Most leading men of Tamil cinema have an inexplicable reputation for staying away from playing characters with shades of anything other than white. On those rare occasions that they play a baddie, they feel compelled to also play a more traditional heroic role. The exceptions are few and far between such as Ajith in Mankatha. But even setting aside potential negative market implications of playing a villain, even playing characters that have flaws seem to make these men develop cold feet. We have to be thankful to character actors such as Prakashraj for having the luxury to portray well-fleshed out characters that are not saddled with the pressure of being squeaky-clean. But in my book, the man that blazed the trail for such characters was Raghuvaran. While he played the traditional villainous characters memorably in movies like Baasha and Mudhalvan and straightforward, good men in films like Mugavari, where he created a niche was playing characters that made difficult life choices. Be it hiding the existence of a child in Anjali, surreptitiously reviving ties with a former love interest in Aahaa, he was marvelous in well-written, complex roles. Near the top of that list is his character in KS Adhiyaman’s Thotta Chinungi.
|Raghuvaran in Thotta Chinungi|
Raghuvaran plays the role of a vulnerable man who gets to marry the love of his life (an excellent Revathi). But post marriage, he starts to lead a life of disappointment and resentment. Revathi’s tacit, unspoken love for her husband is in sharp contrast to the latter’s expectation of a demonstrative, nurturing, maternal woman. Adhiyaman shows remarkable maturity in showcasing these two characters, both inherently good but vastly different in thought and expression. Adding further complexity to this relationship are Revathi’s close friend (Karthik, turning in a mature performance) and her brother (Nagendra Prasad).
It is a lot easier to play a character that tears up outwardly when compared to playing a role where one has to project inner anguish on screen. I have often felt that certain actors have a way with their eyes that makes it easy for them to project inner pain. And Raghuvaran was a master at that. The eyes that could unleash uncontrollable rage in antagonist roles could project vulnerability equally well. And add to that a voice that could crack just the right amount to bring out the emotion of an atrophied heart, Raghuvaran’s performance in Thotta Chinungi becomes spellbinding.
Four sequences merit mention. These are important points in the arc of Raghuvaran's character. As disparate points, they are remarkable enough. But as dots that help sketch the arc of his character, they form parts of a deeply satisfying and profound experience. The first one is a casual sequence in the kitchen where Karthik barges in uninvited. Raghuvaran is taken aback but pays attention to Karthik’s every word and gesture. Karthik utters a casual line about Revathi’s cooking and her future child that Raghuvaran memorably reiterates in the final scene. The second is the scene in the middle of the night where the volcano implodes. Raghuvaran collapsing onto the sofa as he blunders backwards is a masterful exhibition of body language in service of an emotion. The third sequence is the one where Raghuvaran dissects his own character in a conversation with his sister – the “nallavana kettavana” phrase, to me, is as impactful here as it was in Nayagan. And the fourth one is the climax where he reconciles with Karthik. There are no grand gestures or flowery prose. Just a simple restatement of a desire that had been expressed by Karthik (in the kitchen scene). The economy of words and nuance of expression join hands to wrap up the movie on a delicately emotional note.
I once had the opportunity to interact with Anu Hasan after reading her delightfully sunny book, “Sunny Side Up.” In that conversation, I had told her that the reason I liked the book over many other non-fiction books was her candor. The frank self-analysis of herself gave me the impression of a friend sitting beside me and sharing life experiences as opposed to someone preaching from a pedestal. I state this because that is how I demarcate between image-conscious heroes and bold character actors who play lifelike characters. Raghuvaran might not be alive anymore. But he has left behind such an important body of work. An oeuvre that is filled with characters who have ‘taught’ their own life lessons by just projecting human experiences in an honest, authentic manner. That is the sort of lesson that is loaded with meaning. That is the kind of impact that endures indelibly despite the winds of time.
The four sequences that I cited are at the following points in the video below:
32:10 min, 1:39:05 min, 2:11:50 min, 2:18:20 min