor, Anil Kapoor's elder brother and a producer in his own right, turned the queen of the box office into a demure housewife. But when even her most die-hard fans thought she had hung up her boots for good, Sridevi sprang a surprise by returning to the silver screen after a fifteen-year hiatus.

In 2012, Sridevi made a powerful comeback with the English Vinglish, directed by Gauri Shinde. The film’s theme centred on Sridevi as a housewife, who after being taunted by her husband and daughters on her lack of proficiency in English, strives to match their expectations by opting for a crash course in the language.

The film was a runaway hit and the actor proved that she could still carry a film on her shoulders. Sridevi’s film Mom, produced by husband Boney Kapoor and directed by newcomer Ravi Udyavar featured her in the lead as the mother of two children played by Pakistani actors Sajid Ali and Adnan Siddique. The film also saw Nawazuddin Siddique and Akshay Khanna sharing frames with her.

There’s no dearth of admirers even within the industry for the woman recently chosen as India’s greatest actress in the last hundred years by a popular news channel. Salman Khan, for instance, had said that Sridevi is greater than all the Khans in the industry, while veteran actor Anupam Kher dubbed her the Queen of Hindi cinema.

What is remarkable about her rise to this throne is that she never had any godfathers in any of the industries she worked in. Instead, she made her rise to the top thanks to her versatility, her commitment to cinema and the hard work she put in over several decades.

Bollywood has always been a haven for actresses from the South, with the likes of Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rahman, Padmini, Hema Malini and Rekha all carving niches for themselves. But Sridevi has always been in a different league altogether, which is saying a lot considering that these other stars had massive followings in their heydays.

Kollywood
The Tamil film industry has had several directors who've stepped in front of the camera and proved their mettle as actors.
  • Monday, February 12, 2018 - 14:43

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.

Mollywood
'Perunthachan' and 'Sargam' are among Manoj K Jayan's most memorable films.
  • Monday, January 29, 2018 - 18:30
Facebook/ Manoj K Jayan

The realisation that he would have to contend with the likes of Yesudas if he were to turn playback singer, prompted Manoj K Jayan, son of the celebrated classical and devotional singer Jayan of the Jaya-Vijaya duo, to opt for a career in films as an actor.

Three decades and hundreds of films later, Manoj has never had to rue his decision for he remains one of the first choices for directors who need a charismatic character actor for their films.

Manoj enrolled in a film institute in Kerala but discontinued the course and began to scout for offers. A blink and miss role in Ente Sonia in 1987 set the actor on course but his potential was noticed in the film Perunthachan released three years later in which the late actor Thilakan was the main protagonist.

Quite early in his career, Manoj realised that he was not cut from the same cloth as Mammootty or Mohanlal and that craving for leading man roles only could cost him his career. This decision enabled him to shift seamlessly between genres and exhibit his versatility in the process. The handsome actor has since excelled in portraying a wide range of characters, some tinged with comedy, others more poignant and absorbing, but not one of them exaggerated or superficial.

One of the finest characters that Manoj K Jayan has enacted on screen was undoubtedly ‘Kuttan Thamburaan’ in the Hariharan directed Sargam, released in 1992. Just five years into his film career, Manoj was signed to play the role of a wastrel prone to epileptic seizures, a mischief maker who incurred the wrath of the villagers with his outlandish living style.

Vineet, a Hariharan discovery in Nakhaksthangal, was cast in the sedate role of Kuttan’s best friend who alone could rein in the boisterous vagrant. Kuttan is forced by his parents to marry a young girl as astrologers had predicted that marriage would cure him of his malady.

Later, it dawns on Kuttan that he had wedded his best friend’s lover. Stung with remorse, Kuttan takes his own life. A complex role where the actor could have easily gone overboard in the emotion laden sequences was handled with a great deal of finesse under the watchful eye of the director. This film was a turning point in Manoj’s career.

Scenarist John Paul, who wrote the script for the late director Bharathan’s Chamayam, had marquee star Mohanlal and veteran Thilakan in mind for the lead roles of two fishermen with an abiding passion for theatre. However when the project took off, the roles were done by Manoj and the late Murali with the former playing the role of the extrovert Anto and Murali his friend cum rival Esthappan.

The film had the distinct Bharathan touch and the stars fit perfectly in their roles. The sheer ecstasy in the number Anthapurathu sung by MG Sreekumar, where Manoj whips up a fast dance number with Murali egging him on, lit up the screen for its sheer vibrance and vitality. With Sithara, a sublime presence as the heroine, Chamayam could well rank among Manoj’s top films.

Internationally renowned cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan made the film Anandhabhadram in 2005 and a surprise pick for the villain’s role was Manoj K Jayan. The role of the diabolic Digambaran, a black magic practitioner who terrorises a village was a complete antithesis of everything that Manoj had done thus far. With his larger than life image, kohl lined eyes blazing like charcoals, large fingernails and giant strides, Digambaran was modeled on characters drawn from Kerala’s finest art forms Kathakali and Theyyam.

The film was a dark fantasy in which Manoj completely overshadowed the hero Prithviraj and Kalabhavan Mani, who played the role of a visually impaired samurai warrior taking on the sinister and maniacal Digambaran. For a cool and composed individual in real life like Manoj, Digambaran was a real baptism by fire and he ended up vindicating the faith of the director.

It was Hariharan again who gave Manoj K Jayan another pivotal role in his period film Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja where Mammootty was cast in the title role. A lavishly mounted film with enchanting visuals, Pazhassi Raja featured Manoj in the role of a local chieftain Thalakal Chandu. Although Mammootty hogged the limelight in the film, Hariharan had taken care to ensure that the character of Chandu did not receive short shrift and Manoj had an opportunity to steal the thunder in the scenes allotted to him.

Pazhassi Raja, scripted by Jnanpith awardee M T Vasudevan Nair also had a spectacular box office run and did much to further Manoj K Jayan’s career.

The versatile actor’s performance as a hijra in playback singer M G Sreekumar produced Ardhanari, a highly charged, melodramatic film however was a letdown as it was a totally over the top portrayal and though the character was meant to elicit empathy, audiences gave the film and the character a frosty reception.

For the hero turned character actor it was a pleasant turn of events when director Farooq Abdul Rahman plumed him to play the lead role in the film Kaliyachan, released in 2015. The role of Kunhiraman, a Kathakali dancer and his relationship with his guru provided Manoj an opportunity to once again showcase his acting skills.

Manoj K Jayan is one of the few stars of yesteryear who has managed to strike a chord with the younger set of filmmakers and they have always reposed faith in him. His roles in films like Alphonse Puthran’s Neram, Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo, and his being part of the soon to be released Prithviraj – Parvathy starrer My Story, Zacharaiah Pothan’s Jeevichirupundu and a number of films on the floors, signify that the actor continues to be in demand for strong, character roles.

Manoj has worked with almost all the top names in Malayalam cinema and was also a part of two of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films Naalu Pennungal and Oru Pennum Rendaanum. The actor has also ventured into Tamil and Telugu films but has hardly done any significant work. In most of his Tamil films he has been typecast as a police officer and though these films including Dhool, Thirupaachi and Villu were box office hits, they did little for him career-wise.

Incidentally, it was director Mani Ratnam who gave him his first break in Kollywood in the Rajinikant-Mammootty-Arvind Swami film Thalapathi. Well entrenched in the industry. the actor’s zest for films stands undiminished and though he has only won a few awards, he has endeared himself to the audience with his portrayals in varied roles and along with veterans like Nedumudi Venu, Innocent, Siddique etc. remains always in contention for vibrant supporting roles.

Opinion
Despite having an average film career and his political entry fizzling out, Vishal has risen from the ashes before and we should not dismiss him so quickly.
  • Tuesday, January 02, 2018 - 12:15

He has his fingers in several pies at the same time. An actor and producer, Vishal also successfully contested and won the elections to the Nadigar Sangam and the Producer’s Council. He is now the Secretary of the former and the President of the latter.

However, Vishal shocked friends and foes alike by jumping into politics and filing his nomination for the recent RK Nagar bye-polls in Chennai. The seat had fallen vacant after the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. But, in what came as an anti-climax, his nomination papers were rejected by the Returning Officer on the grounds that two signatures of his proposers were fudged.

Vishal, as could be expected, raised a hue and cry and hinted at a conspiracy, but it was to no avail. His detractors in the Producer’s Council, like director Cheran, seized the opportunity to take potshots at him for neglecting his duties as Council President and for choosing to plunge into politics instead. They even went to the extent of launching a sit-in protest at the Council premises. But, like his innings in politics that ended even before it really began, the agitation too fizzled out.

Vishal has earned the reputation of being a doer, especially after he wrested power at the Nadigar Sangam from veterans like Sarath Kumar and Radha Ravi, who were holding the fort after Vijaykanth bowed out and opted for a full-fledged career in politics. The Sangam, which has senior actor Nasser as President, has filed a suit against the previous incumbents alleging misappropriation of funds and the case is pending in the courts.

After the victory in the Nadigar Sangam elections, Vishal set his sights on the Producers’ Council – the fiefdom of long-time filmmakers like ‘Kalaipuli’ Thaanu, KR, Alagappan and others. With the solid backing of the younger set of producers, including the likes of actor, director and producer Prakash Raj, his team swept through the polls. However, unlike in the Sangam, which has been functioning as a compact unit, the Council remains a divided house and there are several dissenting voices being heard.

Vishal, who has a degree in Mass Communications, started off as an assistant director in Arjun Sarja’s Vedham in 2001. He made his debut in Chellame in 2004. But it was his later films – Sasi’s Dishyum, Linguswami’s Sandakozhi and Tarun Gopi’s Thimiru – that secured his place in the Tamil film industry.

A typical Vishal film had its quota of stunt sequences, in which he excelled thanks to his wiry physique, and duets where he wooed heroines in exotic locations. The emotional content was kept to the barest minimum as the actor’s comfort level while enacting such heavy-duty scenes was suspect.

It was director Bala who uncovered the hidden depths to Vishal’s talent in his action-comedy Avan Ivan, which is still ranked very high in the actor’s career. Bala, who is known to be choosy when it comes to casting in his movies, relied of actor Arya’s recommendation and Vishal did not disappoint. In the story of two half-brothers, Vishal played Walter Vanangamudi, the softer sibling, while Arya proved to be his perfect foil with his tough Kumbideren Swamy.

The film offered Vishal the opportunity to do something different. Despite him having to strain his eyes to play the role of a man with a squint, the critical acclaim he received must have helped alleviate the pain. One particular scene stands out in the movie – Walter, a wannabe actor, in a bid to impress Suriya (playing himself) performs the navarasas – which only met with a lukewarm response in the box office.

His film career has been far from impressive – his flops have outnumbered his hits. While action extravaganzas like Malaikottai, Pandiyanaadu, Naan Sigappu Manithan and Sivappathigaram fared a trifle better, his later films like Ambala, Paayum Puli and Kathi Sandai were total flops. The only film that comes to mind when I speak of Vishal’s hits is Hari’s Thamiraparani. Kathakali and Marudhu also performed only averagely at the box office.

The actor’s most-recent break came in Mysskin’s Thupparivaalan, where Vishal played a desi Sherlock Holmes, investigating a string of seemingly unrelated murders. Vishal, whose earlier cop film Sathyam failed to click with the audience, had a much better outing with Thupparivaalan, which opened to critical and commercial acclaim. His hyped-up performance as an antagonist in the Malayalam film Villain, starring Mohanlal as the hero, went unnoticed.

So where does this forty-year-old, strapping actor go from here?

He has no dearth of assignments and can even make his own films now. His father, GK Reddy, and his brother, Vikram Krishna, are both Kollywood producers too – so he can even fall back on them for a project if need be. For now, he has pinned his hopes on his upcoming films, Irumbu Thirai, where his one-time mentor Arjun will be crossing swords with him, and Sandakozhi 2.

However, his attempt to rush into politics, when superstars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have marched into the arena, has come a cropper. Chances are that he has now decided to put his political plans on hold for now.

As an administrator, he has a number of plans lined up for the Nadigar Sangam, including a fundraiser tour to Malaysia and intensifying the battle against video piracy. Constructing a building for the Sangam too is of top priority.

There is no doubt we will see more of Vishal in the times to come – he is here for the long haul.