Prophetic as it may sound, Tamil actor Santhanam's second film as a hero is titled Inimey Ippadithan. A rough translation of this soon-to-hit-screens movie will be Henceforth, This Way. Will Santhanam, who has for years played the funny-man and often as the male lead's sidekick, give up the comic and comedy?
This remains to be seen, for the Indian film industry practises, what one may call, restrictive continuity. Once a comedian, always a comedian. Once a villain, always a villain. I am sure Bollywood's Mehmood must have aspired to don the hero's hat. He was never allowed that, if one remembers right. Bollywood's Pran was such a great looking guy, but for most part of his long innings, he essayed a baddie, and one always wondered why the heroine did not flip for him, suave and well dressed that he usually was. It is only during the last part of his career that he was given other roles -- never that of a hero though. In the Tamil movie world, Nambiar was strikingly handsome, but remained a scowling scoundrel.
Men like Mehmood, Pran and Nambiar were wonderful actors, and they could have been great lead artists.
Given this, one would think that Santhanam is lucky to have got this opportunity to break himself free from the comic shackles -- although he is also producing Inimey Ippadithan. The industry is probably still wary of putting its money on Santhanam in his new avatar.
The new work will see Santhanam romance and dance and fight. He once said that he found dancing to be the most difficult part of acting. So, one would be keen to watch him do a Fred Astaire -- maybe.
Santhanam's first film as a hero was in Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham, a crime and revenge drama set mostly in rural Tamil Nadu. It was based on Buster Keaton's 1923 Our Hospitality. But here Santhanam was not quite the conventional lead performer , his part was laced with his trademark comic mannerisms. Perhaps, Santhanam was not quite sure how the audiences would react to his new image, and so he must have added a liberal dose of his earlier characteristics.
Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham had a decent theatrical run, but Santhanam's real test will come with Inimey Ippadithan -- where he has reportedly all the trappings of a movie hero.
One is glad that Santhanam has made this switch -- or at least trying to make it. For, to begin with, his clowning was not quite original. He was heavily inspired by that master comedian, Thangavelu, whose dialogue delivery itself had such a punch of wit and humour that it got viewers into splits. Santhanam's strong point was also this. His understated one-liners were real rib-ticklers.