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Star Wars in Tamil Cinema…

The blistering heat is sure getting to a lot of us and with the mercury rising by the day, I am sure that each of you would be looking at different vistas for some escape route. Mine has been a lot of fluids (purely of the cooling variety) and lazing around in the cool and comfort of my room. While putting my cerebral mechanism to a little work on what to write about this month, I came back to one topic that has been at the back of my mind for quite some time now. I am a firm believer in the duality that exists in everything in the world, as has been embellished in some fine works of art and writing by many historians, writers and artistes. Tamil cinema seems to be holding the theory of duality true and always ensuring that there are at least 2 major heroes they adore at all times. But, despite us being generous enough to accept two at the top, and also endorsing many others simultaneously, we ensure that there are only two at the absolute top. Fans of these top two stars very often end up sparring and debating that their favourite matinee idol is the best. This concept of having two top stars laying claim to the number 1 spot has been going on in Tamil cinema – The Star Wars, right from the advent of the industry.

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MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar is considered the first Superstar of Tamil cinema. Having born in 1910, the star had a natural affinity towards the fine arts and was into singing and acting from as early as his school days and even ran away from home to pursue his interest. Then, with his father’s reluctant acceptance and under the tutelage of FG Natesa Iyer, the star that was MKT, blossomed. MKT’s first movie Pavalakkodi was released in 1934 and in his career spanning around 25-plus years, the stalwart acted in 14 movies. Some of his movies were record setting and are remembered till date for his performances. And it can also be said that he was the first and last top hero to enjoy monopoly at the top, despite there being many other talented stars like TR Mahalingam, PU Chinnappa, NS Krishnan, Nageswara Rao and Balaiah. NS Krishnan was a legend in his own class and is still being talked about for his contribution to Tamil cinema and the way he changed the concept of comedy in Tamil cinema.

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Now began the era of having two favourite stars at the top. The bone of contention amongst Tamil cinema fans of yesteryear is who among MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan was the best. The legend of MG Ramachandran began with his first movie Sathi Leelavathi, coming in 1936. The first phases of his career were like any other actor with there being the ups and downs. The big break came in 1947, through the movie Manthiri Kumari. This movie gave MGR the big break he needed, and by the time the 1954 movie Malaikallan was declared a blockbuster, MGR was a superstar. Since then, the superstar mantle stayed firmly with him throughout his career as an actor and then politician, going on to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu not once or twice, but thrice. During the same period, Tamil cinema had the pleasure of seeing one of the most talented actors ever. Considered the Marlon Brando of Indian cinema, Villupuram Chinnaiahpillai Ganesan known more popularly as Sivaji Ganesan, made his on screen debut through the 1952 movie Paraasakthi. Right from the first movie, his talent shone on the silver screens and he has delighted innumerous fans with his dazzling performances. Widely considered an institution unto himself Sivaji, as he was commonly known, was a powerhouse performer and the way he brought to life all the characters he played is something that generations of actors are still learning from. The cinema lovers of Kollywood were commonly divided as to who between MGR and Sivaji was the most fitting to hold the mantle of the numero uno star of the industry. The 1954 movie Koondukkili was the only movie that brought together both Sivaji and MGR on the big screens. These two stars ruled the roost and had their own legions of fans, despite there being very many other talented stars like Muthuraman, Gemini Ganesan, Ravichandran, Jaishankar and many others.

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The next two stars to take the center stage and continue the battle for the number one spot were Superstar Rajinikanth and Ulaganayagan Kamal Haasan. Kamal Haasan began acting at the age of four and also has a President’s Gold Medal for his very first project as a child artiste itself – Kalathur Kannamma. Following up with character roles, he made his debut as a hero through the 1975 movie Apoorva Ragangal. Since then, there has been no turning back for the actor. Considered a pioneer for bringing technologies from across the world to Indian and Tamil cinema, and considered to be the most talented of all actors across our country, Kamal Haasan in the over 50 years of his career has earned the distinction of being the most looked up to actor by the current generation stars. Some stars’ change their names and adapt to their screen names after entering the industry. Over time, the stars’ original names are forgotten and only their screen names are remembered. However, this star despite having a screen name different from his original name, has reached such heights of fame that both his names will remained etched in the annals of cinema forever. Sivaji Rao Gaekwad, the original name of the Superstar – Rajinikanth is somebody who is known the world over. His style and stunts have won him legions of die-hard fans spanning all age groups. Each of his movie releases and birthdays are celebrated by his fans as a festival. Marking his entry into cinema in a character role in the 1975 movie Aboorva Ragangal, Rajinikanth went on to make his debut as a hero through the movie Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri. Despite starting out with minor roles and roles with negative shades, Rajinikanth has grown into one of the most famous larger-than-life heroes Indian cinema has ever seen. The era of Rajni and Kamal also saw the emergence of a number of other famous stars like Vijayakanth, Karthik, Prabhu, Sathyaraj and many others. However, it was these two stars whose fans were forever at loggerheads claiming their star to be sitting atop the No. 1 throne.

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The reign of Rajinijkanth and Kamal Haasan is not over yet, but the movie world has expanded to include the subsequent generations of stars. Following these two legends, the two stars to hold maximum sway over their fans are Ilayathalapathy Vijay and Thala Ajith. Vijay entered cinema at a very early age and played a number of roles before turning hero with the 1992 film Naalaya Theerpu and a number of romantic roles later, became one of the most talked-about stars with a huge fan following, who also regularly liken him to Superstar Rajinikanth. The other star who has reached a special place in his fans’ hearts is Ajith Kumar, whom his fans fondly refer to as Thala. With no filmy background, Ajith has ascended to a position where his fans consider him as the holder of the number one tag in Kollywood. Ajith and Vijay’s fans hold their idols in high regard and used to have quite a few skirmishes during their movies releases. It was even considered that these stars used to be professional competitors, however repeatedly the two have assured their fans of their friendship and now it has become common knowledge that the duo shares a warm camaraderie. In the same time as these two stars, a sort of sideline rivalry has been happening between the talented performers Suriya and Vikram. Madhavan too has silently enjoyed his share of the limelight in this period.

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The next generation rivalry for the top position is going on between the young stars Dhanush and Silambarasan. As is usual, the fans of these two stars used to have a major rivalry going on but the frequent displays of unity and friendship between these two stars has united their fans too. This too is happening at a time when there are a number of other well known stars like Jiiva, Karthi, Arya, Jayam Ravi, Vishal, Bharath and Jai. The list does not end here… We already have a new crop of stars out on the horizon, who are taking over the hearts of their fans… Sivakarthikeyan, Gautham Karthik, Vijay Sethupathi and Vikram Prabhu have already established themselves on the big screen and also started racking up the numbers in their fans counts. It looks like a new battlefield is getting itself ready… Who do you think would be the top two contenders for the numero uno slot? The star wars will continue…

– Vicky

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