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By Arun Gopinath
What is the difference between the Prakash Raj of Singham and Venghai? Or for that matter, what is the difference between the Prakash Raj of Pokkiri and Villu? Fact is that, over the last decade Prakash Raj has done (or been forced to do) villain roles that are in no way distinct from each other, time after time, almost to the point of predictability. His villain acts have become a staple to mainstream Tamil cinema; just like a Vadivelu comedy track. The tracks in themselves are enjoyable, but unless you are an avid and steadfast follower of Tamil cinema, you wouldn’t be able to instantly point out the film that the track has been picked out from.

  Prakash Raj
That kind of thing is acceptable for a comedy track because it is there just for the laughs; the central plot would not be any better or worse off with or without it. But, when we can associate the same degree of predictability with the lead antagonist roles, it is not heartening. Well, some people are of the opinion that in some cases, even the lead protagonist (hero) is also as predictable as anything else. But, at least, the actors are different and we can make out differences with appearances and mannerisms. But, the cupboard for strong villain actors is not as teeming as the one for heroes and that is why we get Prakash Raj and Kota Sreenivasa Rao reprising the bad man act again and again.

This redundancy of villain roles being offered to supremely talented actors like Prakash Raj brings out two things. One; Prakash Raj is an incomparable performer. Because only a great actor can play so many roles of almost identical nature and still look convincing every time he does it. A lesser actor who was offered the same (non)variety of roles would have run out of ideas and shortly out of opportunities too. But, the greatness of Prakash Raj has been displayed in the fact that he remains relevant in spite of mind numbing redundancy that he is being offered in terms of roles. I mean, how many times can an actor sport a ‘veecharuval’ moustache, be a jukebox of menacing sounds and mercilessly slaughter people without looking disinterested and disoriented – Prakash Raj manages to do it.

He takes the most overused, done to death and over the top villain acts and performs them in such a way that they finally manage to look decently presentable. Sometimes one feels that the difference between a good commercial film and a bad one is the presence of Prakash Raj as villain or as a strong character artiste. Sample this; he plays the role of the head monk of Takshashila in the Telugu film Badrinath. Now, the makers have not even taken the trouble to explain to the viewers about how and when Telugu became the local language in the Himalayan region; never mind the fact that the ancient university of Takshashila is now in Pakistan. Prakash Raj sports a flowing white beard, speaks flawless Telugu and is shown in his introduction scene as a man who can bash up a 100 people all alone. This is perhaps the apex of cinematic liberties, not even caring for political borders; but Prakash Raj does not let it look as inane as it really is. And, there have been recent instances of him being used in cameos that mean absolutely nothing. For heavens sake; what was he doing in Engeyum Kaadhal!

So, is that how South Indian cinema is using Prakash Raj; as the supremely talented actor who can single handedly salvage the most unimaginatively written characters and lend more than just a semblance of respect to the final product. If this is true, then Tamil cinema is guilty of wasting a once in a generation acting talent.

Granted; there is no one better than Prakash Raj at the moment to make a commercial villain role look more convincing. But, there is far more to him than just that. And, he takes the trouble of producing movies under his banner from time to time to prove the fact. Some of his best roles over the last 5 years have come from his production house; Mozhi, Abhiyum Naanum, Payanam and even Vellithirai (it was definitely variety, even though not a commercial success). Of course, there is the occasional role that does justice to his stature, like the finely crafted cameo in Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu or the dean from Vasool Raja. But, is that good enough! Prakash Raj is one of the best players in Tamil cinema at the moment. Best players ought to be given the best opportunities to get the best results; not as buffers in poor situations. Let’s hope Prakash Raj does not have to repeat the jukebox villain too many times (occasionally is not bad) again.
Tags : Prakash Raj, Venghai, Singham, Pokkiri, Villu
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