Tamil films can be classified as ‘mass’ (read larger than life action), romantic and family drama (comedy will be a part of these three genres). Unlike in Hindi, Tamil heroes don’t just romance. Gemini Ganesan did romantic roles that became family dramas in the end. For example, Sumaithangi (1962), Kalyana Parisu (1959), and Vazhkai Padagu (1965). Sivaji Ganesan addressed him as ‘Thamizhnaattin Kaadhal Mannaa’ in the film Paarthaal Pasi Theerum (1962) and that adage stuck on!
Till the mid-80s, Kamal Haasan garnered women’s votes, thanks to his iconic role in Maro Charitra (1978, the Telugu original of Ek Duje Ke Liye in 1981). He willingly shed his ‘Kadhal Ilavarsan’ tag with Nayagan (1987) and never looked back. Karthik, with his natural charm and non-melodramatic acting (Agni Natchathiram (1988), Varusham16 (1989), and Gopuravasaliley (1991) was a great romantic lead till the 90s.
Girls swooned over Arvind Swamy’s puppy eyes and clean looks in Thalapathi (1991) but he took a long break only to return as a debonair villain in Thani Oruvan (2015). In 2000, Madhavan rode his bike on Besant Nagar Beach with his blue sunglasses, as Rahman crooned Endrendrum Punnagai in Alaipayuthey (2000). Maddy (his name that stayed from a song in Minnale (2001) even though his character’s name was Rajesh) was for the longest time, the only ‘heartthrob hero’ in Tamil. K Balachander dedicated the title song in Paarthale Paravasam (2001) to his lover-boy image until Maddy moved on to play mature roles in Hindi.
Our current heroes have all been-there-and-done-that! Vijay began as a Messiah for lovers (Poove Unakkaaga (1996), Kushi (2000), Kadhalukku Mariyadhai (1997) till he became the Messiah of the masses with Ghilli (2004). Ajith had a film titled Kadhal Mannan (1998) but the good guy from Mugavaree (2000) was overtaken by the bad guy and mass hero in Vaali (1999), Villain (2002), Mankatha (2011) and Vedalam (2015). Dhanush and Simbu (despite VTV in 2010) have this image of being ‘bad boys in love’ and Arya has a playful, non-committal appeal. Vishal is all action, ‘Jayam’ Ravi is too good to be naughty and Vijay Sethupathi can pull of the role of an old man too.
In all this, Suriya’s Anbuchelvan of 2003’s superhit Kaakha Kaakha and Sanjay Ramasamy of Ghajini (2005) still tug the heartstrings and his father-son romantic leads in Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) are as appealing. Vikram proved that macho is sexy with Dhool (2011) and Majaa (2005). The cool dude Remo from Anniyan (2005) is now the title of an upcoming film with Siva Karthikeyan, whose films have a generic reach. Jiiva shows promise in the trailor of Kavalai Vendaam while Vikram Prabhu, Gautham Karthik and Atharva Murali try hard to fit the bill.
To become a heartthrob, one needs to have good looks, a great smile and fit body (six-pack not necessary), and loads of charm (Rajinikanth in Kadhalin Dheepam Ondru (Thambiku Endha Ooru in 1984). Karthi’s Muthazhagu drawl in Paruthiveeran (2007) made him a hit with the ladies that year, but he became an ‘entertainer’ with Siruthai (2011). His army look from Kaatru Veliyidai puts him back as a strong contender for intense love stories. But until then, the search for the next heartthrob hero is officially on.