When heroes become villains, Ajith, Vijay


There is a new colour gain ground in Tamil cinema – the unabashed grey. Days are long gone when everything was in black and white. Our heroes, today, wear a cloak of black. If memory saves me right, it was Nayagan that brought about a sea change in the way the hero was characterised. Provoked by the killing of his loved ones, our hero takes revenge. But violence begets violence and the end is violent, poetically so, in the hands of Mani Ratnam.
Pudhiya Paravai too had the hero Sivaji Ganesan in shades of grey, but that was a long time ago. Most recently, Vedalam has the hero Ajith, already a petty rowdy, elevating the stakes as he goes on the path of revenge. Ajith Kumar is brilliant in this role and ups the ante especially in the scenes where he is shown in shades of grey. But, it must also be noted that the hero always does have a heart of gold, and even in adverse circumstances, he shows his true mettle. 
Mankatha will go down in the history of Tamil cinema as a rare sort of film in which winning matters more than moral ground. Who walks away with the money in the end is important, not whether he is the right person or not. And the thrill is unsuppressed when he actually does. So, like they say, paisa vasool and a new trend is set.  
Over the last few years, it has become common for the hero to marry a commercial sex worker as dramatised in Nayagan and Pudhupettai. It is also acceptable if the hero murders or maims. In fact, his morality is so dipped in the dark matter that we wonder why the heroine falls for him. 
Once there was Sigappu Rojakkal, the benchmark of darkness in Tamil cinema. Today, there is also a Paruthiveeran among others. The very definition of heroism has changed to – I don’t give a damn about whether it is right or wrong, only that it feels right to me. The means to the end was in yesteryears important, now the end justifies the means, however underhanded they might be. 
Technically, this means that the screen itself is dark, with plenty of backlighting and large swathes of the screen remaining unlit. So what if the French named post war American darkness –Noir – has a new rebirth in Tamil cinema. Even the sunshine movies have darkness in them, like for example Thuppakki, where the hero, without much ado, cuts off the terrorist’s finger with a clipper. What they could do to us, we can do to them too! If you are not with us, you are with them, as George Bush so famously said.
Acting is all about reacting and behaving, more often than acting. Method is back in business and it’s quite vibrant. 
Top directors are increasingly choosing subjects where one has to look at the casting to find out the difference between antagonist and protagonist. Take for instance, Dhanush ‘s Maari, the shades of negativity in the hero’s portrayal makes one realise how much this trend has become prevalent in Tamil cinema. 
Why the dark elements have come to occupy centre space is another story altogether, but they have and it sure looks like they are here to stay. 

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