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Twice as nice

MAJOR HITS:Kamal Hassan in Indian . (Below) Rajinikanth in Netrikann .— Photos: Special arrangement

MAJOR HITS:Kamal Hassan in Indian . (Below) Rajinikanth in Netrikann .— Photos: Special arrangement  


With Vijay’s Theri hitting the screens, we take a look at Tamil cinema’s history of having actors play multiple roles

n the 1996 film Indian , ‘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. Then there’s the 1981 Netrikann , which has Chakravarthi, a lecherous business tycoon inspired by Dasaratha, the king with 60,000 wives. His son Santosh is like Dasaratha’s son, Lord Rama, faithful to his wife. Both set of father-and-son characters are poles apart, but each was played on screen by one actor: Kamal Hassan in Indian , and Rajinikanth in Netrikann .

As an audience, we have always liked it when films have stories with strong characters. But what adds fizz is a dual role, especially when they are contrasting characters essayed by artistes who pull it off with élan.

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 PU Chinnappa playing two roles in Uthama Puthiran way back in 1940. Following in his footsteps, Sivaji Ganesan went ahead to play nine characters in Navarathiri (1964). Ganesan held the record for most roles in a Tamil film, until Hassan went one better in Dasavatharam . Ganesan had been a trend-setter: his Deiva Magan and Gauravam are recalled as some of his best performances.

Similarly, MG Ramachandran’s roles in Nadodi Mannan and 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 producers.

Secondly, these characters were usually poles apart, yin and yang . In Kaithiyin Diary , Hassan plays an unfairly convicted father and then, a cop, his son. In Aboorva Sagotharargal , Hassan plays three roles: a circus dwarf out for revenge, a car mechanic and a father of twins. In Aalavanthan , he plays a psychopath and a cop. In Kadal Meengal , he appears yet again in the father-son roles.

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 praise for his roles in Muthu and Arunachalam . Rajinikanth took the double-role to another level in Rajathi Raja , where the look-alikes interchange places to ensure that justice is served. And how can we forget the evergreen Moondru Mugam where he played three roles. A huge blockbuster, it became one of his stepping stones to superstardom.

Of Thala and Thalapathy

Among the newer crop of film stars, Karthi, Suriya, Vikram and Ajith have dipped their toes in this genre.

Karthi’s Siruthai opened to mixed reviews. His brother Suriya 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; in Maatraan , conjoined twins.

It is not always that the multiple role trend works in favour of the actor. Perazhagan won Suriya critical acclaim. However, despite the use of VFX, Maatraan was a flop.

‘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 easygoing young man. The film put Ajith on the map and remains a favourite for many of his fans.The most recent film to join this category is the upcoming Vijay-starrer, Theri . The film features the ‘Ilaya Thalapathy’ in three roles: a police officer, a dedicated father, and a third… you’ll have to watch the film to find out. 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 trend of finding entertainment value in double roles, the consistently missing element is the lack of similar roles for leading ladies. With a vast majority of films designating women as arm candy, few have had the opportunity to test their acting chops with the canvas that the dual role offers.

Jayalalithaa played a double role way back in 1969 with Adimai Penn , where she starred opposite MGR.

Following her success, Vanishree also pulled off Vani Rani , where there are 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.

For actors, the curiosity factor of 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 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 a double disaster for many.

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2019 10:36:59 PM |

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