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Farewell, Raghuvaran!

Last updated on: March 24, 2008 11:52 IST

"When [actors] are talking, they are servants of the dramatist. It is what they can show the audience when they are not talking that reveals the fine actor." - Cedric Hardwicke

Think angst. Think repressed emotions, fury, understanding, tenderness, psychotic, manic fits. Think Raghuvaran. You instantly remember his expressive face, full lips and his capability to produce expressions across the acting spectrum, and more.

The veteran actor who passed away on March 19 performed predominantly in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada movies.

He was probably one of very few artists who accomplished every character-driven transition -- from hero to villain to supporting actor to protagonist -- in slick fashion.

Raghuvaran got off to anything but a conventional start in films. He began well enough, as a disillusioned engineering student in the 1982 Ezhavathu Manithan (The Seventh Man).

But it was his role as a man who steadily falls under the spell of alcohol in Sivasankari's Oru Manidhanin Kathai (The Tale of a Man) in 1985 that really turned things around.

The author went on record to say that she'd rarely come across any actor so well-suited for the role. It was eventually made into a movie, Thyagu.

True to the trends of those days, Raghuvaran did play the typical hero in a few movies, but sadly, they never did well. Small wonder, as he was destined for more diverse roles that would require far more from him than any other actor could ever hope to give.

Along the seventies and eighties, the general conception of a screen villain was extremely stereotypic barring a very few exceptions: loud laughs, gnashing teeth, build like a hulk and falling like nine pins once the hero struck a blow.

But Raghuvaran managed to create his own brand of villainy: his words were delivered softly, but his eyes held a sort of crazed venom that gave you the shivers. He rarely indulged in violence; his body language more than made up for it by displaying the uproar in his mind.

Remember the crazed vengeful husband of Puriyatha Puthir? Contests actually went on to count the number of times he said "I Know," caught in a lunatic frenzy about wife Rekha's so-called affair… and he said it a record 33 times, each with a different inflection, tone and voice that conveyed volumes of meaning. The performance was a landmark in Raghuvaran's career and led to more such unique roles.

One marvellous example was the irate and self-centred son who breaks up a nuclear family, in Visu's classic Samsaaram Adhu Minsaaram. Far from traditional saint-like elder sons, Raghuvaran's performance was blistering in its many different shades.

Not that he stuck to playing the bad guy all the time. In a classic move away from the beaten track, Raghuvaran played a loving father and affectionate husband in the Mani Ratnam experiment, Anjali. Watching him play with his kids and try, desperately, to shield his wife from the horrors of a mentally-challenged child was just a sneak peak into the range of emotions the actor could actually produce.

Regretfully, his own personal life took a nosedive even as he achieved some success in movies. Caught in an endless and life-sucking spiral of drugs and alcohol, his career suffered. Marriage with actress Rohini and a smooth family life seemed to bring him back to normalcy -- but this too was short-lived as they divorced after eight years. Still, never again did Raghuvaran slide down in such a precarious fashion afterwards.

The long-limbed, slick-talking Mark Anthony, the antagonist to Rajnikanth's Manik Bhaasha's in Bhaasha was a trendsetter; it began the trend of the villain actually upstaging the hero on certain counts. The run went on for quite a while -- but even as it did, he had managed to morph into yet another artist in another path breaking movie: Love Today.

Not many people could predict how well Raghuvaran would fit in, not as a villain, but as a loving, understanding father of the lead actor, Vijay. But Raghuvaran surpassed all expectations, applying himself to the role with such subtlety that it set many yearning for just such a father. Thereafter followed many roles that showcased a side many were surprised to learn:

The acerbic, yet understanding brother-in-law of Madhavan in Run; the evil gangster with a soft side in Ullaasam, the jailbird-turned-doting father who yearns for his daughter's love in Amarkkalam, the husband who is separated from his wife, their relationship fuelled by misunderstandings in Nerukku Ner, the sensitive and subtle brother who unquestioningly supports his brother's decisions in Mugavari; the father who tries desperately to hold his family together in Alai (Wave)…

Raghuvaran wasn't afraid of the so-called cameos: as the blink-and-you-miss software exec in Kandukondein Kandukondein he still made a mark, not to mention his role in Muthu.

And then it was back to mind-numbing villainy: As the chief minister who's forced to face an intrepid interviewer and sit on the proverbial hot-seat in Shankar's Mudhalvan, he was magnificent. A spate of films followed, in which he donned roles of hateful politicians, outwitted gangsters and serious civil servants in quick succession.

In Bheema, when he's the sharp but lagging Periyavar, he cuts a lean, mean figure. In Sila Neranglalil, though, the last film released while he was still alive, he played a superbly crafted role as psychiatric doctor who has his own scheming agenda, even as he tries to help the lead characters out.

In a clichéd world filled with a thousand rules and explanations about what acting really is, Raghuvaran managed to set a trend all by himself, using words only as the last resort to convey his emotions. He broke down multiple stereotypes: namely that a villain could not possibly play at subtlety, or that humour would never go hand-in-hand with an aging character.

Raghuvaran brought refinement and intricacy to roles that were usually played in two-dimensions and redefined roles that others put aside as ordinary. Every mannerism reflected thought and method; his performances, villainous or otherwise, were so well done that speculation arose about what he would do in each film.

Farewell, then, to a man who truly tried to rise above stilted images, clichéd acting and his own shortcomings -- to paint scintillating performances onscreen.

Pavithra Srinivasan