Until the late nineteen sixties the urban-rural divide was an insignificant factor in India and so Tamil cinema,was deeply oriented to the then existing belief that India's soul was in the villages.Most of the films made,were either based on historical fiction or related to life in villages because India was then more a land of villages than of towns.Hence it was difficult to say during those decades,who were the heroes fit for urban stories and who would rightly fit into characters of the rural tales.
Take for instance the case of MGR.His facial composition was absolutely unfit for the rural roots,though he did films like Thaaikku Pin Thaaram,Periya Idathu Penn,Vivasaayee,Pattikkaattu Ponnaiah,Maattukkaaravelan and so on, ebulliently.One would love to see him in royal garbs or in highly sophisticated urban roles like those of a doctor or lawyer or cop.In fact,for the Tamil audience the mere appearance of MGR on screen would do.His roles were immaterial for them.One should really be blessed to be loved by so many people without any expectation and MGR was truly blessed in this regard,taking himself closer to the people of the Tamil soil,through stereotyped roles of a do gooder and the Good Samaritan.Hence the urban rural divide did not matter in his role delineation.
Whereas, Sivaji Ganesan not only clearly marked this division but also made his acting career a compendium of human life with its galaxy of characters and events.He had a face made for characters of all sorts and with that he created a world of faces and moved far beyond towns and villages into chronicles and myths.However,some of his wonderful rural films were Makkalai Petra Makaraasi, Bhaaga Pirivinai,Paava Mannippu,Pazhani,Kulama Gunama,Enga Oor Raja,Pattikaadaa Pattanamaa,Savaale Samaali, Kalthoon,Padikkadha Pannaiyaar and so on.Of these,his role as Sengodan in Makkalai Petra Magarasi and that of Mookaiyyan in Pattikkaadaa Pattanamaa were perfect revelations of rural fragrance and fineness. Sivaji Ganesan stoutly established the pride and glory of what a village life means in P. Madhavan's rural blockbuster Pattikaadaa Pattanamaa.With the Chevalier's magnificent role play the village voice reached newer heights,spreading the splendour of farming and labour.
Gemini Ganesan's profile was never made of the rural stuff,though his performance made its punch in films like Devar's Vaazha Vaitha Dheivam,AVM's Kakathur Kannamma,Raamu, K.S.Gopalakrishnan's Karpagam and later in his natural performance as a respectable village elder in Vijayakanth's Ponmana Chelvan and K.Balachander's Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi.He also caused some lighter moments with rural breeze in Sundar.C's Mettukudi.The next generation heroes like Jai Shankar and Ravichandran changed the track by travelling mostly on action zones.But still Jai Shankar's Mukoortha Naal and Ravichandran's Kumari Penn contained a lot of worthy rural material. R.Muthuraman's unique rural shows were Sondham and Namma Veetu Theivam and Mudhalali and Manapandal remained as the rural best of S.S.Rajendran.
While Sivakumar quite often proved to be unique for urban roles,his characterization in films like Ponnukku Thanga Manasu,Rosaappu Ravikkai Kaari,Vandichakkaram, Annakkili Pudhuvellam and Pattikaattu Raja were films denoting innate village vibes and flair for playing rural characters with comfortable ease and captivating vigour.
Rajinikanth's face carries a significant rural charm.Despite the Super Star image his films like Engeyo Ketta Kural,Mullum Malarum,Kaali,Murattu Kaalai,Thambikku Endha Ooru, Dharmadhurai,Raajaadhi Raajaa and Muthu could be called unique village stories establishing the rural appeal so spontaneously evoked by the convincing facial indicators of this invincible actor. Rajinikanth's earliest stamp as an uncouth villain called Parattai in Bharathiraja's debut film Padhinaaru Vayadhinile astoundingly established his rough and tough rural moorings.
Contrarily,his contemporary Kamalahasan is like Gemini Ganesan whose rural hold is just half way through.But he has a few remarkable rural films in his archives such as Padhinaaru Vayadhinile,Sakala Kalaa Vallavan,Singara Velan, Mahanadhi and Virumaandi,wonderfully celebrating village vibrations leaving indelible impressions in audience memory.As Sappaani wearing just his loins,Kamal memorably personified the poverty of a little hamlet and walked away with a national award under the brilliant direction of Bharati Raja.The next two films in the list were great humour shows and the last two were gripping displays of rural innocence, back stabs and justifiable revenge blows.His Devar Makan on the other hand exhibited the plight of an educated youth from a village undergoing the trauma of incorrigible family feud and vendetta,embedded in fundamental flaws of a community waiting to be refined and liberated from its thirst for blood.
Sathyaraj is a hardcore village hero.Besides his amazing cop role in Walter Vetrivel,his exclusive stylish roles were for films like Makkal En Pakkam,Airport,Jeeva,Anna Nagar Muthal Theru and Brhamma.Otherwise,starting from the role of a crude wolfish village chieftain in Mani Rathnam's Pakal Nilavu,till his striking character display as a village big guy craving for a male child in Kadaikutti Singam,Sathyaraj seems to have felt more comfortable with the fabulous streets of the villages belonging to Pollachi and Coimbatore.Be it Vaazhkai Chakkaram or Vela Kedachiduchu or films like Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi,Vaathiyaar Veetu Pillai,Kunguma Pottu Gounder,Kadalora Kavidhaikal,Thaai Maaman and Thirumathi Pazhanichamy it was a village parade of Satyaraj with his innate robust mischief in combination with Goundamani or Manivannan.The best in the lot was his dynamic portrayal as Balu Thevar in Bharatiraja's immortal film Vedham Puthithu.Satyaraj could be rightly called the most vibrating rural hero of Tamil Cinema.
Following Sathyaraj was Sarathkumar,commanding the village locales in memorable films like Periya Gounder Ponnu,Cheran Paandian,Namma Annachi,Naattaamai,Natpukkaaga, Sooriya Vamsam and Aiyya.Though Kongu Tamil is not his native dialect he has rendered it so well in several films directed by K.S. Ravikumar. Interestingly,in most of the films he did dual roles as father and son casting a striking note of difference in character delineation.Like Satyaraj,Saratkumar has felicitously projected his rural profiles.
Captain Vijayakanth who has impressively cast a niche for himself in cop roles and characters of persons belonging to the army and top notch bureaucracy,has quite a lot of films to speak about his rustic and affirmative rural depiction of roles.The best in the lot is that of a dignified and gloried village chieftain,reputed for his fairness in deposition of justice and personal integrity that never deviates from the path of justice. Vijayakanth's role in Chinna Gounder was the most illustrious milestone in his acting career and he rightly deserved an award for his role play.The other remarkable village roles of Vijayakanth were for films like Naane Raja Naane Mandhiri,Amman Koil Kizhakkaale,Vaidhekhi Kaathirundhaal, Kannupada Povudhayyaa,Thavasi and Sokka Thangam.Like Rajinikanth,his complexion and ruggedness perfectly got him wedded to his rural roles with an extraordinary stamp of nativity that is found to be missing in the dialogue delivery of the Superstar.
Tamil cinema's universal village hero is Ramarajan whose films like Karakaattakkaaran, Enga Ooru Paatukkaaran and many films ending with the Raasaa suffix,took his profile far away from the urban side.His story line,costumes and dialogue delivery,made him breathe the rural air and stamped his hero image inseparably to the radiating rural streets.Throughout his acting career Ramarajan remained as the one and only rural hero.However the best of his rural films were Enga Oor Paattukkaaran,Pongi Varum Kaveri,Manasukketha Maharaasaa, Thangamaana Rasa,Karakattakkaaran and Thangathin Thangam.
Between the heirs of Sivaji Ganesan and R.Muthuraman,Prabu's best rural films were Ninaivu Chinnam,Chinna Thambi,Parambarai and Mitta Miraasu. Of these Chinna Thambi scored a special place as an immortal rural love story in audience memory and as a profound celebration of innocent youth. Karthik Muthuraman's splendid rural blockbusters were Alaikal Oivadhillai,Pandi Naattu Thangam,Varusham Padhiraaru and Kizhakku Vaasal.The last two in the list were extraordinary crowd pullers on account of the astute direction of Fazil and R.V.Udhayakumar and the soul searching music of the musical prophet Ilayaraja.
Among the other new generation heroes,Vijay's rural best were Thiruppaachi and Sivakasi while Ajith is precisely an urban hero with his exceptional role in Veeram. Madhavan, Arvindswamy and Abbas are all stamped with a city image though Madhavan's Dum Dum Dum,Aravinswamy's Thaalaattu could be seen as exceptions. Prashant's Winner contained a lot of the village stock.Vikram's Kaadhal Sadugudu was an exalting rural love story.
Sivakumar's elder son mostly moved away from village stories excepting his role in Hari's Aaru. Nevertheless,his younger son Karthi gave us the two amazing rural films Komban and Kadaikutti Singam besides his debut film Paruthi Veeran. Karthi's face seems to be culled for village characters despite the fact that he made a fascinating demonstration of his urban strength in films like Paiyyaa,Thozhan and Kaatru Veliyidai.Some of the other films that enticed the rural audience in the recent past were Siva Kartikeyan's Rajini Murugan and Vijay Sethupathi's Karuppan.
As film heroes have to don different types of characters it is the over all performance
potential of a hero that determines his longstanding position in silver screen.But villages are the backbone of human life and the events and characters surrounding the rural milieu form a predominant part of the film medium and hence heroes' ability to place themselves comfortably in a rural story line both in terms of body and mind,takes them closer to the rural masses and increases their popularity levels.In this respect it could be said that outstanding heroes like Sivaji Ganesan RajiniKanth and Kamalahasan can conveniently shuttle between the metropolises and mind blowing villages as characters inseparably linked to the environment. But heroes like Satyaraj,Vijayakanth,Ramarajan,Sarath Kumar and Karthik Sivakumar are closer to the villages with their body and spirit communing with the fields and farm houses.