Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Image Trap

Daniel Hillard (Mrs. Doubtfire) – A fun-loving, affectionate father who, when denied the chance to be with his children everyday, shows up in drag and becomes their housekeeper.

Sy Parrish (One Hour Photo) – A lonely, disturbed man who is psychotically obsessed with a family whose photos he develops and stalks them

Two characters that couldn’t be further apart. But played by the same actor.

I watched One Hour Photo recently and it once again highlighted the complete lack of image for actors in Hollywood. And even if they do develop an image, they consciously take on roles that go against their image in the interest of expanding their range and versatility. So you have an action hero playing the villain (Batman and Robin). You have a romantic lead playing a cold-blooded assassin (Collateral). You have a comedian playing a psycho (1-Hour Photo). And you have an actor playing a President in one movie (Air Force One) and a killer in another (What Lies Beneath). Amazing!

MGR carefully cultivated a do-gooder image in cinema before using it to propel himself into politics. Is that what started the image game in Tamil cinema? Since then, most actors in each generation have pigeonholed themselves into acting within the boundaries of their image. So we get characters that are indistinguishable from one another and cookie-cutter movies molded to suit the hero’s image.

Bollywood stars slowly seem to be getting out of the image straitjacket. I’ve seen movies where Akshay Kumar and Akshaye Khanna have played bad guys. I was pleasantly surprised to read that heartthrob Hrithik Roshan will play a baddie in Dhoom 2 and even Aamir Khan is slated to play a negative character soon.

But Tamil cinema seems to be going the other way! Actors in each new generation seem to be trying to cultivate an image even earlier in their careers. And the producers and directors are only too happy to help them in this. Credit is definitely due to actors like Kamal, Vikram and Surya for not falling into the image trap. But even they have boundaries as to how far they will go. Would Kamal have done the Nandakumar role in Aalavandhaan with another famous actor playing the hero? I don’t think so. And there was news that Vikram recently postponed the planned Malayalam remake(where he would have to act like a woman for half the film) since the producers thought it would affect his macho image.

The actors conveniently place the blame on the fans saying that the fans will not accept them as bad guys. Is this really true? I personally feel the reason is fear. The actors fear that if they act as a villain and are accepted (i.e. the movie becomes a hit) and praised, they would continue getting similar offers, be typecast as a villain and not be accepted as a hero again. I can’t think of any other reason for even second (or lower) rung actors like Satyaraj and Murali not attempting to play bad guys.

Karthik is now playing the bad guy in a Satyaraj-starrer. And Sarathkumar, in an interview in Kungumam a few months ago, wondered how exciting it would be if a movie had Rajni as the hero and Sarath as the villain or Kamal as the hero and Vikram as the villain. He also tantalizingly said that he might kick things off himself. Oh if only that were to really happen! Maybe actors shrugging off their image cloaks and taking risks will kick Tamil cinema out of its current low.


At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to accept heros, especially A bracket heros like Vijay, Rajni, Vikram, Surya, and even Kamal, as a villain. It's just that we have been seeing them portrayed as next to God in their superhuman ability and to see them in a negative role would be hard to digest for the average cinegoer.

Sarathkumar, Karthik and Satyaraj can afford to talk like that, and to do such films. First, they never had much of a mass appeal, in the sense that their reach wasn't that great with the general public. Secondly, all three have passed their peak period as far as general popularity and acceptance with audience. Can we imagine Karthik boasting that he is doing a villaineous role about 10 years back? It would have affected his ego first. Even villain turned heros like Satyaraj and Sarath would not have played with their ego about 10 years back by returning to villaineous roles.

Coming to Bollywood, in this day and age, no hero holds the same mass appeal as heros down south do. They have gotten into the glamour slot that Hollywood had so far, and have lost their star appeal. So they are starting to experiment. Some years back, no star would even imagine of doing inconsequential roles that Hindi actors have started doing. I mean, there are some fine products coming from up north like Black, but mostly, it's just junk and cheap glamour.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger srivat said...

Reminds me of a news that I read in a Tamil Magazine.Looks like 'Sivaji' crew is finding it difficult to rope in a villain. Initially they approached 'Satyaraj' who denied it and now Rajkiran too has rejected the role citing his new image in 'TT' as a reason.:-).But not sure how true this article is.

At 10:28 PM, Blogger Kumari said...

That One hour Photo Is amazing. Robin Williams is darn different, you somehow think he is going to make a fool of himself in some scene and he surprises you by not doing it at all :)

I think Tamizh Cinema is stuck in a vicious circle...the actors blame us for not letting them experiment, and we blame them for underestimating us and giving us trash.

And nowadays with the cost of a movie being so high, I guess no1 wants to take chances. If i am buying the 150 million dollar lottery, i'd rather it be my lucky number than an arbit number, right? :)

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally think that the day that many of our heroes giving a chance to negative roles will not be very far away... but I feel Vijay and Rajini will never try.. given the current status and fame that they both enjoy (and the many risks it would mean to producers and directors and to the way the public will react.. it wouldn't be worth it to them at all!)..

If we have any chance of seeing a negative role anytime this century, it's got to be from Vikram, Surya or Ajeeth.. Ajeeth did a wonderous job in Vaali and has the capabilities (and do think he has the guts for it too!) to give it an honest shot (I won't be surprised if Bala's film "Naan Kadavul" may have such negative shades as well!)..

Vikram will end up doing the "Chaanthu Pottu" remake soon and who knows Surya may end up doing an anti-hero soon as well (even though "Nandha" didn't do well commercially, for all practical purposes, his role in that film can be considered negative). Madhavan has already given us a taste of villainy in Aaydha Ezhuthu.

With regards to the public blaming actors and the actors blaming the public for not experimenting with new roles.. Well, the very successful attempts by Kamalahassan over the years to try something new or different have only crashed with a resounding thud at the box office (unless he tries something like Indhiyan). Even classy films like Anbe Sivam with a very non-traditional script and treatment failed miserably. I'm not sure if the anyone but the public needs to be blamed for it. If they had gone in hoards and supported good, classy attempts, tamil cinema wouldn't be stuck in the rut that it is in right now.

Maybe the 'thamizhan' in Tamilnadu and the 'thamizhan' way outside of it, will never think the same way about tamil cinema. After all, the 'thamizhan' in Chennai went and supported "Aaru" despite heavy rains and made it a hit, while we all here in the U.S. clearly stayed away through word of mouth and had the film bite the dust.. that should tell you!.. The flip side, despite good to mixed reviews, Aaydha Ezhuthu failed even in metropolitan areas in Tamilnadu, while had the cash registers ringing abundantly in the U.S. and elsewhere, what does that say about us versus them?..

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

anon, good points. the post was just some random thots i had on the topic rather than a coherent wish to see something happen.

and i agree with u on sarath, satyaraj and karthik on being past their peak, their lack of mass appeal, etc. my point was their sticking to an image inspite of all that. as i mentioned, i understand top heroes not going for an image makeover but the fact that these 2nd rung heroes don't do it either is more frustrating! u hit the nail on the head when u talked about it affecting his ego. i think thats pretty much it for all of them :)

srivat, i didnt read it wrt 'sivaji' but i did read somewhere that rajkiran had decided not to play -ve roles any more since it would affect his image! i rest my case :)

kumari, yes williams was pretty amazing in that one. truly creepy.

and the surprising thing is that, the people taking chances, like shankar(with 'kaadhal') and prakashraj(with 'kanda naal mudhal') r meeting success. but actors seem most averse to taking chances.

sandya, i agree. and i don't blame rajni or vijay for not doing it either. i think u're being a tad optimistic for thinking our heroes will don -ve roles pretty soon. i don't think the pieces r in place to make the heroes take such risks any time soon.

madhavan in ae is a good point. he played a pretty bad guy in that but followed it up with 'priyasakhi'. that should show that the viewers have no problem seeing their heroes in different roles.

the same viewers who made 'anbe sivam' flop also made hits out of 'kaadhal', 'autograph' and 'kanda naal mudhal'. so cant blame them completely either :)

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the funny thing is that people who compare hk cinema with hollywood say that hollywood is full of typecast stars unwilling to take negative roles!

re:satyaraj, didnt he play a negative role recently in some movie with vivek, some sort of hustler role with him being married and trying to kill his wife? i can't remember the name.

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamal Hassan and to an extent Surya, are the only established ones in the industry at present, who really want to invest some energy into doing diverse roles...sure, there's Vikram too, but he seems to be concentrating more on altering himself physically than really taking some real chances like he used to (Kaasi, Pithamagan, et al).

BB, the Rajni fanatic you are, you just cant say a -ve word about him! When has he, in the last 20 years, ever tried to change a wee bit from his image? trapped by his superstardom, he's effectively killed the actor in him who could even give kamal a run for his money (his turn in Mullum Malarum was the stuff of legends). where's that guy now?

I'm actually okay with Satyaraj (amaidhi padai) or Kamal (aalavandhaan) taking a hero role in addition to the -ve role coz they know as well as we do that the villain role is what is gonna steal the show...comprising a lil'l for commercial reasons, while experimenting, is something that i could live C-Mukhi, it would've been really interesting had the Vettayan role been expanded a was a fantasy, anyway...when Rajni fans can tolerate him chopping off another guy's head, they could've probably also enjoyed a bit more of the lakalakalaka...!

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Ram, but don't think P.Vasu can think much bigger and larger than the Vettayan role that Rajini actually got in CM. I'm going to save you the huge PhD on Vasu's capabilities (which would be a cumulative from all the blog posts in this blog on his revered contributions to tamil cinema in the last 15+ years). If anybody had any control on the length and width of the Vettayan role, it was probably Rajini. Looks like the max amount of acting, Rajini was willing to do for CM overall. Actually, it's been more acting than what he has done in the last 8 or 9 films of his, in total.

Let's leave Rajini out of this now. His image trap is bigger, stronger and all encompassing than any other super star there is in the world. I don't think there is a super star quite as big as him, who has not been able to even try anything different just because of it.. IMAGE!..

I felt Baba was the closest that he came to doing something different. The film had fights and songs, but he ended up shunning the heroine (the first time I can ever remember in a Rajini film!.. Rajini never says "no" to the heroine who is in love with him ever! (at least not after he became such a big superstar). The first time he ever talked about philosophy, life and the importance of his own life to himself and to others. And what did everybody say about Baba.. that it was atrocious. I, on the other hand, thought Baba was actually a pretty good film (even though the songs and song picturizations desperately needed help!).. The story was novel, but the treatment could have been much better.. Ho.. hum... anyways!.. :-(

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING!... It's not just a catchphrase from an ad jingle.. It's true.. 100%

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'll accept your view on the public support for the box office success of Kaadhal and Autograph.. but it's not like Kanda Naal Mudhal was a classic or even a great film overall. Most of the reviews echoed the same view as your review that it was an average film at best.

Are we saying the public should support 'average' films as well, just because they've tried to provide something different?...

Ponniyan Selvan tried to provide something different and suffered from the same 'overall average-ness.' What was its box office fate?.. I don't think that PS deserved to fail at the box office, but that didn't happen.

I don't think KNM deserved better merits and more support from the public than PS (just because both films tried to do something different!)..

Again, these are the same people who flock to a Thirupachi and then to a film like Raam and make it a hit. At best, the public is unpredictable and finicky.. they would be as much to blame as our heroes for the lack of change in tamil movie scripts, screenplays and characterizations.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Me too said...

If you compare Robin Williams and Harrison Ford(Tom Cruise is a rare surprise!), then you should compare them with Naseerudin Shah or Amitabh Bacchan as they are past their IMAGE times.
Until we encourage the Super stardom or No. 1, No 2 rankings for our stars, they will never come out of their IMAGE traps. In Kollywood, talented Actors like Nasser, 'Nizhalgal' Ravi, Raghuvaran, Prakash Raj are termed 'character Artists'!! To do one 'Aalavandhan', Kamal has to do 2-3 craps as the Producers only like to hear the ringing of the BO!! And if Kamal, Nasser had gone the Rajni way (like in Valli, Baba), we would be seeing only Images!
The expression on Rajni's face when he utters 'lakalaka' in CM made me wonder why only we had to turn him into a hero.

At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would really love to see Rajini or Kamal don a villain role.

I can never forget the rajni in 16 vayadhinile or a kamal from Sigappu rojakkal...They both aced it!

edhu eppadi irukku!


At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"After all, the 'thamizhan' in Chennai went and supported "Aaru" despite heavy rains and made it a hit, while we all here in the U.S. clearly stayed away through word of mouth and had the film bite the dust.. that should tell you!.. "

Are u really serious.....give me a big break...US le irundutta that doesn't mean everybody has reasonable taste ( Not even better taste), remember how everybody patronised "CM" in most parts of US ( A very very average movie at best, except for the "Rajini's long forgotten talents in portraying "lalakalaka" character) and "Sachin" of teh hopeless Vijay and how kamal's "ME" was dumped like trash,
I don't know which part of US u are in, the Dumb Tamilians in US still compete strongly with the 'tards" in TN in patronising dumb movies , otherwise how can a"Vijay" movie draw a crowd here.
BTW, I am not in INDIA, very much in US, NY, and make it a point to watch every Kamal movie and Manirathnam movie driving all the way to the horrible theatres in NJ with family, just because of their contribution to Tamil cinema,

'Baba' was pretty good, Oh my GOD, kadavule nee vanda kooda inda TN makkalai maatha mudiyadhu ppa,
For others,
Kamal did a negative role in his very early years itself " Sigappu Rojakkal" ( May be he was not a big star then), but as a true villain for the first half of the movie till the other Hero Kamal appears in " Indrudu ChandrudU" and he was just too good in that too atleast it didn't appear like a hero Kamal appeared first and then a Villain as in
" aazhavandan" or " Indian"

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous.. Based on the way your comment reads, it sounds like everybody would have had great taste had they wholeheartedly dumped Chandramukhi and supported Mumbai Express. I guess you categorize good taste to be someone who supports a Kamal movie over a Rajini movie (never mind that the majority of the people who did see Mumbai Express, thought it was mediocre at best. This wasn't very surprising to gather based on the fact that you never miss a Kamal film screened in the NJ area! :-)

Now to how Mumbai Express fared head-to-head with Chandramukhi in the Bay Area. You would be surprised to hear this as you probably think ME got dumped. Not true. ME ran to several houseful shows here in the Bay Area even in its opening weekend (just like Chandramukhi did!). You have to admit the word-of-mouth was good for CM over ME. Are you even venturing to suggest that the ME's mediocrity was better than CM's mediocrity and the public response should have shifted in ME's favor for that reason alone?

By the way, Sachin was never screened in the U.S. That should actually tell you what Vijay's merit is here when Rajini and Kamal are around.

With regards to Sachin and to any Vijay movie (up to Thirupachi even.. things only changed with Sivakasi!); Vijay has had a 'damp squib' market in the U.S. for as long as his films have been brought here (this came from one of the distributors here in the U.S. in an article in just prior to the release of CM and ME here in the U.S.), all of which changed with Sivakasi last year, which witnessed the largest turnout ever for a Vijay movie (in the Bay Area!).. the first time since 1997 when Kaadhalukku Mariyaadhai was first shown here. Now, I don't know how crazy people get in NJ, but it has taken Vijay a solid 7 years to even get a decent opening here.. that doesn't hold very well for him in the SF Bay Area.

Since you criticize the public choice to go see Chandramukhi, I'm not surprised that you got so anxious about my comment on Baba. You seemed to be have picked on the "pretty good".. but clearly eaten up the criticisms that I had stated in the same sentence (even though the songs and song picturizations desperately needed help!).. The story was novel, but the treatment could have been much better.. Ho.. hum... anyways!.. :-(

At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people, in their late 20s/30s along with their families, in the US who form the majority of the crowd out to see films have grown up watching Rajni/Kamal films and irrespective of the medicority of the films they flock to the theaters, moreover the films themselves get released only once every year or so and are preceeded these days by huge hype. And in Rajni's case, there are ppl, Balaji himself being an apt example, who are otherwise serious film buffs/connoisseurs but yet cant outgrow being a Rajni fan even in their mid-thirties :-) That explains Rajni's films getting decent openings here in US too. I was told that there were lots of whistles and howls in NJ, just like a typical cinema theatre in a B center in TN, during the first day show of Chandramukhi.Its like a cultural thing, like a festival celebration for these guys.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, if u notice i didn't talk about vijay either. i mentioned kamal, surya, vikram since though they too have a good fan base, i believe these fans like them because of their willingness to experiment, take risks, etc. they want to c them play a variety of roles, change their appearance, etc. rajni and vijay fans expect diff. things from their idols and so i understand that image change will be suicide for them :)

sandya, yes i definitely think public should support avg films if they r different. thats whats going to give others the confidence to make different films too. and some of them will turn out to be good and great :)

but yeah, my main point was that the public is quite unpredictable :)

me too, sure. thats why i talked about satyaraj and murali. even sarathkumar. they r past their peaks but r still unwilling to experiment.

but hollywood is truly beyond image, whether the actors r past their peaks or not. take heath ledger. he was talked about as the next hearthrob but went ahead and acted as a gay cowboy!!

At 9:57 PM, Blogger carkar said...

I have seen Akshay Khanna play the bald guy, when did he play the bad guy ? :)
I do think the fans should share some blame. In our state star popularity turns into star worship very soon. Actors who seek or have experienced that worship dont want to let go of it. May be thats why they dont want to experiment a whole lot.


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