Recently, there has been a flurry of articles all over on Southern cinema heroes, in particular, Vikram, Suriya and Rana Daggubati. Outlook, Hindustan Times, and Sunday Mid-day have all published similar features. It was but a matter of time that TV channels too got into the act and NDTV has done a special segment as part of India Decides on Southern Stars where Pronoy Roy interviewed Vikram and Suriya and maybe others but I followed these two. The bias that Bollywood is Indian cinema and vice versa was never more apparent as one realized this is perhaps the first time ever these actors have been interviewed on National Television – with Vikram I cannot say this with 100% certainty as he might have been interviewed following his National Award for Pithamagan (2003) but for Suriya, it was definitely his first time in front of a National audience.
However, lest one thinks this is finally giving Southern Cinema and its (male) stars their (overloooong) due, sadly, I don’t think that is the case at all. The bias continues and is as wide a chasm as ever. If these three heroes are in the news, it is not due to their achievements in their own cinemas but more because they are all making their debut in Bollywood this year. Vikram will be ‘introduced’ to Hindi audiences in Mani Rathnam’s Raavan co-starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, Suriya will be seen by pan Indian audiences in Ram Gopal Varma’s two part Rakta Charitra while Rana co-stars with Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu and Prateik Babbar in Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maro Dum. On top of that, in the NDTV interview it was embarrassing when Pronoy Roy asked Suriya about his wife ‘Jyothi.’
This apathy for cinema outside Bollywood is pathetic and especially so when one sees what big stars Vikram and Suriya are in Tamil cinema. Their fanatical fan following in Tamil Nadu and the adulation they enjoy in their home state is something a top Bollywood star can never dream of. People in Mumbai (and the North) have not even heard of these actors leave alone be aware of their work. Those who have seen Aamir Khan in Ghajini (2008) or Ajay Devgan in Yuva (2004) would do well to see Suriya’s interpretation of these roles in Gajini (2005) and Ayutha Ezhuthu (2004), both notches above his Hindi counterparts. And one cringed seeing Salman Khan strut his stuff in Tere Naam (2003) after seeing Vikram’s work in the original, Sethu (1999). Why, I remember recently a friend of mine put up a status on facebook that she understood why Mumbai had got hotter. She added that it was so since Suriya was in town to shoot for Rakta Charitra! And a film critic from Mumbai on her friends list, supposed to be quite knowledgeable on cinema asked her who Suriya was! Not that this is anything new. Even when the great P Bhanumathi died in 2005, no Northern newspaper or TV channel even reported her death! It was while surfing through a Southern cinema website that I read about it and so could prepare the necessary tribute for Upperstall.
Regional cinema has always got the wrong end of the stick when many a time their better films leave Bollywood far behind. Tamil cinema, for instance, has done some extremely interesting work over the last few years and it has been a pleasure to see films like Paruthiveeran, Chennai 600028, Mozhi, Subramaniapuram and Poo among others. These films are innovative, tackle their subject matter most interestingly and are rooted to their culture unlike pan Indian Hindi cinema. What’s more, they execute their mainstream Indian cinema elements such as action (at least in the realistic films), song and dance much, much better than Hindi films and are technically quite superior as well even if a little obvious. Leave alone Tamil, Marathi cinema too is doing some extremely fine work today with films like Gabhricha Paus, Tingiya, Valu, Natrang and Harishchandrachi Factory. But ask a normal cinegoer in Mumbai the names of the actors or the directors of these films and you will mostly draw a blank. He probably would not even know that these films have been released in the theatres. Yet, at the National Awards it’s often regional cinema that walks off with the major awards. But even here, the bias continues. Thespians like Sivaji Ganesan and A Nageshwara Rao should have been bestowed with their Dada Saheb Phalke Awards much earlier and while the nightingales of Hindi cinema are both proud Phalke Award winners, what about legends like Sandhya Mukherjee and P Susheela? Their achievements In Bengali and Southern cinemas, where each has sung thousands of unforgettable songs respectively, cannot be ignored.
We would do well to remember that if any filmmaker has constantly broken barriers with his films internationally, it was the great Satyajit Ray and even today in the West, most people’s knowledge of our better filmmaking is through his Bengali masterpieces. Otherwise, our mainstream Bollywood films are little more than ‘those kitschy song and dance musicals’ to them.