Does Dhanush mark the second coming of the south Indian hero in Hindi cinema?
Yeh south wale hero north mein nahin chalte. This nice little cautionary note came from a film trade guy I was chatting with just ahead of the release of Raanjhanaa. My man was sceptical about its leading man,Dhanush,and how he would be accepted in the Hindi heartland,which has traditionally and vocally and insensitively been derisive of “dark- complexioned”,southern-inflected heroes.
I could see where his concern was coming from. Hindi cinema has always heartily embraced southern lasses. The accents of these lovelies,thick as gur-laden molasses (ever heard Hema Malini and Sridevi with attention?) have never been deal-breakers. More recently,Deepika Padukone’s dialogue delivery is an example of Hindi spoken with a faint-but-noticeable south of the Vindhyas accent (which,from what I hear,shes stretched and gone all exaggeratedly aii-aii-yo in her forthcoming Chennai Express). But Deepika Padukones ability to wear short,tight dresses and dance with abandon is a good distracting tactic. Who wants to listen when there is eye candy?
No,it is not the ladies that there has been a problem with. It is the gents. They’ve had sporadic successes in Bollywood. Kamal Haasan was a terrific besotted lover in Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981),and the film was a monster hit. Everyone,including Kamal Haasan,thought that he had conquered Hindi cinema. But never after did he get that kind of rapturous response in the north. Not when he was romancing the still-gorgeous Dimple Kapadia in Saagar,not when he was mentoring the childlike Sridevi in Sadma. His cross-dressed,big-bossomed Chachi 420 drew laughs,but that was more for his comedic skills,not for his lover-like mien.
Sigh-worthy lovers in Bollywood have almost always been the super-starry preserve of the “fair”,tall (mostly) Khans and the Kapoors,whose cheeks have been as pink as their leading ladies. Rajinikanth’s tryst with Bollywood had him vie for Sridevi’s affections in Chaalbaaz,but he had to share the stage with Sunny Deol,and Sridevi,who was the real hero of the film. He did have solo turns where he successfully fought off the bad guys,but most of his A-list Bollywood attempts were ensembles. In a Hum,Rajini was always going to be counted alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda,not as the one and only Rajnikanth.
Mani Ratnam tried giving us a “fair-skinned” south Indian lover in Bombay and Roja,the first two films in his terror trilogy. Arvind Swamy smilingly seduced Manisha Koirala to the heavy drumbeats of Humma humma. He followed that up by dallying with Kajol in Rajiv Menons Sapnay (the Hindi dub of Minsara Kanavu) but it was a flop. Mani Ratnam went on to take refuge in Shah Rukh Khan for the third of his trilogy,Dil Se. Madhavan was the last “big” south Indian hero to try for the heartthrob spot in Bollywood. His Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein presented him as a rebellious young lover. But Madhavan wasn’t really a true southern import. He had done Hindi television,and his long stay in the north had ensured that his Hindi was minus accent. His Bollywood journey has been patchy,and he has done most of his best work,even as the romantic hero,in the south.
Dhanush makes an entry into Bollywood after gathering critical and box office acclaim in the south. His Aadukalam,which got a National award in 2011,has him play an ordinary fellow in love with a girl who doesn’t like him to begin with and then does. It is the only one of his only Tamil film I’ve seen,and I was struck by just how much he limned his ordinariness by not calling attention to himself. The backdrop of Raanjhanaa is as different from Aadukalam‘s as it can be. Not Madurai but Varanasi. And he plays Kundan,the son of a priest,not Karuppu,the mud-smeared cock fighter. But the girls he falls in love with in both films are somewhat similar: “fair-skinned”,unattainable,of a higher social order.
Because Raanjhanaa is a glossy Hindi love story,not a realistic,gritty Madurai-school film,Dhanush has to sing and dance and woo his girl in a style that has been forged over decades by popular stars from the north. I was looking out for any kind of overkill on his part,but Dhanush goes through the film without putting a foot wrong. Perhaps because he doesnt have to pander to an image,or isn’t too bothered with looking “fair and lovely”,like his north Indian counterparts are forced to be,he is able to surrender to the suffering that a kind of true love brings with it.
Dhanush is thin,”dark” and unprepossessing. He does nothing to hide it. And he makes the movie sing. Could this be the second coming for the south Indian lover boy in predominantly north Indian Bollywood?
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