Sep 13 2011

Bad is Good

Published by Balaji at 11:22 pm under Tamil Cinema

I’ve never been a big fan of Ajith but things have gotten worse the last few years. The quality of his last few movies has ranged from ‘watchable’(Billa) to ‘atrocious’(Aazhvar) and I can’t remember the last time he delivered a certified hit. Worse, the actor’s performance in the movies was dull and lifeless and there was no energy or joy in his acting. I admired a number of his actions and activities on the personal front but those didn’t translate to liking what he was giving us onscreen. But Mankatha has made me a fan of the actor overnight and the main reason for that is the role he has played in the film. Its ironic that he had to take on the least likeable character of his career for me to like him the most!

Its easy to see why. We’ve been conditioned for years by our heroes playing goody-goody roles and staying away from even the faintest shades of gray. Granted our directors have managed to deliver several good movies while working within those constraints but we have reached the point where the movies with the big stars offer no real surprises. So the nature of Ajith’s character – the way he cheated Trisha and ruthlessly eliminated his teammates – came as a wonderful surprise. The rumors about his character notwithstanding, I kept waiting for some attempt at redemption, some twist that would show his character in a good light. But as the end credits scrolled past without any such act, I was truly surprised.

Ofcourse this is not the first time a Tamil hero has played a bad guy. After doing several similar movies and playing the same character with minor variations over and over again, I’m guessing that it must be liberating for our actors to play a role with gray or negative shades. But its rare to find a popular hero play an outright bad role with no redeeming qualities. Right now I can think of only two – Sivaji in Andha NaaL and Mohan in Nooraavadhu NaaL.

The main reason for our heroes not attempting roles with negative shades is their desire to adhere to an image. One of the ways they get around this and play a negative character is by providing a rationale for the character’s badness. He might steal or even kill but the character earns our sympathy and/or gets us to cheer for him.  Sivaji played such a role in Pudhiya Paravai while more recently, Simbhu employed this tactic for his turn as a serial killer in Manmadhan. Vigilantes like Gentleman Arjun and Anniyan Vikram fall into this category too.

The more popular way for our heroes to have their cake and eat it too has been to play a dual role where they can play both the good guy and the bad guy. This allows them to get down and dirty in one role while doing all that’s expected of a Tamil cinema hero in the other. Rajni did this in Enthiran, Kamal in Aalavandhaan, Vijay in Azhagiya Thamizh Magan and Ajith himself in Vaali. Even Satyaraj, who was a popular villain before turning hero, followed this route when he once again played a bad guy in Amaidhi Padai. Its a win-win situation for them since the good guy gets the girl and is left standing at the end while the bad guy invariably gets all the accolades from the audience.

Ajith’s performance in Mankatha is unique because he didn’t go with the aforementioned two options. He was simply a greedy, ruthless man. That’s why his bad guy act might be a small step for cinema but is a giant leap for Tamil cinema. Seeing how much fun it was, all I can say is “Give me more!”

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Bad is Good”

  1. killer says:

    We’ve been conditioned for years by our heroes playing goody-goody roles and staying away from even the faintest shades of gray.

    i don’t think this is true. all these gangster movies have been revelling in their protagonist’s unpleasant qualities (e.g. puthupettai), not to mention movies like manthira punnagai which delight in making the hero humiliate the heroine.

    and those are just the movies where the writer/director are aware of the hero’s unpleasant qualities, pretty much all of movies have heroes who are ungoody-ungoody according to my own standards of morality.

  2. Venoth says:

    This is a good trend for Tamil cinema as it needs to move towards Hollywood style of characterization where it’s not necessary for the heroes to be do-gooders. I believe Vijay’s character in Priyamudan was similarly bad & selfish, but that was when he wasnt a superstar yet, and the movie wasnt a big hit in Tamil. But Mankatha’s success will set a good precedent among Tamil movies to experiment with big stars in all-out negative characters. i began to like Ajith much more due to this movie.

  3. ram says:

    KV Anand once said in an interview, when asked about Prithviraj’s star turn in Kana Kanden, “Elaa hero-vum villain role pannanum-nu solluvaange…aana idha madhiri role kudutha yaarum panna maataange.”
    Good that Ajith broke the trend! Hopefully more people will follow. Another point is they’ll rarely play an old guy (or even a character that suits their age) without playing a young guy in a dual role. Parthiban has publicly mentioned that he was happy to do this in Housefull but in my meetings with him he’s mentioned that maybe the film might’ve done better had he taken on Vikram’s role as well…

  4. Meera says:

    You are right on the buck… Mankatha is enjoyable because of the shades of grey and Ajith did the right thing by taking this role and playing it by defying every rule that a popular hero should follow. I read somewhere that he was in the quest for a role which is similar to the clown in Dark Knight and that was around the same time Venkat Prabhu approached him with Mankatha. So it was a bold and well received move. Ofcourse you forgot to mention Kamal in Sigappu Rojakkal and Dhanush in Pudhupettai… Infact Pudhupettai is probably my favourite Selva Raghavan movie. If only Vijay will take a leaf out of Ajith’s book to choose characters rather than make masala movies.

  5. avanthika says:

    Meera,

    But in Sigappu Rojakkal, Kamal’s misconducts are associated with ‘mental abnormality’ which are due to his childhood abuse or whatever it is. Where else here, Ajith is shown just as a greedy person with no flashback of his background (= no justification for his actions) :-)

  6. bart says:

    A look at the “negative” heroes in Tamil Cinema..
    Andha Naal was during early phase (before he was a “star”) of Sivaji’s career. If that is the case, “Pagal Nilavu” Satyaraj, “Moondru mudichu” Rajini and the likes come into the picture. Also, Sivaji dies in the end.. Mohan in “Nooravadhu Naal” is a nice pick. He too dies in the end or “dharmam vendradhu”.
    Pudhupettai is about “survival” and the way “power” changes life of a person and not around “good vs evil”… But yes, he did play a predominantly negative character (dark grey?) and doesn’t get punished (inspite of the jail) at the end for his sins.
    Another character that strikes is Vijayan in “UdhiriPookkal”. He is shown good to the kids in the end and he also gets punished..
    There was a movie called “Saavi” with Satyaraj as a anti-hero who tries killing his own wife (Saritha) but he dies at the end and also there’s a positive police hero character…
    “Naan Avan Illai” shows the hero under trial but he walks off without getting punished (he doesn’t go to the extent of killing though).
    Vinayak Mahadev finally stands out as the most negative, unpunished popular hero. Kokki Kumar might be a runner-up :)

  7. Sandya says:

    A salute to your wonderfully written piece on Ajith and Greed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONXpaBQnBvE (the master of greed, Michael Douglas! :)

  8. ratnam says:

    in a interview ajith sir told he wanna be a full fledged villain in a rajinikanth movie and wanna bashed up by him!! that shows he has grown as an actor and willing to experiment. way to go ajith!

  9. KP says:

    Karthick was a baddie in kann simuttum neeram where sarath Kumar played a good cop and produced the movie as well.

    Mohan again in December pookal although both characters had flash backs.

    Sivaji had negative shades in koondu kili in which mgr was the good guy only movie they co starred in.

    -KP

  10. Balaji says:

    killer, I was talking more about the big heroes/stars. So Dhanush in Pudhupettai fits the bill but not Karu Pazhaniappa in Mandhira Punnagai. The new faces and small actors in all those Madurai movies don’t fall in this category either.

    Venoth, I’m not delusional about all our heroes immediately caring less about their images and taking on any role. But if Ajith here inspires even a couple of heroes to take on roles that surprise us, I’d be happy!

    ram, I remember Anand mentioning a few heroes(Maddy? Arvind Swamy?) he had approached to play the role but they all said No cos it was a negative role. Prithviraj going from there to playing the hero in romcoms shows that their fears were unfounded.
    Vikram in Housefull?

    Meera, Kamal in Sigappu Rojakkal is a good catch. Though they have him a flashback, he was definitely a bad guy. By the same token, Pratap Pothen in Moodupani would be a bad guy though he wasn’t as popular a hero.
    As for Vijay doing such roles, that’s a long way off. I’ll be happy if Vikram and Suriya take such a step.

    avanthika, yeah the lack of justification was the biggest difference from the potrayal of other bad guys played by our heroes.

    bart, Sivaji debuted as a hero and that’s why I picked Andha Naal even though it was early in his career. Satyaraj and Rajni were still playing villains when they acted in those movies right? I remember Saavi(that’s the remake of Dial M for Murder I think) was advertised as Satyaraj’s first anti-hero role before he became a full-fledged hero.

    Sandya, can never get bored of watching that :)

    ratnam, I read that too. I doubt that will happen but he’s really earned my admiration with his recent moves.

    KP, faintly remember KSN but Karthik has some affliction(memory loss?) which is why he wants to kill the heroine no? was he a real bad guy?
    I don’t think I’ve seen December Pookkal or Koondukkili :(

  11. ram says:

    yes, Vikram in Housefull…remember he played a role of a wisecracking fellow who romances Suvalakshmi first and then gets stuck inside the theater…

  12. KP says:

    He wants to kill but due to memory loss he doesn’t till the end when he regains it.

    -KP

  13. Jay says:

    Of the movies listed I’ve seen Sigappu Rojakkal, Andhaa Naal, Housefull and Mankatha. I thought all of them were very entertaining movies.

    From hearing only the rough outlines of the movies I want to watch Saavi, pudhupettai, Nooravadhu Naal, Koondu Kili and Kan Smittum Nerum. I have no clue whether they are good films, whether the acting was good, whether the production values are decent etc… but they sound interesting. And I don’t think its just because heroes are playing villains in these movies that make them interesting. At least, I hope not.

    I think most individuals are more forgiving of flops as long as there was an attempt by the lead actor to try something new. People are not going to defend Suraa as a movie because it was formulaic. There will be people (I include myself among those) that will defend Gunaa. It was different and Kamal wasn’t just mailing it in. I can’t think of a more recent example but I’m sure they exist.

    And as long as we are wishing for actors to take on roles that they are not as of now. Let me put in a wish of my own. I want someone to do a role similar to that of Matt Damon’s role in The Informant! We all hear about Surya working his ass off to get a 6-pack to play an action hero. I want to hear about someone who gains 30-40lbs in order to play a middle-aged dad. If its been done before I can’t think of it.

    Jay

  14. Raj K. says:

    In all honesty, I do not think Ajith played a “bad” guy in Mangatha. He played an anti-hero, but the character was likable for the most part. Can’t wait to see him in Billa 2 (prequel).

  15. avanthika says:

    Also Ajith has already acted as a full fledged villain in Asoka!