Mar 23 2017
Tamil cinema is pretty unforgiving when it comes to giving second chances to our heroes. There have been many actors who have bounced back after after almost being written off after a string of flops but they typically had a strong fan base that never lost faith in them and so they never really went out of the limelight. But once an actor loses his standing as a hero, fades away from public memory, it has been near impossible for him to make a substantial comeback and play the central character again.
This non-happening of second chances is not for lack of trying. Mohan, who ruled the roost in the 80s, tried to play the hero again after a long gap in Anbulla Kaadhalukku but it was a disaster. More recently there was some buzz around actors like Ramki(Biriyani) and Karthik(Anegan) coming back to films but they turned out to be one-off attempts with no talk since then about them acting in any more films. The only way for heroes to continue acting is to take on character roles as actors like Prabhu and Sathyaraj have done. They have graduated to playing elder character roles but the roles they are taking up have become progressively worse(Sathyaraj’s role in Motta Shiva Ketta Shiva is a recent, sad example) and their presence no longer adds any buzz or hype to the movie.
The fate of our heroines isn’t that different. Most of them have a much shorter shelf life compared to the heroes and after a brief hiatus they come back in character roles that are significantly elder to the same heroes they paired with just a few years back. From there its a short step to TV in the form of either serials or talk shows(earlier there used to be an intermediate step of acting in devotional movies but those aren’t being made these days) where they get to play the lead.
We’ve seen many actresses from earlier eras like Radhika, Ramya Krishnan, Banupriya and Kushboo traverse this career arc. More recently, Nadhiya has been seen in many character roles. Even Simran, who was the leading heroine for so many years, couldn’t escape this as, once her time as heroine was over, she showed up in terrible films like Kicha Vayasu 16 and Ainthaam Padai(I think appearing in a Sundar. C masala film is a sign of an actress’ career hitting the nadir) before moving on to character roles with Vaaranam Aayiram and TV shows like Jackpot.
Considering this history, what Arvind Swamy has done recently is quite surprising. The actor had a decent run as a romantic hero in the 90s, acting in films with some big directors like Manirathnam, Balu Mahendra and Rajiv Menon. But not being successful as an action hero(En Swaasa Kaatre proved it quite emphatically) put his leading man status in danger and he soon disappeared from the scene. His comeback with 2013’s Kadal wasn’t very successful and I assumed that he too had joined the list of actors with failed comebacks.
But 2015’s Thani Oruvan, where he made the surprising decision to play the bad guy, has given him a completely new lease of life. He stole the film as the suave, stylish businessman and crackled in the role with style and swagger that we hadn’t seen in him before. He was again the best thing in Bogan even if his performance wasn’t that different from what he did in Thani Oruvan. Just when we thought he may be getting stereotyped comes news that he is playing the lead in some exciting new movies like Sathuranga Vettai 2(with Trisha) and Vanangamudi(with Ritika Singh). So 25 years after he was introduced as a hero, he has come full circle and is once again playing the hero. That’s quite an achievement.
If what Arvind Swamy has done is surprising, Jyothika’s comeback is even more remarkable. She had a pretty long and successful run as a heroine, acting with all top heroes of the day. Marriage pretty much sounds the death knell for our heroines and so Jyothika voluntarily moving away from films after her marriage to Suriya seemed like a pragmatic decision at the time(it seemed even more sensible after Sillunu Oru Kaadhal :)). And it seemed like the end of her film career.
But after a 6 year break, she surprised everyone by coming back to movies with 36 Vayadhinile. And it wasn’t a supporting role either. She played the lead in a woman-centric film that conveyed a strong message about female empowerment. Her performance and the film itself got generally positive reviews. But she hasn’t stopped there. She is now leading a cast of women in Magalir Mattum and has also been cast by Bala in his next film Naachiyaar, along with G.V.Prakash. More telling than those is the fact that she opted out of Vijay’s Atlee-directed film because of the script(a role that is now being done by Nithya Menen). Again, quite an achievement.
This doesn’t mean things have completely changed. I don’t think we are going to see Arvind Swamy play a mass hero or Jyothika pair up with Ajith or Vijay in a film that gives her a substantial role. But these two actors have certainly gone against the norm and added some interest and flavor to Tamil cinema today.