Actors Without Borders: 13 Malayalam Actors Who Got Great Roles In Tamil Films, Film Companion
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The two neighbouring industries of Tamil and Malayalam cinema have for long had a tradition of talents being so good that they can thrive in both languages. This has been the case with actors like Raghuvaran, Delhi Ganesh, Pasupathy, Parthiban, Nagesh, Rohini, Suhasini and many others crossing over to act in Malayalam movies. But with films like Jagame Thandhiram and Karnan giving major character roles to Malayali actors like Joju Joseph and Lal respectively, here’s short list of great roles to further understand  how richly it has helped cinema of both States. Only character roles have been considered.
1) Manoj K Jayan – Thalapathy, Dhool
Proving his caliber through performances in films like Sargam and Ananthabhadram the actor has made his presence felt in the roles of a friend and a foe. His complex role as Manoharan in director Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi saw the actor play the trusted henchman to Mammootty ‘s character Deva, who later double crosses him for Kalivarathan (Amrish Puri).
He also portrayed the role of SI Karunakaran who incites Vikram to avenge against the dreaded gangsters Sornaka (Telangana Shakuntala) and her brother Aadhi (Pasupathy) in Dhool.
2) KPAC Lalitha – Alaipauthey
Known for her iconic portrayal in movies like Dasharatham, Manichitrathazhu, Spadikam, Amaram, and many more KPAC Lalitha’s long-standing career spans over 50 years. Even in cameo roles, she makes her performance remain etched in our minds. One such role was in director Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey where she played the role of actor Madhavan’s mother along with Pyramid Natarajan.

3) Cochin Haneefa – Mahanadhi

For the Malayalam cinema viewers, the name Cochin Haneefa would remind them of his various comic roles and earlier as the man who directed Valsalyam starring Mammootty and Geetha. Though his foray into the Tamil industry was through direction, his performance in Mahanadhi, as a conniving con-man, who ends up cheating Kamal Hassan’s character, is one of his career-best roles. His  character Dhanush may be termed as one of the great underrated antagonists in Tamil Cinema.

4) Suresh Gopi – Dheena

The film that catapulted actor Ajith to a major A list star was also A.R.Murugadoss’s directorial debut. Apart from Ajith’s performance as a thug, torn between family and his lady love, the performance of Suresh Gopi as Aadhikesavan, who adopts Dheena as his brother is another strong reason for the film’s success. Bringing out his familiar firebrand performance to the Tamil audiences made us wish he could expand his acting prowess in other languages. His performance in Shankar’s too deserves appreciation.

5) Kalabhavan Mani – Gemini

After playing comic relief to most of the leading actors in Malayalam films, Mani shot to overnight success by playing the role of a visually-impaired singer in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njaanum. This later went on to be remade in Tamil as Kaasi starring Vikram. Later the actor shared screen space opposite Vikram in director Saran’s commercial potboiler Gemini as a rather unusual antagonist Teja with the likes to mimic animals. Apart from a chartbuster soundtrack by Bharathwaj, Mani’s over-the-top performance made this an entertaining watch back then.
6) Thilakan – Chatriyan
The veteran actor who performed in 200+ Malayalam features with a long streak of state and national awards upon his stride has only acted in few films in other languages. But among those list of few, the most prominent character remains Arumai Nayagam from Chatriyan, directed by K.Subash starring Vijaykanth in 1990. Thilakan performed the role of a merciless political kingmaker who seeks revenge over Vijaykanth’s character Selvam. Written and produced by Mani Ratnam, the film’s plot can be termed one of the earliest movies to have the lead play a passive person with an aggressive past which was later seen in films like Baasha and Theri.
The actor also starred in Telugu Blockbuster Samara Simha Reddy along with Balakrishna.
7) Nedumudi Venu – Indian, Anniyan
The acclaimed actor is known for his numerous contributions to Malayalam cinema over the past four decades with performances in films like Bharatham, Thenmavin Kombathu and the more recent North 24 Kaatham. The actor offered stellar performances in two of director Shankar’s vigilante trilogy starting with Indian and Anniyan. In Indian, the actor plays the role of an intelligent CBI officer Krishnaswamy who is on a hunt to capture the freedom fighter turned vigilante Senapathy (Kamal Hassan).
In Anniyan the actor plays the role of Parthasarathy who is oblivious of his son Ambi’s(Vikram) mental health post a tragedy.
8) Murali – Dumm Dumm Dumm, Polladhavan
The National award-winning Actor/Writer and also a prominent political figure has contributed skillful performance in many Malayalam films like Amaram and Lal Salaam. His performances in commercial potboilers like The King and Inspector Balaram are also worth mentioning. His noteworthy appearances in Tamil include films like Dumm Dumm Dumm, and Polladhavan.
In Dumm Dumm Dumm he plays a patriarch to Jyothika who ends up being part of the complicated twist and turns set by Madhavan’s character. Whereas in Vetrimaaran’s directorial debut Polladhavan, he portrays a different kind of father to Dhanush’s character who doesn’t trust his son’s choices.
9) Rajan P Dev – Gentleman
Though Rajan P Devan made his acclaimed debut as the sadistic don Carlos in the Mohanlal Starrer Indrajalam,  three years later saw him foray into Tamil cinema through Shankar’s directorial debut Gentleman. Rajan P Dev plays the character of a corrupt chief minister whose deeds affect the lives of Krishnamoorthy (Arjun) and Ramesh (Vineeth) eventually turning Krishnamoorthy into a vigilante who steals from the corrupt and gives to the needy.
10) Sukumari – Alaipayuthey/Murari
The veteran actress played many roles over the period of four decades. Her performance in movies like Boeing Boeing,  Nandanam still manages to get us laughing even after numerous repeated viewing. Her rather small role in Alaipayuthey as Sakthi’s nosy (Shalini) aunt was a crucial character in setting up the emotional climax. Sukumari also made a mark in Telugu film industry through director Krishna Vamshi’s Murari starring Mahesh Babu and Sonali Bendre where she plays Murari’s grandmother Sabari.
11) Jayaram- Thenali, Panchathanthiram
You cannot think of a certain era of Kamal Haasan comedies without the face of Jayaram flashing before your eyes. He’s probably your favourite among the five ‘fingers’ in Panchathathiram and his role as the shrink in Thenali elevated the comedy to another level. He’s more at ease in the roles where he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting all by himself. As he transitions to formidable roles in films in Thuppaki and Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, it will be interesting to see what the star does outside the Malayalam market.
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12) Lal- Karnan
The reason why a film like Karnan works so personally is because of what happens to actor Lal’s character in the film. Instead of a movement concerning an entire village, his presence (and later absence) is something you feel in your gut. The actor had already played a famous character in films like Sandakozhi not one like this before. The scene he steals a little money from an old lady is among the most heartening of this year and one can see how delicately this giant can play even the warmest of roles.
13) Indrajith in Queen
In MX Player’s Queen actor Indrajith got an excellent role playing MGR in this Jayalalitha biopic. The actor gave it complex shades to create a portrait that is both likeable as well as terrifying. With the OTT space opening up, there’s going to be a whole world for this actor to explore soon in the Tamil space.

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