This week’s Tamil film release, Dhilluku Dhuddu, is bound to seduce ticket-paying crowds because actor Santhanam -- who has for years and years been the hero’s comic sidekick -- will be seen in the lead role. This may be the fourth occasion of his away from comedy, but Dhilluku Dhuddu seems like a make-or-mar effort for the star. The movie will certainly go a long way in assuring his producers that Santhanam is hero material.
In a chat with this writer on Tuesday morning, Santhanam says that after a dozen years playing second fiddle to the hero in Tamil cinema, “it has not been easy to transform myself from a man who tickles his audiences to one who would evoke a different kind of emotion in them. Admittedly, comedy is serious business, and it is no joke to crack jokes”.
But he also avers in the same breath that “it has been no cakewalk stepping into the shoes of a hero. It has been very difficult for me to sing and dance and fight and romance my heroines. In Dhilluku Dhuddu, I have attempted a difficult number, Sivan Maganda, with 100 dancers and 400 junior artists... As a comedian, I just had to be comic. I did not have to get into other emotions like anger, love, disappointment, frustration and so on...”
However, Santhanam feels that his new role in cinema has certainly given him a new lease of life. “It has been very refreshing, this new avatar of mine, and I was also getting a little bored essaying the hero’s friend. For me, getting into the garb of the hero has been a novel kind of creativity.”
We have seen such similar transformations in Hollywood, Adam Sandler being a classic case, and Santhanam -- all said and done -- is handsome, talented and above all expressive, and one has always wondered why Indian cinema is so obsessed with typecasting its actors. Once a villain, always a villain. Once a comedian, forever that, and once a hero, a hero and nothing else.
Admittedly, some actors have crossed this barrier. Bollywood’s bad man, Pran, went on to do some wonderfully varied characters. Rishi Kapoor is another example of transforming himself. Amitabh Bachchan has completely reworked his angry image into something delightfully different.
And Santhanam has been reinventing himself as one other than a comedian. He has already been doing that in three of his earlier films -- Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya, Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham and Inimey Ippadithan. In all these, Santhanam’s steps away from his comfort comedian closet have been hesitant. One felt that he having a foot here and a foot there. He was trying to -- perhaps -- feel the pulse of the people, wondering whether they would accept him as their new hero. In fact, by the third movie, Inimey Ippadithan, it appeared that he had made up his mind to be different, and the title of the film also supposedly conveyed this -- Hereafter Only This.
Dhilluku Dhuddu by Rambala is being touted as a slapstick comedy with a touch of horror. The horror here will be different. No haunted houses or ghostly figures emerging from eerily dark corridors!
But more than Dhilluku Dhuddu’s plot and direction, what most of us would wait for here is Santhanam’s performance -- as a full-fledged hero. Will he hop over the fence without a scratch?