Raghuvaran: A personal tribute

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Raghuvaran is perhaps the first major actor to die that I grew up watching. I was hardly 15 when Anjali was released. Even then it was fascinating to see the tall, lanky actor with a gravelly voice perform. Raghuvaran was intense in a way few actors were. Next to him, Revathi – no mean actress of her own – struggled to keep up. Raghuvaran’s pauses and intonations in dialogue delivery were sometimes nothing short of bizarre. He dragged words out and gave them new meaning.

In Anjali, Raghuvaran plays the understanding dad of a mentally-challenged girl. He may have been out of place in that space song, but in scenes that mattered he delivered. There is a scene in which Janagaraj, the mental watchman, is mocked at by Raghuvaran’s kids. He quickly slaps one of them, and when questioned by his wife is unable to explain that he has their kid hidden away. It was remarkable how much Raghuvaran could show through his haunted eyes.

But Tamil cinema rarely found space for this actor as a hero. Apart from Ezhavathu Manithan, a rare jab at reality, Tamil filmdom concerned only with box office receipts would never find a script Raghuvaran could star in. It is Tamil cinema’s failure that it never celebrated Raghuvaran as a hero. He was a failure in those few films he was a hero in as much as Tamil cinema was a failure in coming up with scripts for him.

Over the years, Raghuvaran became a character actor and often a villain, most famously in Rajnikanth’s movies. In Badsha, Raghuvaran could effortlessly bring menace and devilish manipulation to the screen. The audience had to believe that it would be tough even for the omnipotent superstar to defeat the loftily named Mark Anthony. And suddenly, the machine gun felt like the extension of Raghuvaran’s arm. Raghuvaran always gave off an aura of unkemptness. In Badsha’s climax, the bearded Raghuvaran thirsting for revenge was as big a presence as Rajnikanth. Next to his character in Anjali, Mark Anthony was a caricature and it’s a testimonial to Raghuvaran’s skills that he infused life into it.

In Poovizhi Vasalile, one his early movies, Raghuvaran was the lame villain. It seemed to my young eyes that this man was soaked in evil. It would be hard to adjust when years later he played a gentleman in Anjali. Today, Poovizhi Vasalile can only be remembered for two things: Illayaraja’s superb score and Raghuvaran’s presence.

One of my favourite scenes in Tamil cinema is from the little known Puritha Puthir. Starring alongside Rahman, Raghuvaran plays a man, who tormented by doubt , tortures his wife with cigarette burns. In one scene Raghuvaran, screams “I know, I know” repeatedly until you hardly know if he is the victim or perpetrator of the crime. It’s hard to imagine debutant director K.S. Ravikumar explaining these scenes to Raghuvaran, who had stealthily slipped into the role. When I read that Raghuvaran had died that anguished scream “I know, I know” kept repeating itself in my head. It is a scene I would always remember the actor by.

In Samsaram Athu Mansaram, he was cast alongside a host of actors well-known in Tamil cinema for their skills. Lakshmi, Manorama and Visu seemed required presence for that movie or rather a play shot on camera. Raghuvaran’s unlikely casting came off like a shot of modernity. He was both out of place and so into the role. In the face off scene with Visu, who played his father, Raghuvaran was superb as his keeps saying “Illa” in answer to Visu’s tongue twisters.

Raghuvaran’s movements on screen were not that of an actor who had undergone conventional training in film school. His exaggerated overuse of his hands for example is something Raghuvaran invented himself. His long fingers and palm were as much a part of his acting as were his eyes, which were always burning from some unknown intensity. This helped the actor easily play characters who were a little touched or harboured brooding evil.

But in the later years, his mannerisms never left him irrespective of what character he played. Directors, I suppose, would ask him to do that thing he did with his hands and audiences waiting for the wild back and forth movement would erupt in screams. During those times, Raghuvaran was essentially trapped in his own persona and perhaps in Tamil cinema’s lack of imagination.

Raghuvaran’s addiction to drugs was well known. When he died, actor Suhasini said that his colleagues in the film industry should have not respected his privacy over the concern for his health. That rings so true. Raghuvaran’s personal life seems to have been as tortured as some of the characters he played. His marriage to actress Rohini did not last long and news reports suggest that he did not see much of his son, whom he loved dearly.

When Raghuvaran made comebacks after his drug and alcohol induced sabbaticals, he was welcomed with open arms. His natural good looks and his audience never left him. Few actors – Satyaraj and Nasser among them – would be remembered like Raghuvaran for their onscreen villainy.

Death of actors never pains me. So I surprised myself when Raghuvaran died a couple of days back. I am sad too see this actor, only 49, go.

18 responses to “Raghuvaran: A personal tribute

  1. Ah finally a tribute! I was most upset that the actor’s death just got a passing remark in the media. I too loved Raghuvaran in Anjali and Baadsha. Too bad the actor’s potential was never explored. I haven’t watched Ezhavudu manithan.” Is it available on CD?

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  2. hi, most newspapers in Chennai carried a story and an obit, sometimes both combined. i saw a couple of Tamil newspapers that carried the news on front page. so i guess the media didnt ignore it. we dont have a big tradition of writing obits for actors.

    i forget the actor’s name, but when the villain of Uthiri Pookal died that was single column news. so that’s who that goes.

    i havent seen a CD of Ezhavathu Manithan. but if you can get one somehow, pls do catch it. in fact, i havent even seen it myself. i have been hearing of the movie for years now.

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  3. Now, I was a major fan of Raghuvaran too. And yeah, somehow filmdom typecast him in that maniacal cast for so long that all that potential was wasted. Have you seen his Mallu movies? He played a villain in ‘Kizhakkan Pathros’ and actually did a hero in a gangster movie called ‘Vyuvham’… Jimmy

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  4. i havent seen those movies. i have heard of the first one. yeah, u are so right. he got typecast as a maniac. but he had such gravity and presence. they culd have used him better.

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  5. “Shiva”.

    Enough said.

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  6. He was suave man…but then, like nana patekar, he got typecast and his style then became a mannerism…

    He’s apparently done a great role in Dhaivathintey Vikruthigal, a Mal movie based in Mahe..I say apparently, coz I havent seen it myself…he will be missed…

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  7. thanks for the tip-off buddy. will see if the vcd is locally available.

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  8. The villain in Uthirippookkal was Vijayan. Isn’t that the film with the song ‘Azhagiya kanne, uravugal neeye…’

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  9. I agree with Abhipraya, media didn’t really post a tribute, it was only a news column. Its nice to see a tribute. Also, I’m glad that someone else (other than me) remembered Puriyaadha Pudhir :), his performance in that was/is still one of the finest. Infact, i was so surprised that he could do justice to the role of a fine gentleman in Anjali and that’s when i kind of started watching his films. He was so natural in Idhu oru manidhanin Kadhai, tamil film industry lost a good actor

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  10. I m a fanatic fan of Raguvaran Sir. I actually never belive when my bro told me he died so he took me to a shop & bought a tamil paper & showed. I was totaly silent & cried. I am really gonna miss him. Usually any new movie relesed i will enquire if raguwaran is acting. Does’nt matter whereter villain or …Not only me but entire family miss him. I even told my hubby i wish to act with Raguwaran Sir. Anyway may Jesus bless his soul & may he rest in peace .

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  11. We ate together. We dreamt together. Sat at Taj and wrote a lot of scraps. He spent a lot of money paying my ISD charges narrating a script to a U.S based film agency. He always wanted me close and so did I. I enjoyed all those moments with him. We spent long long hours together on film-based chat with personal topics in leisure. I loved all what he did and he loved all what i did. I was almost dead when I heard that he was no more that fateful morning. When he cam home last, he told my younger son that the next time he comes home, he would with a remote toy plane. Raghu have you gone to get one? Or have you gone too far that return would be just impossible. Silent hours in my office where we sat and spoke PPO, I sit on the same couch you sat, with tears in my eyes thinking about you, believing that you would be doing the same from somewhere for all those unfulfilled film dreams which we wanted to achieve together and for which we worked very hard. I still have those papers which you dictated at St.George’s. it did not mean much then, but means a lot to me now, not just sentimental but in great standards. Raghu, one day when I make regular movies, I have a wish, instead. I want Rishi to act for me and hope you would be so happy. You are still there very close to me in all that is conceived in my small brains except that your departure, slits my heart apart when I think of reality. I love you, Raghu and for all those wonderful and meaningful friendship we had. God bless you wherever you are.

    Thank you Nandhu for reminding me to write. It is painful for me. I did not go or even watch television, the day of his demise. As far as I’m concerned he is there with us.

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  12. I’m a big fan of you. Actually i started watching tamil films because of you. some times it’s hard to belive that raghuvaran is not with us any more, in times when i watch his moovies. He was a great actor who played his roles very well that, though i hardly understand tamil i understood all of his characters because of the great acting he deliverd. Though most of the time he played villain he looked very handsome amoung those characters too. eg- puriyada pudhir, samsarum athu minisaarum, mandhirap punnagai, baasha, shiva, manidhan..ect. how ever i miss u soo much as much as cinema. love you forever raghu..

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  13. i want to see raghus soul……..because ilike him verymuch’
    but his life is also not good ,loses his wife ,sai rishivaran son…

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  14. we love u or hate…… anytime anywhere. Just thinking of Shiva

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  15. Actors are unique as no one will be able to perform the Raghuvaran style. Its a style that came with him.and gone with him. No mimicry artist will imitate him exactly, and those who do can only come close.

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  16. I hope the son Sai grows and emulates his father’s acting – a character that is so unique and liked by all.

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  17. i would like to let readers know that this is the most visited post in my blog!

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