Second among Equals

Damon Graham Devereux Hill was a British racing driver from England. In 1996 Damon won the Formula One World Championship. Once while talking about the difference between winning and coming second Damon Hill said "Winning is everything. The only ones who remember you when you come second are your wife and your dog."
Those words may be uncompromising but history will do have some pages for the so called second among the winners. In Tamil cinema also we have a lot of second among equals who made the industry proud by being perfect parallels to the boasting heroes.
Tamil cinema has a rich heritage of second heroes who are winners in their own rights. They balanced their popularity between playing second to a super hero in some films and also playing solo hero in many others.
Gemini Ganesan who was considered one of the triumvirates on par with MGR and Sivaji, has done a bundle of films playing second to Sivaji and others without losing his identity. SS Rajendran is another big time hero who played memorable roles along with the likes of MGR and Sivaji. Probably the stars had no airs and there was a stable place for all. If you go further back all stars were equal and the casting was a cake walk for the production companies.
Luminous actors like Muthuraman, Jaishankar and Sivakumar played second hero to more established actors like MGR and Sivaji even as they were playing solo heroes successfully in other films.
Muthuraman played second to MGR in films like Oru Thai Makkal, Nalla Neram and others. He also played parallel roles with Sivaji Ganesn in films like Avanthan Manithan, Vaira Nenjam and more. In those times Muthuraman was an established hero with solo hero films like Vaazhndhu Kaattukiren, Kanavan Manaivi, Ellorum Nallavare, Perum Pugazhum and many others. Jaishankar did do films like Kulama Kunaman, Anbalippu, Anbu Sahodarargal and more playing the second hero even when he was being hailed as a haloed action hero.
Muthuraman and Sivakumar are perhaps the only actors who had immense faith in their own talents and regularly did two hero subjects. That was in the seventies which is arguably the golden era of Tamil cinema in all considerations. That era also had more independent solo heroes who were willing to play a character next to another hero. Vijayakumar, Jaiganesh, AVM Rajan, Ravichandran are some who added great value to cinema in the seventies without inhibitions. Hats off to them.
Just think of the possibility of remaking the super hit 'Neeya' today with stars of equitable popularity. It is impossible to do it. The times have changed today and stars are either at two ends and there is no one in between.
Even in the eighties things weren't as bad as it is now.  In the eighties the lines were clearly drawn and the only two super stars never trespassed. Others like Vijayakanth, Prabhu, Karthik, Sathyaraj, Chandrashekar, Nizhalgal Ravi, Suresh, Mohan, Rajeev obliged to play one of the two even while carrying many movies on their shoulders at that time. Kalaiyum Neeye starred Vijayakanth and Prabhu together when they were at their peak.
Until the last decade the concept of second lead was in vogue. With the advent of young super stars who are particular that they should occupy maximum frames in a film, the second leads have been reduced to a comedian or a minor villain. Did ego killed character?
Today there are not many options left with directors. The very popular actors have a star halo that will not let them be one among the few. Others like Shaam and Karan are endowed with abundant talent but lack that customary star value.
The advantage of ringing back the tradition is that it will be easy to find the most apt characters for roles. Imagine the struggles of Shankar in finalizing the three characters for his '3 Idiots' remake. Except Aamir Khan's characters other two are considered less important and top heroes show no interest.
In the end, just don't forget that SSR, Muthuraman, Sivakumar, Ravichandran, Vijayakumar, Jaiganesh, Prabhu, Karthik, Nizhalgal Ravi, Radha Ravi likes will be remembered as long as MGR, Sivaji, Rajini, Kamal like are remembered.  Let's develop more second among equals. Let's not have a dearth of talents.


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