Female actors from the South making it big in Bollywood is no new story. The journey has been going strong and steady for several decades, with every now and then a South Indian name dominating the industry, transcending both language and regional barriers.
However, an equally interesting but understated element in the South-Bollywood connect is the long list of male actors, who tried their luck in the fascinating world of Hindi film industry.
Flashback to the year 1957, an already successful Gemini Ganesan was seen opposite Meena Kumari in one of the biggest hits of that year—Miss Mary. Directed by L V Prasad, the movie introduced Gemini to the Hindi-speaking film audience.
With a melodious musical score and engaging storyline, the film Missamma already had a successful run at the box office in both Telugu and Tamil. Missamma had Savithri as the female lead opposite Gemini (Tamil) and Akkineni Nageswara Rao and NT Rama Rao (Telugu).
In the following years, Gemini was cast in yet another Hindi flick, Raj Tilak; this time a remake of his successful Vanjikottai Vaaliban, originally inspired by Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo, helmed by S S Vasan.
The film was adapted completely for a Hindi-film audience with screenplay by Ramanand Sagar and music set to tune by yet another known name in the Tamil film circle, Maharashtrian-born C Ramachandra.
Even today, the Ruritanian epic is remembered for its production style, expensive sets and the famous dance scene between Vyjaynthimala and Padmini.
Gemini’s contemporary, the legendary Sivaji Ganesan’s Bollywood stint was far forgettable. His role of a revolutionary in Dharti (remake of Sivantha Mann), a film in which he shared screen space with one of the most successful heroes on Bollywood, Rajendra Kumar, was hardly a patch in his prolific career. In Dharti, his role was dwarfed, despite playing the lead role in the film’s original version.
Meanwhile, M K Radha and Ranjan of Chandralekha fame were other Tamil names that became popular in the Hindi circle as well. These actors starred in films that were remakes of Southern hits by AVM, L V Prasad and S S Vasan; more essentially bilingual films.
The Southern male presence in Bollywood was barely visible till Kamal Haasan made a dramatic entry into the scene with Ek Duje Ke Liye. The tragic love saga directed by K Balachander, but again a remake of the Telugu film Maro Charitra, made Bollywood sit up and notice a distinctively handsome hero of the South;
Kamal had already proved his mettle to the audience. Bollywood was still a struggle. But, with films like Sanam Teri Kasam opposite Reena Roy, he proved his ability to carry the film entirely without support from other big names.
His biggest role was Ramesh Sippy’s runway hit Saagar, opposite Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia.
Yet, Kamal was never in the top league of male stars in Bollywood.
After the movie’s success, Kamal, however, returned to the Southern industry, where there were more challenging roles awaiting him.
While Rajinikanth too made to Bollywood in the eighties, albeit in a multi starrer Andha Kanoon that saw Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and Reena Roy in major roles. Rajini, like Kamal, had to resign to lesser meaty roles. Some of his films included Hum and Chaalbaaz, that again were multi-starrers.
In the nineties, Prashanth who starred in the forgettable I Love You, a remake of his debut film Vaigasi Purandachu, made a blink and miss appearance.
Meanwhile, Telugu industry’s Nagarjuna’s run in Bollywood was a far bigger success story.
Nagarjuna ensured some fan following with hits like Shiva and a memorable role in Khuda Gawah, opposite the towering Bachchan, whose career was heading for a decline. Nagarjuna’s foray was followed by Venkatesh with Anari (remake of Tamil hit Chinnathambi). But, Venkatesh’s next few Hindi projects didn’t add impetus to his stay.
From the Malayalam industry, Mammooty bagged a lead role in Dhartiputra (1993), not with much success though.
Mollywood’s Mohanlal had a grand Bollywood debut much later in his career in Ram Gopal Verma’s gangster flick Company.
Sandalwood to its share has had Sudeep sharing screen space in B-wood.
Madhavan and Siddharth have been so far more successful in the attempt with a combination of solo and multi-starrer roles.
Vikram and Suriya with Raavan (Mani Rathnam) and Raktha Charithra (Ram Gopal Verma) respectively can hope to have a longer stint in the industry. However, as regarding their success, only time can give us the best answer.
Now, with the news of Dhanush already signing another Bollywood flick, even before the release of his Hindi-debut Raanjhanaa, there is hope that there are stars who will add more names in the list.
But, there lies a question still unanswered — why do Southern male stars never make it to the league of A-listers in Bollywood, despite superior talent?