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how we lost the comedy hero in prabhudheva as he searched for the director in him
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How we lost the ‘comedy hero’ in Prabhudheva as he searched for the director in him

In 2005, the Telugu film Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana was released which changed the course of the film industry. The career of Siddharth, who was till then ‘underexposed’ to the Tollywood audience, was rewritten. It increased the growing Telugu fanbase of the film’s heroine, Trisha. The movie had a glorious run of 100 days in as many as 32 theaters in the unbifurcated Andhra Pradesh. In the years that followed, the film was remade in nine languages. Prabhudheva, who debuted as the director with the movie, changed his career track. The year marked the beginning of his ascent as a bankable director, who went on to direct top Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Ajay Devgn. And that’s also the year, Tamil cinema lost a ‘comedy hero’. Prabhudheva, son of veteran dance choreographer Sundaram Master, started as one of the backup dancers in films. He quickly grabbed the attention of the Tamil audience by making special appearances in songs of other leading stars. “Laalakku Dol Dappima” from Suriyan was just a start, and his early popularity peaked with “Chikku Bukku Railae” from Shankar’s Gentleman. There was something about the way he moved that left the audience spellbound. They had seen such agility only in Michael Jackson, and hence Prabudheva got the moniker Michael Jackson of India. Though Prabhudheva made his debut with Indhu (1994), it was when director Shankar roped him as the lead actor in his next film, Kadhalan (1994), that Kollywood ended up getting a brilliant comedy hero. A quintessential actor in Tamil cinema goes from being a lover boy to a family star to a police officer to a mass commercial star. In the Tamil hero’s journey, comedy has space only during the initial part of his career. Once he starts playing a cop, going back to being goofy is not something a wannabe mass hero does. An exception to this is Kamal Haasan. On the other hand, Prabhudheva never really attempted to be a commercial star. He predominantly stuck to his comedy dramas and that makes him a unique comedy hero of Tamil cinema. Also read – Here are five films that show Prabhudheva is more than just a dancer While Prabhudheva is known beyond Tamil Nadu mainly for his dance (later for his directorials), in his home ground, he was considered to be an actor with impeccable comic sense. At the start of his career, he played a naive and innocent young man in Raasaiyaa (1995) and Mr Romeo (1996). Most of his humor worked because of another ingredient: Vadivelu. The two had an incredible chemistry that brought about a truly original and sophisticated humor that’s incredibly regional. If Shankar’s Kadhalan featured them as goofy college youngsters rolling on the mud for AR Rahman’s experimental “Petta Rap”, Raasaiya had them as uneducated rural lads who could make comedy out of English alphabets. Their collaboration peaked with Manadhai Thirudivittai (2001), which brought them together after a long gap. In the film, their ‘inside jokes’ play out brilliantly and the viewer feels he is part of it too. It was an eccentric and unique slapstick comedy that wasn’t attempted by anyone else in the industry till then. Vadivelu’s broken English and the deadpan reactions of Prabhudheva still continue to be the stuff of Tamil memes. Even without Vadivelu, Prabhudheva proved he could entertain audiences in subsequent films like VIP (1997), Minsara Kanavu (1997), and Naam Iruvar Nammaku Iruvar (1998). All these movies, had one thing in common-the thing that’s missing in new age Tamil cinema-drama! They provided the story some breathing time for the narrative, which is the cradle of humour. And at this juncture, Kamal Haasan chose to team up with this emerging actor for the comedy-drama Kathalaa Kathalaa (1998). With Crazy Mohan’s dialogues and Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s direction, Kathalaa Kathalaa featured Prabhudheva as a stutterer, a convincing one at that. He never really gets to finish a dialogue in the film. Despite being redundant, the gimmick works every time, thanks to Prabhudheva’s impeccable sense of timing. It is hard to describe the subtle yet effective performance of the actor in it. Be it the time he gets shocked at what his friend does to his painting or the time when he has to pretend that he doesn’t stutter, he is outrageously funny. It is easy to box the actor as a comedy hero, given that most of his films were comedy dramas. And it is true that ‘versatility’ isn’t a word that gets used while talking about his acting prowess. He doesn’t even change his looks much for his roles. Yet, there’s something affable about his unmatched screen presence. However, it was lost when he chose to make a comeback as an actor after his directorial dreams. His return to Tamil as an actor with Devi (2016) was middling. It was not the same anymore. He even teamed up with Karthik Subbaraj for a horror film that showcased him in a new light, but the performance and the film went unnoticed. Since his comeback as an actor, nothing has clicked for the once-successful comedy star. To quote the cliche, maybe he lost the diamond in search of gold.

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