‘Karate' A. Ramesh started out as a hero. And, today has completed 25 years in the industry as a stuntman!
“Rajinikanth and Sathyaraj played the villain before graduating to lead roles. In contrast, my career moved in the other direction. After playing the hero in ‘Neeru Putha Neruppu' (1983; directed by K. Vijayan), I experienced a crushing drought of offers. Honestly, I was a wooden actor, and did not deserve to play the lead. After a long wait, a villain's role came my way. I was not impressive as a baddie either. In 1986, I made my debut as a stunt artiste,” says 53-year-old ‘Karate' A. Ramesh, who has done stunt roles in over 1,000 films across the South Indian languages, and is now celebrating his 25th year as a stunt artiste.
Ramesh was ‘lured' to tinsel town in the early 1980s, when he made headlines in dailies across the State for a rich haul of medals at the All-India Karate Federation tournaments. Film producer Vadalur S. Chidambaram — known for “Sattam Oru Irrutarai” with Vijayakanth in the lead — was looking for a hero for an action film (“Neeru Putha Neruppu”), when he happened upon an article about Ramesh. “I plumped for the offer, with heady images of fame it evoked,” says Ramesh. “When the shooting got underway, I realised I was a total misfit. While a scene — where I had to take a cup of tea, was being shot, I was so nervous that my hand was noticeably trembling.” The film bombed at the box-office, and three years later, Ramesh found himself in front of Dharmalingam (who was then heading the South Indian Cine Stunt Artistes' Union) asking for a role as stuntman.
“He was shocked by the notion that a one-time hero would want to act as a stunt artiste,” recalls Ramesh. “Being a karate fighter, I was allowed to join the fold without taking the usual test for aspiring stunt artistes. To everyone's surprise, I turned out to be a dud in films stunts. Fear of injury kept me from taking up challenging scenes. Being good at karate is one thing and being an efficient film stuntman, another.”
Ramesh trained hard to make the grade, but he still did not have it in him to be a stunt master. “I just passed muster,” says Ramesh. “But my looks came in handy — as a Vishnuvardhan look-alike, I got to be his dupe in many of his films. I have done similar work for other South Indian heroes.” The vast majority of roles Ramesh has done are, however, grossly insignificant. He has no regrets, though. “Having tasted success and failure quickly gave me a cool head. I told myself not to keep my eyes trained on the stars and miss out on the easy pickings around me. Persisting with film stunts gave me a steady source of income and gave me the time to focus hard on my karate.”
Ramesh is today the chief instructor of the Indian chapter of ‘Japan Shito Ryu Karate School' (www.karateramesh.com), which is headquartered in Vellore — Ramesh's hometown — and has 150 branches and 10,000 students around the country.
Says Ramesh: “My karate expertise is a calling card, but I also pride on the fact that I have completed 25 years as a stuntman. Being the only hero to become a full-fledged stunt artiste is probably my greatest achievement.”