From Sivaji Ganesan to Vikram, the Tamil film industry has a deep love for police roles
Kollywood has a fascination for cops. Whether they are spoofed in crass comedies or play protagonists in hard-hitting films, cops have been featured prominently in Tamil cinema of the past and present. Down South, when an actor plays a tough police officer, it means that he has arrived as a commercial mass hero.
The ‘Dirty Harry’ style cop, an encounter specialist who cracks down on the underworld and fights the corrupt system, is the most wanted role among Kollywood superstars. Every upcoming male star in the industry dreams of someday playing a variation of the angry young cop. It also enables the most gentle of actors to turn into an action hero. There is a belief in Tamil cinema that those who play action heroes have a longer career graph than those playing soft romantic roles. One of the biggest hits of the iconic actor Sivaji Ganesan is the family cop story Thanga Pathakkam (1974), a superhit that celebrated 100 days in many screens across Tamil Nadu. Rajinikanth has played the cop in Moondru Mugam, while Kamal Haasan’s most memorable cop movies are Kaakki Sattai and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. Two cop films, Chatriyan and Captain Prabhakaran, gave Vijaykanth the sobriquet ‘Captain’ in the industry.
The trend continues till date. Vijay has Pokkiri and Suriya excelled in Kaakha Kaakha and the Singam series. Karthi played the mass commercial cop in Siruthai, but went on to do a gritty realistic police officer in Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru. Ajith was impressive as a cop in Yennai Arindhaal, while a new-age actor like Sivakarthikeyan has already played a cop in Kaaki Sattai(2015). While Vishal has donned khakhi in Paayum Puli, Vijay Sethupathi and Madhavan played cops in Sethupathi and Vikram Vedha respectively. And, 15 years after Saamy (2003), Vikram is back in a dual role as Aarusaamy IPS and his son Ramasaamy IPS in Saamy Square, releasing this Friday.
There are two kinds of cop movies being made in Kollywood. The first is the larger-than-life commercial cinema action cop, who spews punch dialogues and takes on an army of thugs single-handedly (not to forget, he also romances the leading lady in exotic foreign locations). Films like Saamy, Singam and Pokkirifall into this category. The other kind of cop movies are gritty with story and characters as realistic as possible, with songs in the background, like Vikram Vedhaand Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru. In these films, the heroes seem to be fighting their own inner demons, and at the same time taking on a corrupt system. As leading distributor and exhibitor S Pictures Srinivasan says, “Playing a super cop is always a favourite with big stars with a mass fan base. The story has to fit in with the star’s image and it should have something for the family audiences to make it work at the box-office. If the cop film turns out to be a hit for an upcoming star, then his market value increases as an action hero.”
Two of Tamil cinema’s most popular franchise films — Suriya’s Singam and Vikram’s Saamy series — are in the cop genre. Says its director Hari, considered the most successful ‘cop movie specialist’, “There is tremendous recall value with brand Saamy. Cop stories are one of the most popular genres among audiences, and I love making them with powerful heroes and family sentiments, laced with explosive action and other entertainment ingredients. I tell you people love watching the idealistic, honest and tough police officer taking on the corrupt system. It gives a vicarious thrill to the common man as he always secretly wants to fight injustice in our society.”
A lot of Tamil cinema’s new-age actors are also trying out the cop role. Vikram Prabhu plays an encounter specialist in his next release Thuppakki Munai, the teaser of which released recently. “It’s not your regular cop film,” he says, “The character I play is sure to create an impact.” Vijay Antony is also striving for the all-important action hero image; he is playing a cop in upcoming film Thimiru Pudichavan. It looks like the fascination for cops is here to stay.