Dhanush's Bollywood debut a second outing for south stars in Hindi cinema?
Does Dhanush mark the second coming of the south Indian hero in Hindi cinema?
Yeh south wale hero north mein nahin chalte. This nice little cautionary note came from a film trade guy I was chatting with just ahead of the release of Raanjhanaa. My man was sceptical about its leading man, Dhanush, and how he would be accepted in the Hindi heartland, which has traditionally and vocally and insensitively been derisive of "dark- complexioned", southern-inflected heroes.
I could see where his concern was coming from. Hindi cinema has always heartily embraced southern lasses. The accents of these lovelies, thick as gur-laden molasses (ever heard Hema Malini and Sridevi with attention?) have never been deal-breakers. More recently, Deepika Padukone's dialogue delivery is an example of Hindi spoken with a faint-but-noticeable south of the Vindhyas accent (which, from what I hear, she's stretched and gone all exaggeratedly aii-aii-yo in her forthcoming Chennai Express). But Deepika Padukone's ability to wear short, tight dresses and dance with abandon is a good distracting tactic. Who wants to listen when there is eye candy?
No, it is not the ladies that there has been a problem with. It is the gents. They've had sporadic successes in Bollywood. Kamal Haasan was a terrific besotted lover in Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981), and the film was a monster hit. Everyone, including Kamal Haasan, thought that he had conquered Hindi cinema. But never after did he get that kind of rapturous response in the north. Not when he was romancing the still-gorgeous Dimple Kapadia in Saagar, not when he was mentoring the childlike Sridevi in Sadma. His cross-dressed, big-bossomed Chachi 420 drew laughs, but that was more for his comedic skills, not for his lover-like mien.
Sigh-worthy lovers in Bollywood have almost always been the super-starry preserve of the "fair", tall (mostly) Khans and the Kapoors, whose cheeks have been as pink as their leading ladies'. Rajinikanth's tryst with Bollywood had him vie for Sridevi's affections in Chaalbaaz, but he had to share the stage with Sunny Deol, and Sridevi, who was the real hero of the film. He did have solo turns where he successfully fought off the bad guys, but most of his A-list Bollywood attempts were ensembles. In a Hum, Rajini was always going to be counted alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda, not as the one and only Rajnikanth.