When M. Suresh dived out of a car during a shoot for a television serial, he fell on a rocky surface. He suffered a nerve injury and within moments slipped into coma. “It took a year for me to recover. But what was really difficult was to meet the hospital expenses,” says Suresh, who has been a stunt artist for 20 years, and ‘dupe' for actors such as Arjun, Murali, Prabhu and many Telugu actors.
Behind the daredevil stunts that add to the popularity of the actors are the life-at-risk action sequences performed by the ‘stunt dupes,' who do the turtle turns, high-dives, and somersaults. Sporting a costume similar to that worn by the heroes or sometimes, female artists, these stuntmen do the perilous action scenes that have a high probability of proving fatal.
“Many dupes have died as a result of the injuries suffered during action scenes.
Earlier lookalikes were made into stunt dupes. But today with camera tricks, anyone can be the dupe for an actor if he has a similar body structure,” explains Pandian, president of South Indian Cine Stunt Directors and Artists Union. Car and bike stunts are the riskiest sequences for the artists.
A minor slip can blow up the car or result in a major crash. Fire sequences, where the dupes don the role of heroes, have proved fatal for many despite fire-safety jackets. “Many have died of suffocation. Our fighters have worked for films in all languages and Hollywood movies,” says Mr. Pandian.
Kaasi has been a dupe for many foreign actors. He has proved his mettle in French, Italian and Hollywood movies. “They (foreign film makers) are astounded by the amount of risk our stuntmen take,” he says, adding the safety measures in foreign films are very high.
Saravanan, who has been in the field for 17 years and a dupe for Sarath Kumar, flashes a deep scar near his jaw. It was the result of a fight sequence in which a glass piece pierced into his mouth. “My face has been disfigured with many such instances. But it is not the risk that we fear. It is the poverty. We lose our livelihood if the injury results in disability,” he says.
These artists are selected after a rigorous test of their martial arts, driving, swimming and horse-riding skills. As Mr. Pandian puts it: “We walk into the jaws of death every day. But we still pray that we get such sequences frequently to stay in job.”