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Kollywood on the other side of glory

Express News Service

Till 1975, eight years after the institution of the National Awards, the Best Actor and Best Actress awards, now called Rajat Kamal, were referred to as ‘Bharath’ and ‘Urvasi’, respectively. Such was the impact that awardees Sharada and Gopy continue to be called Urvasi Sharada and Bharath Gopy in Malayalam cinema. Despite the name change, future winners such as Mammootty and Mohanlal were also referred to the same way. For actors, these awards soon became a testament to their prowess, and a milestone. But how does this incredible recognition influence their career? Is it for the good? Not exactly.

Take, for instance, the 2011 winner for the Best Supporting Actor, Sivabalan aka Appukutty. “I’m not really sure about the impact of the National Award,” says Appukutty, who does, however, acknowledge that a fair amount of recognition comes with winning the coveted award. “But there are also drawbacks,” he says. “Filmmakers begin to approach you only with certain kinds of roles,” adds Appukutty, who always harboured dreams of being a comedian in Tamil cinema, still hopes to carve a space for himself in the annals of great comic actors. “After winning the award, it is not like I’m inundated with offers. I’ve been forced to do average roles due to paucity of offers as a comedian.”

Thambi Ramaiah, who won the Best Supporting Actor Award for Mynaa (2010), agrees with Appukutty’s observation. However, he is quick to clarify that doing the role of Arvind Swamy’s father in the Jayam Ravi-starrer was a moment of pride. “I felt proud of my capabilities. The ball is now in the creators’ court and it is up to them to use me to the fullest.”

While it is true that it is the filmmaker who can tap into the potential of an actor, being a National Award-winner seems to have its share of disadvantages. Priyamani, who became the fourth Tamil actress to win the National Award for Best Actress, received a lot of criticism for the roles she did after her award-winning role in the 2007 film, Paruthiveeran. “Winning the award is a huge responsibility, but it shouldn’t be a limiting factor. I don’t see why I should only do a certain kind of cinema. It is important to not get typecast,” she says. “It’s not possible to do a Paruthiveeran every single time. I wanted to do something different. So, I did Malaikottai,” she explains. “People saw me in a different avatar. The role showcased my glamorous side, while also upholding the performer tag.”

It is this ‘performer’ tag which comes with the National Award recognition that actors hold in high esteem. “For National Awards, entertainment is not the only factor. It has to be a special performance,” says Ramaiah, who brings up the pertinent point of how not every role after Mynaa has tested his acting calibre. “Only a handful of films such as Saatai or Kadhai Thirakkadhai Vasanam Iyakkam gave me happiness.”

Unlike veterans and stars who won the National Awards, such as Kamal Haasan or Manorama, it is not exactly easy for upcoming actors such as Priyamani or Appukutty to break out of the mould. “As an actor, you don’t want to be offered the same kind of roles. It gets monotonous,” says Priyamani, who has consciously diversified her roles across languages. For a Malaikottai, she has done a Thirakatha, an Arumugam, or a Charulatha. “There was also a dance number with Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express.”
While the choices of award-winning actors continue to be questioned, discussed, and even criticised, how much of it is fair? “Filmmakers have the responsibility to use actors properly. They cannot be used as mere props,” says Ramaiah. For established actors and stars, a National Award might be validation of their work, but it does not decisively chart the future course of their career. However, for someone who is just starting out, it can mark a major detour.  

Luise Rainer, the first actress to win two Oscars, back-to-back no less, once famously said, “For my second and third films, I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.” It is up to the filmmakers, actors, and the audience, to understand that awards should not define the performer.

Source: The New Indian Express