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.