As Ajith Kumar says, it is an occupational hazard. “I suppose, with all the good things that come with the profession, we should be prepared for some pains too,” he sums up.

In the past, producers and directors dissuaded stars from doing their own stunts; body doubles were employed for the risky shots. But now, many stars seem to like to do all stunt scenes by themselves. And, it comes at a price.

He is not known as ‘Action King’ for nothing. Actor Arjun remembers a terrifying sequence he did in his very first movie, Simhada Mari Sainya (Kannada), as a 17-year-old. “The stunt director asked me if I would jump onto a moving chopper, grab the rails and hang on to it for a while as it hovered at around 500 ft above the ground. I readily agreed, but found that the bars were so thick I couldn’t really close my fists around them. Anyway, I hung on to it for dear life and till date, I can’t explain how terrifying it was. The feeling became worse when the movie was remade in Malayalam and actor Jayan, doing the same sequence, fell from that height and lost his life. I realised how close I was to death,” exclaims Arjun.

Actor Ajith Kumar too is known to take risks for the stunt sequences in his movies. Sample this — for a scene in Billa 2 he hung out of a chopper even as the villain kicked and tried to push him out of it. Recently, for director Vishnuvardhan’s untitled film, Ajith had to hang on to the bonnet of a car as it tried to shake him off. “At one point, my right leg slipped off the safety ramp, the knee impacted the road, and I tore a ligament. I had injured that 10 years ago and undergone a surgery to mend it. Thanks to prompt aid and pain killers, I managed to continue the shoot,” says Ajith.

For Suriya, it happened during the shooting of Ghajini. Suriya jumped from a height onto the ground below filled with water. As he landed, his foot slipped and the knee hit the kerb. The meniscus between the knee and calf was damaged, and Suriya was laid up for almost four months. “While shooting for Vaaranam Aayiram, one of the falls injured my back and I had to rest for three or four days. During the shoot for Aadhavan, one of the villain’s punches caught me in the eye and, if not for prompt care and a bit of luck, I would have lost one eye.”

In Alex Pandian, Karthi and Anushka had to run on top of a moving train for a fight sequence. Says Karthi, “The scene was crucial to the story, and I was sure it would be thrilling for the audience. The train top, being new, was slippery, and we slipped, for there was no harness. Our confidence comes from the fact that stunt actors and the stunt master are always at hand to rescue us if there is a mishap. Such as the instance in Paiyya where the harness snapped and I rolled down the steps with my hands and legs tied. If the master had not caught me midway, I would have had head injuries.”

Arjun remembers an instance when a stunt artiste brandishing a sword misjudged the height of his swing and struck him on the bridge of his nose. “A bit more, and I would have lost my eye. But, it is the stunt artistes who go through so much more. Most of them do not have insurance coverage or even an association that takes care of their medical needs or future, if a limb is lost.”

Actor Vikram is also known to take on risky action scenes for his movies. In fact, in the very early days of his career, Vikram was laid up for months following a motorbike accident. “That had caused so much internal injuries that every time I attempted a risky shot, some joint or the other would act up. My ankles give me trouble when I jump from a height,” says Vikram. He too feels the unsung heroes of fight sequences are the stunt artistes. Though they are trained to avoid injuries, the body does take a beating when one falls or receives blows.