/ Southern Crossover

Southern Crossover

Jul 22, 2013

Taking a closer look at the South Indian film industry's infiltration into the North

Many top names in the film fraternity in India, especially Amitabh Bachchan and A.R. Rahman, advocate the term "Indian cinema" in place of the commonly known "Bollywood." The reason for this is that India beholds a rich tapestry of creative minds and cinema that stems from all parts has intrinsic specialties. The fact that South India contributes to more than half of all cinema produced in India, in tandem with Tamil films often hitting the U.S. and U.K. box office top 20 very often, indicates that the cinema of India is a whole entity.

With the IIFA (The International Indian Film Academy) awards often coming under criticism for not embracing all of India and focusing only on films from Mumbai (Bollywood, in other words), Kollywood (Tamil), Mollywood (Malayalam), Sandalwood (Kannada) and Tollywood (Telugu) get less publicity. This doesn't mean that their following in the Indian diaspora is any less enthusiastic about the films – their support remains unwavering.

The biggest name to come out of South India is Tamil music wizard A.R. Rahman. He's won a plethora of international awards including double Oscars and Grammys, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and much more. His music is the first to really cross over from Southern to Northern India, from his very beginning on the silver screen, with Mani Ratnam's Roja. This longstanding collaboration of Rahman-Ratnam has led to many multi-lingual films being made in many Indian languages, sometimes with actors chosen to reflect the sensibilities of the vast sub-continent that is India.

Next came a bevy of South Indian beauties led by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who won Miss World in 1994, followed by Deepika Padukone (Om Shanti Om), Shilpa Shetty (who conquered the hearts of England with her appearance on Big Brother) and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), who have been featured on international billboards and are frequently seen on red carpets. All these ladies are from Mangalore in Karnataka. Their endorsements of big brands and film projects in Hollywood as well as Indian cinema has made them hot commodities and they are considered ambassadors for the India of today.

Rai (fondly known as Ash), in fact, started her work in cinema in Tamil, with Mani Ratnam's Iruvar and then went on to sign with Rajiv Menon, a brilliant advertising guru, who was also the cinematographer for Mani Ratnam's Bombay. Menon signed Ash to work on his magnum opus musical Kandukondain Kandukondain. During the shoot, Ash was also working on two pivotal movies, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Taal. While the two latter films plunged her into stardom, she had already put her stamp on Southern cinema by working on India's most expensive film at the time, Jeans, by director Shankar.

Jeans was produced by Sunanda Murali Manohar, a rare female producer who has produced films like Provoked, a real life story with Rai in the lead, and Minnale, also introduced ex-model Kangna Ranaut (Gangster) to Tamil cinema, in Dhaam Dhoom. Ash returns to Tamil cinema in her two current films, where she is back with her early directors, Mani Ratnam (Raavanan shot by top cinematographer Santosh Sivan) and Shankar (Endhiran).

Los Angeles based Tamilian Ashok Amritraj co-produced Jeans and just celebrated 100 films in 2010. His first hit was Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact. He shares chicken tikka masala with Dustin Hoffman, plays tennis with Pierce Brosnan and is friends with Sean Connery, Sidney Poitier and an entire gamut of Hollywood stars. He is an ex-tennis player and has worked with Angelina Jolie, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell and has big films like Bringing Down The House, Traitor and Premonition to his name.

Hollywood is home to a few other big Tamil names. Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes) is one example. Sendhil's cousin, director/actor Jay Chandrasekar (Dukes of Hazzard, Lipstick Jungle), is also well known in Hollywood. One of the biggest Asian names in Hollywood, M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Last Airbender) is also fully South Indian, with his roots being Tamil and Malayalam.

Model, cookbook writer, actress (Glitter, The Mistress of Spices) and TV (Top Chef) celebrity Padma Lakshmi is also a Tamil who is making waves internationally. Naveen Andrews (Sayid on Lost), is of Keralan parentage.

Going back to India, two of the biggest acting names from the South are Kamal Haasan and the KING of South Indian cinema, Rajinikanth. Born to a Marathi family and raised in Karnataka, Rajinikanth's fans go as far as Japan, where he is revered and he commands respect for his inherent spirituality and ability to light up the screen. Kamal Haasan's film Nagayan, directed by Ratnam, was named one of Time Magazine's all-time greatest movies.

The film Ek Duje Keliye (with Kamal Haasan) was the Hindi debut of Rati Agnihotri, of Punjabi origin. Her parents relocated to Chennai when she was a teenager, and she was discovered by the very famous Bharathiraja. She began her run with Pudhiya Varpukal and worked with many top South Indian heroes. She reached the top in Hindi films and is still seen on the big screen. She describes herself as "a Tamilian at heart, a Punjabi by default."

Both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are friends with Amitabh Bachchan, who speaks very fondly of them and has worked with both in Geraftaar. Bachchan is a fan of the working methods in the South and chose a "Tamil dream team" of sorts, with director R. Balki (Cheeni Kum), P.C. Sreeram (Paa, Thiruda Thiruda) and music director Ilaiyaraaja for his home production, the hit movie Paa. It also featured the beautiful and talented Vidya Balan (Lage Raho Munna Bhai), who hails from Kerala. Ilaiyaraaja shot to fame in the North, with the Balu Mahendra-directed film Sadma (a remake of the award-winning Tamil film, Moondram Pirai) featuring Kamal Haasan and Sridevi.

And then there's Sridevi (Chandni, Lamhe). A Tamil child actress who went on to conquer Bollywood, remains as resplendent as she was in her heyday. She worked in many Indian languages and has even become somewhat of a mentor for younger actresses from the South, like Asin, who lives in the same apartment building as her in Mumbai. Asin, who is of Keralan descent, captured the hearts of fans in the South, made an appearance on the cover of Indian Vogue and acted with Aamir Khan in Ghajini, a remake of the Tamil film of the same name. Asin then worked with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan and she will be seen in a couple of remakes of Southern films.

Other golden heroines from the South who made it big in the North are "dream girl" Hema Malini (Sholay, Seeta Aur Geeta), Vyjayanthimala (Devdas, Madhumati), Rekha (who has acted in over 180 films like Khubsoorat and Silsila), Jaya Prada (who has been in over 300 films, like Sargamand Kaamchor) and Meenakshi Seshadri (Duet, Ghatak).

Many musical names originally from the South, like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan (of music director trio Shankar-Ehsaan- Loy), Kavita Krishnamurthy Subramaniam, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and KJ Yesudas, have sung in many Indian languages. Actors like Shruti Haasan (Luck), Siddharth (Rang de Basanti), Anushka Sharma (Rab Ne Bana De Jodi), Bhumika Chawla (Kushi), Trisha (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya), Genelia D'Souza (Boys), Surya (Ghajini), Vikram (Raavan) have also emerged from the South.

South to North remakes are extremely prevalent and actors like John Abraham, who is one-half Keralan and one-half Parsi thrive in the business. The success of Northern heroines in the South, like Nagma (Kadhalan), Kushboo (Lawaaris), Simran (Tere Mere Sapne), Jyothika (Dumm Dumm Dumm) and Shriya Sharan (Sivaji: The Boss) shows that India may have a population of 1.3 billion, but they share their talents across the board and embrace diversity.

Last but not least, we hit rewind to remember the thespian and "Chevalier" Sivaji Ganesan, whose work was admired by the likes of Marlon Brando. He was the first Indian actor to win a best actor award at an international film festival-in this instance, the Afro-Asian Film Festival held in Cairo, Egypt in 1959. He is also the only Indian actor who was given the honour of being the mayor of Niagara County, New York, for a day. His work with actress Padmini (Mera Naam Joker), of Kerala remains in the hearts of fans and his legacy lives on through his son, Prabhu, who is an actor and producer and is in the Tamil version of Raavan.



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