Actors: Redundant to cinema!

Are actors becoming redundant to cinema? It is almost like asking whether the PC has become redundant to the IT industry! While the later will surely never come true,; that is if another miniaturization revolution does not take place; the former might be a reality, in the distant if not immediate future. Why would actors be redundant to cinema? We are living in an era of reality shows. The long worded, verbose family soaps on television that threatened to stretch till the end of time have already given way to the new generation of reality shows, where anyone who has the courage to pick up a mike or shake a leg is a contestant. We are having all kinds of reality shows, music, dance, action, cookery, cricket, Big Boss (there is no genre which you can put that under) etc. Many might argue that these reality shows are even more fictitious and ‘stage’ managed than the soaps. But, that is a different matter altogether.

Likewise, Tamil cinema is also going towards reality than performance. Here, ‘reality’ has nothing to do with the term realistic cinema and the various definitions that it has at

present. Reality, here, refers to the increasing incidence of uncharacteristic choices that directors are making in Tamil cinema in terms of casting preferences. There was a time, not too long ago, when the casting choices made in Tamil cinema were strictly from within a pool of professionals called ‘actors’. Fresh faces, when introduced, were mostly young men as heroes or beautiful young ladies as heroines. The farthest a casting experiment would go was the inclusion of an experienced artiste from a neighboring industry. Almost every artiste in the industry had a defined set of characters that was considered suitable for him/her. And, unfailingly, every character that an actor got would fall into this genre. The vice versa was also true; every script that carried a certain type of character would automatically necessitate the ‘right’ actor to be called up. So, we had Napoleon, always playing the angry sickle wielding villager (Vattaram was a rare exception), Vijayakumar as the ‘periyavar’ of a society, community, village etc…, Delhi Ganesh as the gullible dad of the heroine. Once a certain label stuck to an actor, it was almost impossible to get out of it. The ‘image trap’ was as much existent for character artistes as for any leading hero or heroine; perhaps in an even more profound manner. We could correctly guess 9 out of 10 times, the actor who would portray a particular character in a movie. Many a talented performer has been underutilized in the past because of this tendency to associate actors with one kind of character. Only the extremely versatile of the lot have managed to escape this; like Prakash Raj and Nasser to an extent.

The tendency to place actors in pre-defined character moulds has been around for decades; like Senthil always having to get kicked by Goundamani or Thengai Sreenivasan always having to speak in a particular way. The strong mental association that the industry and audiences laid down between an actor and a successful character is evident in the way we liked to address them; by prefixing the movie’s or character’s name. Thengai Sreenivasan is a great example while there are other contemporary ones like Kadhal Sandhya or Jeyam Ravi.

But, come to 2010; this phenomenon can be termed as non-existent. It has indeed been a rapid turnaround. The new generation of directors no longer look for actors; they scout for their characters, hoping to find the right one. And, the best part, it need not be from the pool of professionals called ‘actors’. They are willing to look above, beyond, beneath and even beside to find their character. In their kind of cinema, there are no actors, only characters. Yes, there was the legendary Bharathiraja who was known to pick up any bystander from a shooting spot and put him in the frame. But, picking the characters from anywhere, irrespective of their connection to cinema or talents as an actor, is something that has become for the new generation film makers.

Think of the latest release Aadukalam. The Pettaikaran character is as important as any other in the movie. Conventional wisdom would have said, play safe, bring in Prakash Raj and get a strong portrayal. But Vetrimaaran did not settle for a brilliant actor, he wanted the character in front of camera and found Jayabalan, a poet. Nearly a month into theaters, no one who has seen the film can forget. Pettaikaran. Now, we are not pronouncing Jayabalan as a great actor here, but he was the character and Vetrimaaran identified it. Or look at what Bala did to stuntman Rajendran in Naan Kadavul. It would have been easy to bring in an experienced Tamil cinema ‘baddie’ for the role, we have got plenty of them, speaking any of the south Indian languages. But, Ameer saw the ‘Thandavan’ in Rajendran and brought it out and it remains one of the most imposing characters of the film. And look at how Rajesh changed all perceptions that we had about Rajendran through Boss@Baskaran; an effortless transition from hard core villain to funny goon Or look at how the same director brought in the little known Panchu Subbu. In normal circumstances or with the less adventurous, a former ‘hero’ now comfortably into his forties and looking for character roles would have been picked, but not with makers who know their characters inside out. Gautham Menon too showed a fine example of character based casting when he brought Ganesh in front of the camera for VTV. Needless to say, the performing wealth of Tamil cinema has expanded rapidly over the past two years. But, the problem is that once a person tastes success on screen, he is labeled an actor and is at the risk of losing the originality or the character content within himself that won him the role in the first place.

Yes, casting has undergone a sea of change. Directors are not considering just the actors in the industry for any role. They are going deeper and finding the right persons. The originality that they bring to screen cannot perhaps be matched even by the most experienced of actors. It is indeed a great job by directors to have the vision and the faith to bypass the obvious and safe route and go for the obscure and unknown path instead. The path of looking for the character rather than the actor has worked wonders in the past few years. Let’s hope the fascinating discoveries of original talent continue and there may be a time when professional actors are considered redundant.

Respond to

Behindwoods is not responsible for the views of columnists.

Actors: Redundant to cinema!
‘Formulaic Realism’ – The New Tamil cinema
A decade of Tamil cinema
What’s cooking in captain’s kitchen for elections?
Five things for 2011!
Is Tamil cinema in safe hands?
Fourth Dimension
The booming voice that goes unheard!
A Cinema-TV symbiosis
Marudhanayagam through Endhiran
Seventh Sense
Shankar’s silent victory
A letter to Univercell Vijay Awards Team
Why Singam was accepted
Jo's Space
Commercial or realistic movies - What do we need?
“I am 37 going on stronger”
Second marriages – full stop or a comma?
The New Kollywood
If Aamir had played fair, would    Asin have cried foul?
Slumdog Millionaire –    Unentertaining, Laughable and    Annoying!