On May 10, 2002, director Kasthuri Raja’s Thulluvadho Ilamai released. The coming-of-age movie about a group of teenagers acting recklessly due to their raging hormones introduced a bunch of new actors, including Kasthuri Raja’s son Dhanush. The film begins with a voice-over of Dhanush recalling fond memories of his school days. He is at his old-school, where he spent his adolescence, struggling to make sense of the world. The narrator is also a decorated army officer. When Dhanush emerges on camera, it was clear that the make-up crew had a tough time turning a then 19-something skinny newcomer into a man in his late 20s.
Dhanush was drowning inside the heavy-looking military uniform. He looked like a kid dressed up for fancy dress competition as opposed to sporting a sharp look as an army officer. It felt like he was out of place. The actor, however, did not take long to show everyone that he’s right where he belonged.
He took the industry by surprise with his performance as a good-hearted but extremely violent man in Kaadhal Kondein. The 2003 romantic drama, available on Sun NXT, marked the directorial debut of Selvaraghavan, who would go on to helm a few more memorable movies for his little brother.
Dhanush’s turn as a friend-zoned, deranged lover was dark and original. His thin physique was perfect to play Selvaraghavan’s impoverished nerd with a surprisingly vast stomach and strength for violence. And that sort of created a stream of acting opportunities for Dhanush. He later did a slew of movies like Thiruda Thirudi, Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan, Sullan, which required the audience to be amazed by the notion that a seemingly weak protagonist was beating the lights out of bad men.
Selvaraghavan again pulled him back into the space of an actor with Pudhupettai, which is available on Amazon Prime Video. The gangster drama was built on the same premise of a frail protagonist exhibiting super-strength. But, Selvaraghavan impressively exploited this trope, giving us a classic mob movie set in the underbelly of Chennai. Again, Dhanush sprung a surprise in the film that follows a terrified motherless boy’s rise through the ranks of Chenna’s underworld.
In 2011, the siblings again came together to tell a tale of human suffering caused by fixation. Mayakkam Enna, streaming on Sun NXT, is the story of an amateur photographer, who wants to make it big in wildlife photography. But, he spirals out of control and drowns himself in alcohol when his work gets stolen. Richa Gangopadhyay gave an equally impressive performance as a troubled but loyal wife. Her character, in fact, sets some unrealistic wife goals.
After Selvaraghavan, it was Vetrimaaran who took full advantage of everything Dhanush brought to the table as an actor. Vetrimaaran’s directorial debut Polladhavan, which is available on Sun NXT, was rife with details that effectively captured the lives of people who inhabit a tough neighbourhood. Dhanush plays the role of a young man with a spine to stand up to a bully, and his bravery consequently threatens to destroy everything he worked for.
Aadukalam, available on Sun NXT, is another gem in Dhanush’s career. Written and directed by Vetrimaran, the movie documented the culture around cockfight. It earned Dhanush his first National Award for Best Actor. The actor-director duo followed it up with Vada Chennai, an epic gangster drama, which has been deemed as a trilogy by Vetrimaran.
Vada Chennai, available on Disney + Hostar, is a complex, raw and engrossing movie that narrates events that happen in the wake of the death of a good-hearted and visionary gangster, played by Ameer. Dhanush once again plays the role of a playful teenager who is pushed into rowdyism.
Vetrimaran and Dhanush again collaborated for Asuran, available on Amazon Prime Video, in 2019. Based on the acclaimed writer Poomani’s novel Vekkai, the movie depicted the horrors of a casteist society. And as usual, Dhanush gave a memorable performance as a simmering Sivasaami.
In Asuran, Dhanush played the role that was almost twice his age. But, unlike Thulluvadho Ilamai, this time, he looked very convincing as an older man. Because, in the last 18 years, he has developed a magnetic screen presence which allows him to pull off seemingly any role without breaking a sweat.