The superstar villain

P.S. Veerappa (left) with M. G. Chakrapani in Nadodi Mannan  

‘S abhaassssh! Sariyana potti!’ These words are deeply etched in the memory of every Tamil moviegoer wherever he is. This line (‘Bravo! Very good contest!’) was dramatically declaimed by Tamil cinema’s star villain P.S. Veerappa in the Gemini Studios-S.S. Vasan box office hit Vanjikottai Vaaliban (1958) in appreciation of a dance competition in which two of the day’s top dancers, Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, (both in love with the hero played by ‘Gemini’ Ganesan) danced their hearts out. Veerappa’s personality, impressive physique, resonating voice, and style of dialogue delivery created huge impact and bestowed on him immortality as Tamil cinema’s star villain ranking right up there with M.R. Radha, M.N. Nambiar, and T.S. Balaiah.

Vanjikottai Vaaliban’s Hindi version, Raj Tilak (1958), was made soon after with Veerappa’s role played by Hindi film’s top villain Pran. The same line spoken in Hindi hardly had the same impact. (When I spoke to him many years later in Madras, Pran said, ‘Randor, I don’t have Veerappa’s voice!’)

Mahadevi (1957) was another famous Veerappa movie, in which M.G.R played the hero. Both men are in love with Mahadevi (Savithri) but she favours MGR. In a famous line, Veerappa said, “ Manandhaal Mahadevi illayel Maranadevi!’ (If I marry, it will be Mahadevi, if not the Devi of death). This is another of those one liners that people still quote even after all these decades.

Veerappa’s classic villainous laughter was his signature in most movies and evoked enormous response from the audience. There was a time when many youngsters, especially in small towns and villages, used to mimic this laughter to indicate villainy. Off-screen, though, he was soft-spoken, mild-mannered and kind-hearted. (I had the pleasure of knowing him well and once we both worked on the screenplay of a low-budget film, which for many reasons did not see the light of a projector, to coin a phrase.)

P. S .Veerappa (original name Veerappan) was born in 1911 in Kangeyam, a small town, now in Tiruppur district, famous for its strong bulls, named after the town.

Unable to pursue his studies because of adverse family finances, he grew up in his grandfather’s house in a small village. In those days, on festival days temples organised stage performances. Veerappan was drawn to theatre from those days, and his acquaintance with singing star K.B. Sundarambal brought him to Madras, where he acted in many stage plays. His impressive physique and deep voice marked him as a man for the movies and he got a break in Udayanan Vasavadatta in 1946, in which the iconic Carnatic musician G.N. Balasubramaniam and another iconic actress Vasundhara Devi played the lead roles.

Initially, South India’s first superstar, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, was to play the hero. Unfortunately, Bhagavathar was arrested in December 1944 for his alleged involvement in the sensational Lakshmikantham murder case, and GNB was brought on board. For many reasons, the film stayed in production for a long time and didn’t do too well. Veerappa, credited by his original name Veerappan, was hardly noticed.

Madanamala (1948) was a costume drama, featuring Sriram and T.R. Rajini in the lead. This film too flopped and Veerappa, again in a minor role, went unnoticed.

In 1946, Veerappa played a minor role in the mythological film Sri Murugan produced by Jupiter Pictures. In this, MGR played Lord Shiva in a dance sequence along with Telugu actress K. Malathi. The MGR-Malathi dance sequence created history. It was in this film that Veerappa and MGR became good friends and subsequently played villain and hero in many movies, although off screen they continued as very good friends.

Chakravarthi Thirumagal again had MGR as the hero and Veerappa as the villain. This film established Veerappa as the villain of his times. Featuring Anjali Devi and S. Varalakshmi as the female stars, its music composed by G. Ramanathan made a great impact.

In 1957, Mahadevi brought Veerappa to the frontline of Tamil cinema’s villain list. A year later came Vanji Kottai Vaaliban, and after that there was no looking back.

Veerappa’s other hits included Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum (the first Tamil film made in colour, where he played the leader of the gang of 40 thieves), Nadodi Mannan and Sorga Vaasal.

With success smiling sweetly on him, Veerappa entered film production with the banner PSV Pictures. His first film Alayamani with Sivaji Ganesan as a psychologically disturbed young man, directed by A. Bhim Singh, was a super hit. Then came Ananda Jothi with M.G. Ramachandran and Devika in which Kamala Hassan played the heroine’s kid brother in half pants. This film did not do well, and then he tried his hand in Hindi with Admi (1968), a remake of Alayamani with Dilip Kumar doing Sivaji Ganesan’s role. However, the film did not do well either and landed the producer in trouble.

After this, he stayed away from active production. Leading a quiet life, with his son P.S.V. Hariharan taking over the reins, Veerappa passed away on November 9, 1998, at the age of 87.

Since then, there have been many villains besides M.R. Radha, M.N. Nambiar (more about him later), and T.S. Balaiah. But it’s hard to forget Veerappa.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 9:01:34 AM |

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