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The age of rage

A film that has an anti-hero as the protagonist sells like hot cakes these days. And producers are making a beeline for such stories, says SREEDHAR PILLAI.

Even the boy next door isn't an exception ... Madhavan drawn to rowdyism in "Run".

FILMS, AT the end of the day, are about connecting with emotions. Asai Thambi, Mano and Gopi were notorious criminals, who were killed in a shootout with the police outside the Loyola College in Chennai in 1996. A month later Kabilan, another desperado was killed in another shootout with the cops near Adyar, also in Chennai. The young Tamil film director, Saran, fascinated by the underworld and gang wars made a commercial film in 1998 out of these real life incidents. "Amarkalam" was a super hit.

Suddenly a host of other directors jumped on to the rowdy bandwagon.

The recipe is simple: look around for real life rowdies like `Military' Kumar, `Punk' Kumar, `Vellai' Ravi or Chera. Dig into their background, take what worked earlier and add more masala and glamour. Some may flop, but when a `rowdy' film hits, it hits big. ``Gemini," Saran's latest from the house of AVM with Vikram and Kalabhavan Mani modelled on North Madras rowdies Vellai Ravi and Chera who were given an opportunity to reform themselves by the police has been the biggest hit among Tamil films in the last two years. The film made on a reasonable budget of Rs. 3.5 crores is going to do business worth a whopping Rs. 20 crores!

Saran's assistant Hari when he turned an independent director chose a rowdy theme for his film. "Thamizh", set in the temple town of Madurai and made on a shoestring budget of Rs. 2.4 crores, is likely to do business worth Rs. 6 crores. This has triggered a rush among heroes and directors to do rowdy tales in Tamil. A young superstar's father recently visited the Chennai central prison for a `story session' with a gangster who has been arrested under the goonda act! Another top hero and his favourite director took the flight to Mumbai to meet the widow of Sanjay Ghate, close associate of the Mumbai don `Chotta' Rajan, who was killed after he tried to escape from police custody near Guindy in Chennai. Another top hero and his scriptwriter were seen in Tirunelveli recently doing a research on a `dalit' rowdy turning into a big politician!

Said a top scriptwriter: "All heroes call up and ask me, `Dada kathai Irukka?' (Do you have a dada story?) They even give priority dates to those who approach them with such themes. They have glorified these anti-social elements."

The directors themselves closely observe a rowdy's mannerisms, looks and even the way they wear the clothes, puff on their cigarettes and the way they eat and drink.

There is an interesting background to this. After "Dalapathi", Rajnikanth had a streak of rowdyism in all the roles he played in his films that went down well with the masses. So you find lover boy Ajit turning into a `dada' and small built Surya beating up a dozen thugs in "Nanda". Vikram's two big hits "Dhil" and "Gemini" have made him an action hero and now three out of the seven films that he has signed, have him in the role of a `dada'.

Surya after his hit film "Nanda," is once again a `dada' in "Sri". T. Rajender is launching his son Silambarasan in his first adult role as rowdy in "Kathal Azhivathillai". Even the so-sweet Maddy with the boy-next-door image is turning a rowdy in the Lingusamy directed "Run". Ajit is going to be a street-smart rowdy in K. S. Ravikumar's "Villian". Prakash Raj after being that mean street rowdy in "Dhaya," is now planning his next film where he appears as a 65-year old rowdy! It was Ram Gopal Varma's Telugu film "Shiva" (1984) dubbed in Tamil as "Udayam" which was the forerunner to the city-based rowdy films. Then there was Kamalhassan's "Satya" a remake of Sunny Deol's "Arjun" and Karthik's "Amaran" which also can be classified as gangster movies. And then there was Mani Ratnam's classic "Nayakan" (1987) that was an ode to the master Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 epic gangster movie, "The Godfather". Through ``Dalapathi" (1989), Mani once again made a movie on gangsters which created a new image for Rajnikanth. Today's films are catering to audiences that want instant entertainment in the commercial format with a different twist. The hero is an all out villain, who is daringly different but the director makes him dream of those lush Switzerland songs (our hero then is clad in designer wear). The rowdies in the film have very highly educated girls from affluent family lusting after them.

In these times of recession, Tamil filmmakers are resorting to wild measures, ethics be damned, and crime for crime's sake has become a genre. Bachchan of "Deewar" or Shah Rukh of "Baazigar" took to crime because they were wronged. Nowadays the Geminis and Nandas of Tamil cinema indulge in crime for the heck of it. Though top director Bala says, "My protagonists are anti heroes like Chiyaan of `Sethu' and Nanda of `Nanda'. I strongly believe that it is circumstances that shape the destiny of my characters."

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