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Bollywood villains go south
Bollywood villains, some of whom were out of work in aamchi Mumbai, are in huge demand in the South Indian film industry
Buxom Bollywood babes going South and striking gold is an old story. Not so well-known is the case of that other important player of Hindi cinema - the villain - who's also got lucky there. For two decades now, Bollywood has been exporting its baddies to southern shores, a lucrative business by any stretch.
An early export was theatre-film actor Salim Ghouse whose baritone and curly mane are now part of Tamil film folklore. Ghouse says it was Malayalam actor-director Pratap Pothen who saw one of his plays in Chennai and suggested that he play Carlos in Vetri Vizha, his Tamil remake of The Bourne Identity, where Kamal Haasan was Jason Bourne. "Vetri Vizha was a runaway hit, " says Ghouse, who from then on was on the Mumbai-Madras express ever so often.
Mani Ratnam, who believes that the film baddie has to have many dimensions so that the invariably straight-laced hero doesn't come up smelling of roses at least till the climax, was one of the earliest directors to look to Bollywood. He gave Ghouse an interesting role to play in his black comedy Thiruda Thiruda (1993), signed on Amrish Puri for his post-modern Mahabharata, Dalapathy (1991), and Pankaj Kapur for Roja (1993). (Of course Kapur wasn't strictly a South performer, since he essayed the role of an Urdu-speaking Kashmiri terrorist. )
While the hardcore Punjabi Puri and Kapur made their South Indian sojourn an exception rather than the rule, Ghouse, who has a flair for languages, found himself a huge fan following in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films. "I learnt Tamil by listening to Tamil songs, " says the actor who was very clear that if he didn't speak a tongue, he wouldn't attempt a film in it. "I didn't do Kannada films only for this reason, " he says. "If an actor doesn't know the language he is doing a film in, he becomes a caricature. "
Of course, Ghouse is in a minority of one. Once the idea of the Bollywood villain caught on, Southern filmmakers started importing them by the truckload, whether or not they understood the southern languages even remotely. In these 20 years, countless villains and even henchmen from Mumbai have found their way to the studios of South India, and, as filmmaker R Madesh puts it, while some fell by the wayside after an inconsequential film or two, at least a dozen have made it to the top. The latest additions to Telugu cinema, Murali Sharma and Sonu Sood, have even picked up Best Villain awards for Atithi and Arundhati respectively.
Although they come at a fairly prohibitive price tag of anything between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 50 lakh, the Czars of South cinema have no budget constraints when it comes to importing their villains. One producer says that Atul Kulkarni asked for Rs 25 lakh, two-first class tickets to the foreign shooting locale, five-star accommodation and two staffers. "I refused, but some other producer readily agreed, " he says.
Asked why the Bombay baddie is so attractive to southern filmmakers, a hotshot director says, "There are five reasons. One, the South (especially Tamil/Telugu cinema) still makes a lot of regular potboilers where the typical hero-villain confrontation is the core. Two, there is a dearth of imposing villains down South. Three, the Bombay baddie is usually blessed with a six-foot frame (Mukesh Rishi, Pradeep Rawat and Rahul Dev being cases in point). Four, he doesn't mind getting beaten to pulp by the South Indian hero, who is often puny and dark. And five, promising villains like Rajnikant, Chiranjeevi, Sarath Kumar and Dhanush have now become superheroes. "
Director Selvan says there is also a superstition doing the rounds - that if a villain from North India is brought in, the film invariably has a jubilee run. Strangely, the South Indian audience, which idol-worships its darkcomplexioned heroes, likes contrasting them with fair heroines and wheatish villains. Marathi actor Sayaji Shinde, currently the rage in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, says he can well believe the superstition because he has been made to do the same role in two language versions of the Tamil film Dhool. "After it became a hit in Tamil, I was asked to do the same role in Telugu and Kannada, " he says. Shinde adds mischievously that it hardly matters to him that he gets pummelled in every climax because "through the film I'm the one calling the shots and terrifying the heroine;the hero only gets her in the end!"
Admitting that he has made a small fortune by spending around 200 days each year down South, Shinde, who has completed nearly 80 South Indian films, is unwilling to view this as a North-South migration issue. "An actor is an actor is an actor, " he says. "According to me, when a filmmaker is writing a role, a certain actor comes to his mind. Now whether that actor resides in Mumbai or in the Malabar is hardly of any consequence. " Agrees Ghouse, "That's the beauty of globalisation. Actors from across the seven seas are making it here and vice-versa. So to view us as Bollywood exports is wrong. "
Salim Ghouse Vetri Vizha (Tamil); Thazhvaram (Malayalam); Antham (Telugu)
Ashish Vidyarthi Ghilli (Tamil); Aa Dinagalu (Kannada); Pokiri (Telugu)
Pradeep Rawat Sye (Telugu) Ghajini (Tamil)
Mukesh Rishi Shambo Shiva Shambo, Indra (Telugu)
Mukesh Tiwari Kanthaswamy (Tamil)
Sayaji Shinde Vettaikaran (Tamil); Dhool (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada)
Atul Kulkarni Run (Tamil)
Sonu Sood Arundhati, Athadu (Telugu)
Murali Sharma Atithi (Telugu)
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