15 Faces Of The Tamil Cinema Gangster
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Dhanush plays Suruli, a gangster who makes a journey from Madurai to London, in Karthik Subbaraj’s Jagame Thandhiram that’s set to release soon. Almost every actor has played the don with a heart of gold ( Thala from Dheena or Raju Bhai from Anjaan) but once in a while we get gangsters that feel more realistic: Assault Sethu from Jigarthanda or Vedha from Vikram Vedha. Here’s a list of 15 gangsters from the records of the Tamil Cinema Police Department:

Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) — Pudhupettai

The first image we get of Kokki Kumar in Pudhupettai is that of a madman keeping himself company by ranting his story in a prison cell. He might have gotten into the cell recently, but he was always a madman unabashedly out to get what he wanted. 

Area: North Madras

Strength: Slaying enemies simultaneously and animal instinct

Weakness: Tendency to shout when speaking to oneself in confined areas

Manik Baashha (Rajinikanth) — Baashha

Rajinikanth’s iconic gangster after Billa was also the most aspirational of Tamil gangsters: from preferring a pince-nez to sunglasses to having great taste in telephones with transparent bodies. Baasha is also made greater by Mark Anthony, an enemy more formidable and impressive in defeat than those of anyone else on this list.

Area: Bombay

Strength: His thaana serndha koottam

Weakness: Father sentiment

Rayappan (Vijay) — Bigil

Like many dons in this last, Rayappan is an accidental don: a dogooder for his people who is sometimes on the wrong side of the law. Armed with a heart of freshly-mined gold and an innocence that belies his professional work, Rayappan is the regular Indian protective father who just happens to also be a gangster.

Area: North Chennai

Strength: His people and Bigil 

Weakness: Can get too emotionally attached

Vedha (Vijay Sethupathi) — Vikram Vedha

Vijay Sethupathi’s Vedha is a gangster deeply interested in the philosophical aspects of his trade. But he’s also incomplete without inspector Vikram (Madhavan) who is out to take him in an encounter. He sows seeds of doubt in the upright Vikram without weapons, using just his wiles. 

Area: North Madras

Strength: Storytelling

Weakness: Gray morality

Assault Sethu (Bobby Simha) — Jigarthanda

The enigmatic don in the list, Assault Sethu is truly an artist, be it the way he creatively eliminates enemies or the way he prefers Shankar–Ganesh to Ilaiyaraaja. He’s a man who dances to his own beat. He cannot, unfortunately, direct himself in a film, which leads him to become a laughing stock—and also discover the artistic genius burning in him without petrol.

Area: Madurai

Strength: Burning enemies with petrol

Weakness: Love for art

David Billa (Rajinikanth) — Billa 

Probably the most beloved of gangsters, David Billa, for all rumours of his nefarious activities, lives in a campy world of noting secrets down in diaries and spending the rest of his time facing the consequences of that. He’s proof that it pays to acquire a good memory if you want to be a gangster. 

Area: Chennai

Strength: Swagger

Weakness: Diary keeping

Gemini (Vikram) — Gemini

Gemini is not exactly a gangster, he’s just a rowdy. He’s just a student waiting for this break, hoping to graduate both in the class and the hood. So, he doesn’t really behave like a don and feels more like an especially rowdy backbencher. 

Area: North Madras

Strength: Education

Weakness: Cannot do animal impressions like Teja

Raju Bhai (Suriya) — Anjaan

It’s easy to mock Raju Bhai for following his doctor’s advice of replacing a toothpick with a cigarette. But he also needs to be lauded for introducing the first four numbers in Hindi to us. 

Area: Bombay, especially Andheri, where he is a puyal

Strength: Loyalty to friends

Weakness: Toothpick, unimaginative modes of revenge

Maari (Dhanush) — Maari

You hear gangsters tell stories about how circumstances pushed them. But it feels like Maari was born a gangster and the world instantly reorganized itself around the smoke that comes out of his cigar and the one-liners that emerge out of the smoke. 

Area: Triplicane, Chennai

Strength: pattunnu adicha pottunnu poyiduva

Weakness: If you’re bad, he’s your dad

Vedalam (Ajith) — Vedalam

Vedalam is not only a one man army but also a one man acting repertory. He improvises at his job of bashing people’s skulls just to keep himself interested. Vedalam commits himself deeply to the skin of a sheep only to emerge — with OTT thespian skills — as the lion in new and interesting ways. 

Area: Chennai, but lives in disguise in Kolkata

Strength: Instant character transformations

Weakness: Sister sentiment

Velu Naicker (Kamal Haasan) — Nayagan

The only self-aware gangster on the list, he is also its most effective always focussing on welfare activities, and only occasionally on some skull-bashing. An essentially simple man who prefers to sit on the floor and use furniture as backrest or armrest. 

Area: Dharavi, Bombay

Strength: Desire to help four persons, at least

Weakness: Doubts about his own goodness

Victor (Arun Vijay) — Yennai Arindhaal

This is a gangster who’s always on the edge. Definitely someone who needs anger management lessons, Victor finds his perfect foil in Ajith’s cool and composed, Satyadev. The police believe that he is somehow related to another gangster from the same world, Pandiya.

Area: Chennai

Strength: Rage

Weakness: Relies on phone too much to coordinate things

Aaru (Suriya) — Aaru

Aaru is the proverbial orphan who fell into the hands of the wrong person who selfishly exploits him. Aaru is also the vanilla rowdy. If you took the gangsters in this list and removed aspects that make them specific you will end up with Aaru.

Area: Chennai

Strength: His hyper-masculinity seems to work for him

Weakness: Can be boorish with women

Ethirajan (Simbu) — Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

We don’t get to see much of Simbu’s Ethirajan in action as an arms dealer in Serbia, but we can guess that he must have been suave, cunning, and eager to double cross.

Area: Serbia

Strength: Ruthlessness

Weakness: Being the youngest son in a powerful family

Thala (Ajith) — Dheena

Ajith’s Dheenadayalan is the original ‘Thala’ before Guru from Attagasam. He is not yet a full-fledged gangster though and he gets embroiled in things that alienate him from the gang boss. He’s also a gangster who understands the cycle of violence and eventually has no problems patching up and moving on. Might be an elder brother to Vedalam.

Area: Chennai

Strength: Moral uprightness, fearlessness

Weakness: Mopes about lost love in lonely forests

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