What does Bollywood have against the south Indian hero?

By Sreedhar Pillai

Bollywood always welcomes south Indian actresses with an open arm, but rarely accommodates its male stars. From as early as the 1960s, actresses such as Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, Jayaprada and recently Asin have successfully migrated to Mumbai.

At the same time, almost all top south Indian superstars of the 1980s such as Kamal Haasan (Ek Duje Ke Liye- 1981), Rajinikanth (Andha Kanoon- 1983) and Chiranjeevi (Aaj Ka Goonda Raj- 1992) had met with some degree of success, but could never establish themselves in Bollywood.

Telugu star Nagarjuna also had some momentary success (Criminal-1992), and today some of his action oriented Telugu films are getting dubbed into Hindi, mostly to fill the programming slots in Hindi satellite channels.

Actor Siddharth who hasn't exactly been a trailblazer in Bollywood. AFP.

Malayalam superstars Mammootty (Dharthiputra- 1993) and Mohanlal (Company- 2002, Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag-2007, Tezz -2012) too failed to make an impact. Neither could the new generation actors like Tamil superstar Suriya (Rakthacharitra- 2010), Telugu star Siddharth (Rang De Basanti- 2006), upcoming Telugu hero Rana Daggubati (Dum Maaro Dum- 2011), and Sudeep (Makkhi) find their feet in Hindi cinema.

And the latest to join the list, early this month, was Malayalam actor Prithviraj who made his Hindi film debut opposite Rani Mukerjee in Aiyya which turned out to be a disaster. The only south Indian actor who has been able to draw a fine line between his Hindi and Tamil film career is Madhavan (Rang De Basanti, 3 Idiots & Tanu Weds Manu).

Of course he came from Hindi television serials and graduated to Tamil films with Mani Ratnam’s classic romantic musical Alaipayuthey (2000). Soon he was able to successfully do Hindi films due to his mastery over the language.

Madhavan has been described as one of the few actors in India who is able to achieve pan-Indian appeal, appearing in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films. Why is it that the north Indian audiences have always loved south girls, but refused to accept a hero from south of Vindhyas in mainstream Hindi cinema?

The answer to that according to Prabhu Deva, the leading choreographer-turned-director of super hit Hindi remakes (Wanted, Rowdy Rathore) of south Indian films 'has a lot to do with the culture and milieu'.

"Just like south Indian’s love their rice, Idly, Dosa, the north Indians prefer Dal and Roti. I may be doing remakes of south Indian films, but my hero will be a regular Hindi hero to reach across to the masses in Hindi speaking heartland," says Prabhu Deva.

The other reason suggested by Bollywood for south Indian heroes not being acceptable is their skin-colour and their inability to speak in Hindi in the familiar accent.

Says a top south Indian cameraman who has worked in a lot of Hindi films: “Let us face it - our Dravidian heroes are known more for their acting abilities than the accepted looks in Bollywood. If you have to be accepted as a mass star by Hindi audiences, you have to look like them. On the other hand, the southern girls who have made it big have fair complexion and can pass of as North Indians.”

Rani Mukerji played a Maharashtrian in Aiyya and for her it was “love at first smell” for Prithviraj - the tall, dark and handsome South Indian hero of the film. Amit Trivedi's hit number Dreamum Wakeuppam, was the typical stereotype - loud garish dance number you see in south mass hero movies.

However, the film bombed and in Kerala, Prithviraj was criticised for doing a film where south Indians were shown in bad light. Prithviraj claimed exactly the opposite in an interview: “Aiyya shows South Indians as very attractive. In the movie, Rani plays a girl who finds everything about South Indianism — smell, colour, looks, complexion — very cool and sexy. It sort of puts all south Indian characteristics in a way that Bollywood has not looked at before."

Recently, Tamil superstar Ajith, considered the most handsome actor in the industry, did a cameo in the Tamil copy of Sridevi’s English Vinglish. The same role was done by Amitabh Bachchan in the original Hindi version of the film.

His fans are upset that director Gauri Shinde did not take him in the Hindi version of the film. Meanwhile, two more aspirants are getting ready for their Bollywood debuts. Chiranjeevi’s son Ram Charan is set to launch in Bollywood in the remake of 1972 Amitabh Bachchan super hit Zanjeer. The film directed by Apoorva Lakhia has Priyanka Chopra playing Charan’s heroine.

Rajinikanth’s son-in-law and popular Tamil actor Dhanush is also doing his first Hindi film titled Raanjhnaa directed by Aanand L Rai of Tanu Weds Manu fame, with Sonam Kapoor as the female lead and music by AR Rahman.

Dhanush who did not know Hindi is said to have kept a tutor and learned the language. Later as per the director’s demand, he learned the kind of Hindi spoken in Varanasi, where the story takes place.

Following the disastrous debut of Prithviraj, one has to wait and see the fate of Ram Charan and Dhaunsh. Says a popular Tamil journalist: “Our south Indian heroes think that they will get a pan Indian audience if they do Hindi films, which will help them to increase their salary. But in reality those who tried to enter Bollywood have fallen between two stools. They were not accepted by north Indian audiences and the Tamil version of the film got rejected by their fans. Why is it that there are no buyers for Kamal Haasan’s forthcoming Vishwaroop, in which he had brought in Hindi actors in supporting roles? ”

As director AR Murgadoss of Ghajini fame remarked: “The sensibilities of the north and south Indian audiences are different. I’m now going to remake my Vijay starrer Thuppakki in Hindi with Akshay Kumar. Of course I will be making changes in the script to suit the taste and flavour of north Indian audiences.”

Concludes Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, after doing three Hindi films in which he was typecast as a south Indian cop: "I have been working for 33 years in Malayalam cinema, what should I come and prove in Hindi industry? I am content and happy with my own language. Now, if I get a very good and irresistible role, then I will try and do a film here. I don’t want to prove anything.”

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