Earlier it was a handlebar moustache, swirls of cigar smoke and a distinct accent that personified the Tamil cinema villain. Cut to today when it’s more about a burly physique, a master in one of the martial arts and a powerhouse fight sequence with the hero. International baddies have arrived. But are they here to stay?
Peranmai (2009) saw Jeyam Ravi take on Rolan Kickinger, while Johnny Tri Nguyen posed a tough baddie in the Suriya-starrer 7 Aum Arivu (2011). Danny Sapani is another face that has become popular with his role in Singham 2. It is no flash in the pan, as yet another upcoming flick, Boologam, will have Ravi pitted against Nathan Jones of Troy fame, playing his adversary.
Helmed by Kalyanakrishnan, the film will have some intense boxing sequences between Ravi and other actors, including Jones. However, these international faces are no mere embellishment, says the director. “The script demanded an actor like Jones who fights the hero. After Rocky, the craze for boxing became so much that 80 per cent of the people in the West took to the sport. Jones, being an expert, could do complete justice to the role.” The boxing sequences between Ravi and Jones were so close to reality that they actually had real punches for the shots, he adds. Jones would egg Ravi on to hit him hard for him to enact the role with conviction.
Singham 2 which had Sapani playing the main antagonist and being introduced as the latest super villain in K-town is again an English actor. With power-packed fight sequences and blasts, literally, the hype did translate onto the screen.
Does it mean there is a dearth of quintessential villains, who’ve been elbowed out in action films? “Of course not,” says Kalayanakrishnan, “I’ve Prakash Raj, who’s had his run as the bad man, playing an important but short role in the film and he can’t be replaced by a foreign face.”
But then the antagonist in Tamil cinema has always undergone a steady transformation. A wave of films in the late Nineties and early Noughties saw some Hindi names becoming much sought-after for negative roles—from Ashish Vidyarthi, Sayaji Shinde to more recently, Vidyut Jamwal in Billa 2 and the Vijay-starrer Thuppakki.
Observing the changing face of the villain, writer and film historian Randor Guy calls the phenomenon a publicity tactic, a ploy to garner attention given its novelty factor. “It can’t be called a trend and is more of a publicity gimmick, when a film poster reads ‘international actor in a Tamil film’. Moreover, they aren’t popular international actors.”
Actor and film historian Mohan Raman says the iconic villains of Tamil cinema were some of the most versatile performers. “M R Radha, Nagesh and Thengai Srinivasan were great examples of dual character roles—the comedian and villain. Legendary actor T S Balaiah made the reverse transition, from negative roles to comedy, making the antagonist an icon.” And of course, who can forget Rajinikanth who at the beginning of his career made a suave villain in Moondru Mudichu and 16 Vayathinilae.
Perhaps, it is goodbye to home-grown villains, iconic or otherwise. Idhu eppadi irukku, Parattai? (How is this, Parattai?)