Commercialism is not child’s play
is a good actor or what is good acting? To make
it simple, let us try a more direct question.
Which is the better performance – Prakash
Raj in Kancheevaram or Vijay in Vettaikaran? Many
of you might find this comparison absurd. That
is completely understandable because it is difficult
to adjust to a comparison which is never thought
of and involves two performances that are poles
apart in scope. But, let us persevere with it.
Is it Prakash Raj in Kancheevaram or Vijay in
Vettaikaran? To enable everyone to connect with
the type of comparison that is being attempted,
let us try Kamal in Anbey Sivam and Vijay in Ghilli
(assuming that almost everyone has seen both these
movies). Again, this is one comparison that will
look totally against convention and preset notions
about good acting. There is absolutely no doubt
that almost everyone, if not absolutely everyone,
will plump for the portrayal of Nalla Sivam by
the legendary Kamal Haasan. There is absolutely
nothing wrong with the choice. It was indeed a
master class from Kalaignani. But, this is not
about Kalaignani, this is about the other actor,
Vijay, and the breed of actors that he represents.
What is the class that Vijay represents? The actor,
who plays to the galleries, makes movies for fans, looks
to entertain and doesn’t care much about critics.
One gets the feeling that this class of actors is not
sometimes given the respect that is their due. Not that
they seem to particularly care, they are happy to see
the masses enjoying their films. But, there seems to
be a general opinion floating around amongst the so
called A class audiences about the full-fledged commercial
actor. Some of the important points seem to be; 1. they
have no brains or have stopped using them 2. they can’t
act even if their life depended on it 3. can’t
do anything except dance, fight and look good 4. are
obsessed with their larger than life image.
Yes, some of the points mentioned here might be a bit
exaggerated. But, it cannot be denied that there are
many people who do carry opinions that are very much
similar to the above mentioned. The point is that many
of the commercial heroes of our times are taken for
granted. The skill and charisma that they bring to the
screen is sometimes totally ignored because they are
supposed to be stereotypical or clichéd. The
thing that we tend to forget sometimes is that the job
they do is not everybody’s cup of tea.
It has to be admitted that pulling off a larger than
life character, mouthing punch lines, bashing up 50
odd men single handedly and other such cinematic items
is not child’s play. Let’s try thinking
of it this way- which is the bigger challenge- playing
a true to life character or a larger than life character?
Playing a true to life character demands a actor to
behave much like an ordinary man would do in situations
that life throws at him. But, a larger than life character
demands an actor to create a mould for himself, craft
his own style ad become a different person, a type that
does not exist in normal life. True to life characters
have templates, models and examples – a larger
than life character has none (except in cinema). The
energy, the inspiration and the ideas have to come from
within the performer. It takes a lot of work, thought
and talent to make an audience take a liking to an actor
in a larger than life role.
It is not every actor who can pull off a 5 fight, 5
songs and punch dialogue routine without looking silly.
Only a select few have that level of screen presence
and persona to make the audience (not all sections)
clap in delight when they go through these predictable
yet enjoyable routines. One also feels that the delivery
of the punch dialogue is one of the least appreciated
skills in the film industry. It takes tremendous confidence
and faith in one’s ability to say lines that sometimes
outgrow the script itself. Very few actors can mouth
such lines without eliciting sniggers and sneers from
To see the point more clearly, try answering this question.
How many commercial ‘larger than life stars’
have at least one well performed true to life character
to their credit? Almost everyone, would be the answer.
Every commercial star has played a down to earth guy
at least once in their career if not more number of
times. But, can the converse be said about actors who
play only the real-life type of characters. That is,
does every ‘reality’ actor have at least
one ‘larger than life’ role to their credit?
Very few have been successful in such attempts.
Our full fledged commercial heroes do have the ability
(they may not be class actors) to play some really well
fleshed out characters. But, they do their kind of stuff
in the industry because that is what is given to them.
This might be a controversial statement, but, a good
character actor is easier to replace than a commercial
star. Character artistes have specializations –
some are good at comedy, some at sentiments, some at
villainy, some at action etc…. but, a commercial
hero is expected to do just about everything in a 3
hour film. He plays the loving son (sentiment), the
man in love (romance), capers around with the comedian,
dances frenetically in songs and is full of energy in
the stunts. A person who can carry of all this at a
time is definitely talented. It is this ambivalent skill
set of a star that is sometimes portrayed as silly mindless
commercialism because ‘he is capable of nothing
Yes, commercial stars do fail. When they fail, they
look miserable to the point of being a joke. That is
because making such cocktails of entertaining ingredients
has a very fine balance which can easily be upset. Making
commercial entertainers is a tight rope walk and our
commercial heroes are at it all the time. That is why
we see them falter and fall at times. But, let us not
hold it against them and certainly let us not accuse
them of being non-talented dim wits who cannot act.
Look at the skills that they have, the entertainment
that they deliver and the mass appeal that they command
– you might be convinced that it takes a lot of
skill and work to be one of that kind. Let us give them
the respect that is their due.
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