Tamil cinema’s enduring romance with the double-role

Rajinikanth in "Netrikkan" and Kamal Haasan in "Indian".  

The ‘Indian thatha’ cannot stand corruption. He uses ancient martial arts to weed out corrupt villains, while his mild-mannered son wants to make his way to the top by hook or crook.

Chakravarthi is a lecherous business tycoon, who is inspired by Dasaratha, the king with 60,000 wives. His son Santosh is like King Dasaratha's son, Lord Rama, faithful to his wife.

These father and son characters are poles apart, but they were played on screen by the same stellar actor: Kamal Hassan in Indian and Rajnikanth in Netri Kann.

As an audience we have always liked the taking-the--unto-his own-hands kind of a story. But what adds the fizz is the dual role, especially when they are contrasting characters essayed by artistes who pull it off with élan.

When Sivaji Ganesan and MGR ruled the roost

The more roles for a lead actor, the merrier. After all, Kollywood is the industry that had the legendary P.U.Chinnappa essaying two roles in Uthama Puthiran way back in 1940. Following his footsteps, Sivaji Ganesan went ahead to play nine characters in Navarathiri in 1964. Ganesan held the record for most roles in a Tamil film, until Kamal Hassan did one better in Dasavatharam. Ganesan has been a trend-setter in this category. His Deiva Magan and Gauravam are recalled as some of the best performances by the actor.

M.G.Ramachandran’s roles in Nadodi Mannan, Enga Veetu Pillai have become evergreen hits of the actor-turned-politician.

A continuing trend

In Tamil cinema, multiple roles usually follow a pattern.

Firstly, the roles are usually those of a father and son, making it convenient not only to maintain authenticity but also for the technical team. Before the advent of Computer Graphics and VFX, good make-up came to the rescue of our stars and the producers.

Secondly, these characters were usually poles apart: the yin to the other’s yang. It may be as the hero and the villain, like in Kaithiyin Diary where Kamal plays an unfairly-convicted father and then the cop who is the son.

Kamal Hassan has more than his fair share of multiple-role movies. In Aboorva Sagotharargal he essays three roles — a circus dwarf out for revenge, a car mechanic and the father of the twins; in Aalavanthan he plays a psychopath and a cop; and in Kadal Meengal he appears yet again in the father-son roles. In Micheal Madana Kamarajan, he took on the roles of quadruplets separated at birth.

Superstar Rajinikanth’s most recent offering in this genre are Lingaa, Enthiran, and Kochadaiyaan. Lingaa was a box office failure, however Enthiran was a success and the actor’s performance as the rogue robot in the climax was the clincher. The movie’s sequel, 2.0, has a star cast and has been trending ever since news of its making got out. Apart from these, the Superstar has won praises for his roles in Muthu and Arunachalam. Rajini took the double-role to another level in Rajathi Raja, where the look-alikes interchange their places to ensure justice is served. And how can we forget the evergreen Moondru Mugam starring the Superstar in three roles. A huge blockbuster hit, Moondru Mugam became one of the stepping stones for Rajni. With V aanathai Pola, Thavasi and Perarasu, Vijayakant too has a dual-role past.

Of Thala and Thalapathy

Among the newer crop of film stars, Karthi, Suriya, Vikram, Ajith have dipped their toes in this genre. Karthi’s Siruthai opened to mixed reviews. His brother Suriya, on the other hand, has dabbled with double roles more than once: In Perazhagan he plays a hunchback and a handsome hunk; in Vaaranam Aayiram, the patient father and his impulsive son; and in Maatraan, as conjoined twins. It is not always that the multiple role trends work in the favour of the actor. Perazhagan won Suriya critical acclaim. However, despite the use of VFX, Maatraan was a flop show.

‘Thala’ Ajith has the fantastic thriller drama Vaali to his credit. Aptly titled, the movie saw Ajith play the roles of twin brothers -- one of whom is deaf and mute and the other an easy-going young man. The film put Ajith on the map and is even now one of the favourites for many of his fans. Dhanush joined the bandwagon with his three roles in Anegan.

The most recent film to join this category is the upcoming Vijay-starrer Theri. The flick that is making waves even before its release will feature the ‘Ilaya Thalapathy’ in two roles: a police officer and a dedicated father! While Vijay’s Azhagiya Tamil Magan failed to impress critics and audience, his Kaththi went on to make it big in the box office.


In this growing and ever-present trend of finding entertainment value in double roles, the consistently missing element is the lack of similar roles for leading lady. Jayalalithaa took the mantle of the double role way back in 1969 with Adimai Penn where she stars opposite MGR. Following her success, Vanishree also pulled off 'Vani Rani' where the twin sisters of whom one is docile while the other is confident. Most recently, Sneha in Parthiban Kanavu, Jyothika in Perazhagan, and Priya Mani in Charulatha did dual roles. With a vast majority of films designating women as arm candy, few have had the opportunity to test out their acting chops with the canvas that the dual role offers.

Career booster

For actors, the curiosity factor of double/multiple roles is an automatic career fillip. Many actors took up dual roles to establish their positions in cinema. This not only highlights their acting credentials but also shows off the effort that was put into a film. All of us must have seen the make-up videos of Kamal in Dasavatharam, and Indian among others! But without a water-tight script dual roles have ended up as double disaster for many.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 2:57:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/Tamil-cinema%E2%80%99s-enduring-romance-with-the-double-role/article14244072.ece

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