Chennai: There are no longer absolute black or white roles for lead actors in south Indian cinema. More and more artists are happy to embrace an opportunity to experiment and walk the tightrope between hero and villain to display their creativity and versatility.
From superstar Kiccha Sudeep to actors such as Jagapathi Babu, Sundeep Kishan, Ganesh Venkatraman and Mahat Raghavendra have stepped in to play negative roles.
Why this sudden urge?
"Versatility is the key to survival today in this very competitive industry. As an actor it's very important to be open to different roles, even if it means playing a negative or even a totally unconventional character if needed," Ganesh Venkatraman, who didn't hesitate to play a Sardar in his Tamil debut 'Abhiyum Naanum', told IANS.
"People thought I was mad to play a Sardar in my debut, but I was always keen on experimenting. More importantly, I believed in my director and it worked in my favour," he added.
A model-turned-actor, Ganesh was daring enough to play a baddie in Nagarjuna's Telugu socio-fantasy 'Damarukam' and, interestingly, he "thoroughly enjoyed playing that character".
"It required the looks of a handsome hero who personified the traits of a devil. The director thought I was apt for the role and, therefore, I agreed to play it," he said.
If some are in an experimentation mode, others are eager to carve a niche for themselves and Sundeep Kishan is one of them. He walked into Telugu political-drama 'Prasthanam' in a negative role and it certainly helped him stand out among so many new faces.
He explained his move, saying: "If I want to get noticed among hundreds of actors who debut every year, I had to do something different. I was always keen on building credibility as an actor and when an opportunity to play a negative character, backed by a strong reason, came my way, I grabbed it," said Sundeep, who wouldn't mind playing an anti-hero if given a chance.
But he won't pick such roles randomly as he felt "there should be a reason why some characters have negative shades".
"If I know the reason and I'm convinced, then I don't mind playing it. For instance, Dhanush played an anti-hero in 'Pudhupettai' because there was a strong reason behind it. People loved him in that role, didn't they?" he asked.
Mahat said if such roles give mileage, then it shouldn't be a problem doing them.
"I couldn't have asked for a better debut because it was a Venkat Prabhu (director) film, produced by one of the respectable banners in the industry Cloud Nine Movies and I got to act with Ajith anna (brother). Moreover, all the lead characters in the film had a shade of negative and, therefore, I wasn't singled out," he said of 'Mankatha'.
Mahat played one of the four thieves who are after a large sum of cricket betting money. Ajith too portrayed his anti-hero side in the film, which was commercially successful.
The anti-hero bug also got to Telugu hero Jagapathi Babu - he portrayed his negative side in Tamil thriller 'Thaandavam' - while Vikram played a modern-day Ravana in Mani Ratnam's 'Raavanan'.
Even actresses are trying out characters with grey shades, as did Neetu Chandra and Kavita Srinivasan.
Neetu impressed everyone with a character called Rani, who fools the hero with a false identity only to get him captured by the villain.
"People started calling me Rani after the release of the film. Such was the impact of the role and I was extremely happy about it. Even though I spent nearly two years on the project, I thought it was worth it," said Neetu, who even smoked on screen for the role.
Kavita felt there is no foolproof success plan in showbiz.
The actress, who is making her Telugu debut with a negative role in revenge-drama 'Kalicharan', said: "There is no conventional path or foolproof plan to be successful in showbiz".
A leading producer summed up the trend saying: "It's not the roles any more but the performances of the actors that gauge the future of most actors. There is limited scope for performance in love stories and, therefore, it's important to experiment."