8 Unforgettable and Evergreen Characters in Tamil Cinema

As we wait with crossed fingers for the lockdown to ease up in our respective cities, let us remember these times, not for the troubles and the tribulations, but for the positive life lessons we’ve learnt along the way. In the meantime, allow the movies to take you back to some memorable characters who gave us unforgettable moments on screen.

Sivaji – Navarathri (1964)

Navarathri is unique for various reasons. It was the 100th film in Sivaji Ganesan’s acclaimed career and was a perfect platform for the actor to showcase his erudition in Tamil cinema. Cleverly playing on the concept of 9, the story takes us through the life of a young girl (Savithri) who shuns marriage and runs away from home on the first night of Navarathri. Over the course of the next 9 days, she meets with 9 different men all played by Sivaji Ganesan, who changes her life dramatically. In roles based on the navarasas or the 9 emotions, Sivaji Ganesan delivers his most complex performance that reiterates his immense acting prowess and versatility.

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Nagesh as Sundaram – Server Sundaram (1964)

In his breakthrough role, multi-faceted actor Nagesh gives an inspired performance as a server in a hotel who aspires to become an actor in Server Sundaram, a comedy-drama adapted from a play penned by K Balachander.In a film that was lauded for having a traditional comedian in the lead, Nagesh is brilliant and integrates his classic comedic sense with a deeply internalised portrayal of the character. With this superlative performance, he also disproved the myth that comedians are one dimensional.

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Sathyaraj as Balu Thevar – Vedham Pudhithu (1987)

An actor who has explored many genres and roles in his career, Sathyaraj is a revelation in Vedham Pudhithu, a film that broke new ground with its hard-hitting critique on the hypocrisies of the caste system. In this Bharathiraja gem, Sathyaraj plays Balu Thevar, a simple generous villager who stands up against harsh societal prejudices to support an inter cast reunion. With a nuanced and organic portrayal of a beautifully etched character, Sathyaraj is the life and soul of the film proving yet again that he is an actor for all seasons.

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Madhavan as Sridhar Vasudevan – Evano Oruvan (2007)

In a role-based on Michael Douglas’ character in the Hollywood drama Falling Down, R. Madhavan shifts gears from his erstwhile boy next door image to create a controversial and unconventional hero in Evano Oruvan. Playing a middle-class commoner triggered into action by the day to day injustices prevailing in the society, Madhavan perfectly encapsulates the vulnerability and the measured yet spine chilling rage of the protagonist. This effort was a stepping stone in the actor’s career leading him away from the beaten path to attempt different roles.

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Lakshmi as Ganga – Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal (1977)

In an era where women’s roles were limited to traditional stereotypes, actor Lakshmi was a trendsetter with her choice of films and the roles she played. In Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal, she plays Ganga, a young college student from a conservative Brahmin family who has a sexual encounter with a stranger that leads to an avalanche of unprecedented tragedies in her life. Internalising the essence of Ganga beautifully, Lakshmi turns in a bold authentic and angst-filled performance that won her the National Award for the year and gave Tamil cinema a character to remember.

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Kamal Haasan as Kameshwaran – Michael Madana Kamarajan (1990)

In a tale about siblings separated at birth to reunite later, Kamal Haasan is stupendous as the four titular characters. But his effort as the Palghat cook Kameshwaran is iconic and most loved. Nailing the accent and body language to perfection, Kamal Haasan is rib ticklingly funny and delivers the classic crazy Mohan dialogues in his inimitable style. This is a role that one can revisit time and again and still continue to discover new shades and dimensions.

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Suriya as Sakthi – Pithamagan (2003)

While Bala’s Pithamagan showcased Vikram’s development as an actor, it also created a wonderfully scripted role for Suriya as Sakthi, an effusive small-time con artist who befriends a socially awkward orphaned man brought up in a graveyard. Following up with a diametrically diverse role from his suave urban cop in Kaakha Kaakha, Suriya invests a raw sincerity and energy into his portrayal of Sakthi that is both endearing and deeply poignant.

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Manorama as Karupaayi – Thillana Mohanambal (1968)

With over 1500 films under the belt, Manorama has essayed a plethora of roles making her one of the greatest character actors in the Southern film industry. One of the most notable performances in her illustrious career is that of Karupayee aka Jil Hil Ramamani aka Roja Rani, in the musical classic Thillana Mohanambal in which she plays a tender-hearted folk singer who changes her identity often to escape the menace of her landlords. Effervescent, loud-mouthed and wildly expressive, Manorama is pitch-perfect infusing honest mirth in the varied shades of the character.

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We urge you to revisit these wonderful performances above and also click here for many more noteworthy movies for your viewing pleasure. Stay safe and happy folks!

Sharanya Sankar: Mom. Bookworm. Cinephile.