When will Bollywood break the stereotype Tamilian roles in movies?

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Mehmood in the iconic role of Master Pillai in Padosan

Year 1968 when cult classic comedy, Padosan got released, Bollywood gave new definitions for Tamil characters on Hindi screen. Needless to say, Padosan still ranks among top 5 comedy movies of Hindi cinema, and legendary actor Mehmood immortalized Masterji’s role forever through a style, Bollywood has never witnessed before. Mehmood played the iconic comic role of a Carnatic music teacher, who tries to woo his student, Bindu – the character played by Saira Bhanu. Since then south Indians, particularly Tamilians have been portrayed as comic characters in Bollywood cinema.


Repeated stereotype roles without exhaustion 

It’s almost 5 decades since Padosan got released. In the film, Mehmood appeared in bad Hindi accent in a comic role, and since then Tamilians have always being portrayed the similar way – with bad Hindi accent, mostly in comic roles. Also, most of those Tamil characters are traditional Hindus. We have rarely seen on Bollywood screen – Tamil Christians or Muslims, and they have mostly appeared in traditional saris, dhotis etc. Are Tamilians purely traditional, wearing only traditional dresses? Do Tamil girls always wear jasmine flowers and half saris? Not at all! 
Also in most these cases, they are pictured as vegetarians, or people who simply eat curd rice, dosa-idli and sambar etc. It’s not at all true. South Indian folk have both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, and they also lead urban life style, unlike shown in Bollywood films. In fact many south Indian ladies have ruled Bollywood screen for many decades. Best instances are Rekha, Hema Malini, Vaijayantimala, Sridevi, Aishwarya Rai, Vidya Balan and of course, current no: 1 queen of Bollywood, Deepika Padukone. Unlike male south Indian stars, south Indian beauties have always been portrayed as Hindi speaking North Indians in almost all Bollywood films. 
Very often Tamilians are portrayed as nerds, which is not at all true. Their dance moves too are different from normal Bollywood films, the best instance being the item number of Chennai Express. Very often Bollywood forget that they have strong classical base – both in music and dance.

Why less experiments in south Indian characters in Bollywood? 

Over the decades, we have witnessed many chances in framing of characters for Bollywood. Traditional heroine image has gone! Raj Kapoor type typical and innocent heroes have gone! Now audience widely accept lead actors playing negative shades also, which was uncommon in Bollywood in the 1950s or 1960s. Bollywood has come a long way, and its realistic approach too has been well received in the recent times. But, sadly south Indian characters are type casted as traditional people with sandal on forehead, and speaking Hindi in a typical Tamil dialect. Bollywood is not willing to accept Tamilians eating pizzas and burgers or wearing ultra-modern dress. Why so? Very often they are fixed as irritating characters in Bollywood films.

Bollywood ‘Tamilians’ quite contradictory to characters in South Indian cinema 

Today’s cinema, south Indian actors are seen in glamorized roles down South similar to Bollywood and Hollywood films. Many of south Indian masala films have successfully been remade to Bollywood, retaining its original flavours. Yet South Indians are shown in poor light in Bollywood films – a strange fact but true. Very often spoofing of south Indian characters in Bollywood has invited controversies and open debates. Among all the 4-language speaking south Indians, Tamilians are targeted most!

Meenamma – The most adorable south Indian screen character in the recent times 

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Deepika Padukone as Meenamma in Chennai Express

Deepika Padukone, a south Indian played a typical Tamilian in 2013 blockbuster comedy – Chennai Express. After Mehmood in Padosan, it’s one of the most popular characters on Bollywood screen. The movie gave much importance to south Indian star cast also. But Deepika’s role too had many flaws, particularly the mixed accent of Deepika Padukone, and audience failed to understand if she was portraying a Malayali character or Tamilian.

Popular south Indian characters on Bollywood screen 

Deepika Padukone, a south Indian played a typical Tamilian in 2013 blockbuster comedy – Chennai Express. After Mehmood in Padosan, it’s one of the most popular characters on Bollywood screen. The movie gave much importance to south Indian star cast also. But Deepika’s role too had many flaws, particularly the mixed accent of Deepika Padukone, and audience failed to understand if she was portraying a Malayali character or Tamilian. 

A screenshot from Tu Keech meri Photo – Sanam Teri Kasam

Apart from Deepika Padukone, several heroines have portrayed Tamilians onscreen and got successful as well. Apart from Deepika in Chennai Express, Alia Bhatt in 2-States was also well-received. In 2016 Pakistani actress Mawra Hocane made her Bollywood debut through Sanam Teri Kasam. She played the role of a south Indian Brahmin, and she was well appreciated for her looks and acting. 

Shraddha Kapoor in Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, Suhasini Maniratnam in Waiting, Konkona Sen Sharma in Mr and Mrs Iyer, Amy Jackson in Ek Deewana Tha are other noted roles belonging to this category. Amy played the role of a Malayali Christian in Ek Deewana Tha. 

Alia Bhatt in Two States

Juhi Chawla played a Tamil Brahmin’s role in Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke. It’s one of the popular female roles in the 1990s. Konkona Sen Sharma and Vidya Balan won National awards for portraying south Indian females on Bollywood screen.

Silk Smitha in Dirty Picture – Breaking all stereotype south Indian roles 

Vidya Balan in Dirty Picture portrayed a South Indian screen siren

Perhaps the only Bollywood film which presented a south Indian in a bold role is Dirty Picture. No doubt, it’s the boldest of all south Indian roles on Bollywood screen. The lead role was also played by Vidya Balan, a south Indian by origin. But it’s to be noted that it’s a biopic, and not a fiction or experimental character. The film was a huge hit and Vidya accumulated numerous awards including National awards. 

Some of the popular male characters 

Mehmood in Padosan is perhaps the most popular male character of Bollywood. Second place goes to Kamal Hassan who played a typical Tamilian in Bollywood blockbuster, Ek Duje Ke Liye. The movie also marked his Bollywood debut. Tamil superstar Rajnikanth too has played a Tamil role in Bollywood film – Uttar Dakshin. Prabhudeva too portrays south Indian characters in most of his Bollywood films.
Shah Rukh Khan played a Tamil Brahmin in Ra.One

Shah Rukh Khan played a Tamil Brahmin in Ra.One

While Shah Rukh Khan was casted opposite a south Indian character ‘Meenamma’ in Chennai Express, he played the role of a Tamilian Shekhar Subramanium in Ra.One. But the role is not listed among the well-remembered ‘male Tamilians’ of Bollywood. Malayalam’s popular actor Prithviraj made his Bollywood debut through Aiyyaa, where he played a south Indian. However the movie failed to collect money from box office. 

Johny Lever played a Malayali Nariyal-Paniwala in action suspense thriller – Khiladi. Johny has portrayed south Indian character with typical south Indian accent in a few more movies of 1990s. Satish Kaushik in Saajan Chale Sasural is another popular role of 1990s. Abhay Deol portrayed a Tamil bureaucrat Krishnan in critically acclaimed film – Shangai. Shreyas Talpade and Celina Jaitley played Tamilian characters in Golmaal Returns.

South Indian heroes debut Bollywood playing south Indian  

Mere Jeevan Saathi song from Ek Duje Ke Liye

It’s quite common in Bollywood cinema. Many south Indian actors made their Bollywood debut playing a south Indian. Kamal Hassan in Ek Duje Ke Liye, Mohanlal playing a south Indian cop in Company and Prithviraj in Aiyyaa are the best instances. Among all Kamal Hassan in Ek Duje Ke Liye is the most successful role in Bollywood till now. Dhanush made his Bollywood debut through Raanjhanaa. He played the role of the only son of a Tamil Hindu couple settled in Varanasi. Why?

A screenshot from Raanjhanaa.

While south Indian heroines debut Bollywood playing Hindi characters, south Indian heroes mostly play a south Indian character. Strange, but true! I wonder why Bollywood directors play safe by launching south Indian heroes as ‘Tamil Brahmin’ in Bollywood in most cases.

Mohanlal starred in three Bollywood films, and he was type casted as a south Indian cop in all these films. Only exception seen in the recent times is Harshvardhan Rane in Sanam Teri Kasam. Also, his female lead, Mawra Hocane originally a Pakistani played a Tamil Brahmin girl. Let us hope it’s a fine beginning of breaking stereotypes and this strategy continues in Bollywood.

Though not his debut film, Prabhudeva plays the role of a Tamilian in his recent Bollywood flick – Tutuk Tutuk Tutiya, the film made in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi languages. 

And the real twist is 

Perhaps the only Bollywood hero of south Indian origin who has never been tagged so is the most stylish – John Abraham. Though a Malayali by origin, John Abraham is better known as a North Indian star in Bollywood. No one even remembers that John is actually a south Indian. Same is the case of character artist Kay Kay Menon. Let us hope the same happens with other south Indian stars too, and Bollywood would experiment with south Indian characters on big screen.  

Read about South Indian tunes reused in Bollywood remakes 
Further Reading The most successful Bollywood star in Malayalam cinema 

Read a few more miscellaneous posts on Bollywood stars and movies of today. Here is the page link. Click on the images to read. 

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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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