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Southern storm: Siddharth blows hot

His performance in Rang De... will take him places, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 18:47 IST

The strong impact made by Siddharth in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti certainly isn’t the first instance of a male actor from the south finding mass acceptance across the country. But never before has a star from beyond the Vindhyas been able to steal a Bollywood superstar’s show quite to the extent that this quietly competent screen performer has done with his role as the cynical son of a shadowy political fixer and arms dealer.

Reports suggest that the role was originally offered to the likes of Hrithik Roshan and Vivek Oberoi, but they cried off citing date problems. The real reason for the their reluctance was probably the fear of the Aamir Khan factor. The perfection-seeking actor is blessed with the ability to stamp his sole authority on a script.

Siddharth entered the picture as a replacement. The rest, as they say, is history. Rang De Basanti is a runaway hit, the hitherto little-known actor has walked away with loads of accolades and life, therefore, will never be the same again for Siddharth.

Bollywood has over the years seen a steady stream of southern superstars trying their luck on the national stage with Bollywood films, but not since Kamalahasan and Rajnikanth – both enjoyed protracted spells of success in Hindi moviedom – have actors from Chennai or Hyderabad cast the kind of spell that Siddharth has on Hindi film audiences.

The strong impact made by Siddharth in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti certainly isn’t the first instance of a male actor from the south finding mass acceptance across the country.

Names like Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh and even Mammootty have all deservedly had their moments in the Bollywood sun in recent years, but they represented stray flashes of illumination rather than steady shafts of light. Of late, it is only when southern actors have sought to play clearly defined characters rather than just larger-than-life heroes that they have had some amount of success in Hindi cinema.

The most notable demonstration of that was provided by veteran Kerala actor Mohanlal, who was in fine fettle as a no-nonsense, quick-witted police officer in Ram Gopal Varma’s taut underworld saga, Company. In RGV’s previous film of the same genre, the hard-hitting Satya, Hyderabad’s Chakravarthy, playing the eponymous hero, made quite a mark despite being upstaged a tad by Manoj Bajpai’s memorable star turn as small-time gangster Bhikhu Mhatre.

Ajith, as big a star as any down south, was forced to play second fiddle to Shahrukh Khan in Santosh Sivan’s Asoka. He gave a good account of himself, but in a film where the lead actor was bent more upon playing to the gallery rather than trying to bring out nuances of the historical figure at the centre of the drama, the focus wasn’t really on the niceties of performance and characterisation.

In that respect Rang De Basanti and Aamir Khan are in a completely different league. When a film is about a gallery of characters and a script, and not merely about the image of a particular superstar, it is infinitely easier for a quality actor to get into the groove and make a statement. That is precisely what Siddharth has done. In the climactic radio station sequence, in which Aamir steps back and lets Siddharth’s character do all the talking, the space for the film’s parallel lead actor is clearly defined.

Interestingly, R Madhavan plays the small but crucial role of an Air Force pilot in Rang De Basanti. He has been through it all. He went into Tamil cinema via Mumbai television and achieved big-time success as a star-actor, playing a series of well-received roles in critically acclaimed films by Mani Ratnam. But inexplicably, Madhavan hasn’t been able to parlay his southern superstardom into national-level breakthroughs.

Siddharth, who began his acting career with a stint in Delhi theatre, also boasts Mani Ratnam links. He played one of the three young men (the role essayed by Vivek Oberoi) in the Tamil version of Yuva. With Rang De Basanti, shot entirely in Delhi and its environs, life has in a sense come full circle for Siddharth. It will now be hugely interesting to watch whether he can kick on from here and zoom ahead on the Bollywood fast track. He appears well poised for bigger things.