When one writes about an actor like Nassar, it's impossible to talk about what the actor has done; it's easier to talk about what he hasn't. Even the task of narrowing it down to a particular type of characters becomes arduous. How about an article on his many positive roles? The loving grandfather from Saivam comes to mind. Despite the two younger generations in his house, this ageing patriarch is the only one who can truly understand his granddaughter and why she chooses to hide the family rooster from the sacrificial ritual. The naïve Kuppusamy from Avatharam, the first film he directed (how about a list of the films he has directed?), too would be a perfect fit. One can also write about the actor's many coach/teacher roles. From the supportive cricket coach in Dhoni to the mischievous-yet-harmless "Punch Pandian" in Irudhi Suttru. Even the brilliant acting guru he played in the otherwise disappointing Kaaviya Thalaivan and the similar 'Master' in Aandavan Kattalai; it comes naturally for the Tamil audience to accept him in such roles.
But the actor's bread and butter have always been the villain roles. Right from his debut in the '80s Nassar has a way of reinventing the wheel when it comes to negative characters, exploring several shades within its constraints. Here's a look at a few of them; from the lightest of greys to darkest of blacks.
Thirumalai from Em Magan
It would be unfair to call this a "villain" role but the main antagonising force against the film's hero Krishnan (Bharath) getting together with his childhood sweetheart, is Thirumalai, Krishnan's father. Strict and stone-like, we've all seen parents like him. This is why we melt in that emotional scene where he finally gives us his side of the story after seeing his son and daughter-in-law living happily.
Assistant Commissioner from Nayakan
It speaks a lot about the quality of a film's writing when someone as righteous and straightforward as Nassar's Assistant Commissioner in Nayakan feels like the film's villain, even though he may ideologically be the film's hero. Also, one of the actor's first in a line of great police roles (another list idea?).
Birla Bose from Amarkalam
Another character where you see shades of both white and black. We spend a majority of the film believing that he is the film's main villain. It takes a special actor to make the shift to become a generous foster father, taking care of a criminal's daughter like she is his own.
Narayana Pillai from Bombay
Nassar plays a strict orthodox Hindu, strongly opposing his son's love for a Muslim woman. He even becomes the cause for his son to elope with his lover. Later, he visits them in Bombay where he witnesses the real folly of his beliefs. His transformation is the appeal the film makes to the viewer, making it the most fascinating character in the film.
Badri from Kuruthipunal
One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. A complex role in a complex film, Badri, the terrorist chief, is no cardboard character. A self-described 'poraali', it is the actor's brilliance that we're able to invest in his side of the story as well. The interrogation scene, long before Vikram Vedha, is an acting master class.
Sangilimaayan from Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikecei
One of the most hilarious villains of Tamil cinema. The kingdom's master advisor is responsible for most of the injustice that occurs there. With long white hair and OTT dialogues, he plays the role in the period film with a surprising amount of conviction. The climactic fight in the palace, with a 'photoshopped' portrait of Vadivelu over Bruce Lee's body, is crackling fun.
Pandian from Magalir Mattum
A character so iconic that it has become the face of all memes and posts related to harassment at the workplace. It's hard not to sympathize with anyone working under such a lecherous beast. And even after there's been a murder attempt at his life, all Pandian can think of is to blackmail these same women to get what he wants.
Ratnam from Tamizh
A character that's more black than grey; it also won him the State Award for Best Villain. How can someone who saves the hero, still remain the villain? As manipulative as he is strong, Ratnam's idiosyncratic dialogue delivery and that two notches higher performance is classic Nassar.
Kandasamy Padayatchi from Anbe Sivam
It's a tightrope walk for a villain to be both extremely religious and also extremely evil. It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing this anti-communist industrialist. The way he owns the line 'Thennadudaya Sivane Potri' in his inimitable style makes it one his best roles yet.
Mayan Thevar in Thevar Magan
One of his darkest villain roles. He takes on two of Tamil cinema's greatest actors and still manages to create a space for himself. It could have easily been a one-dimensional villain in the hands of a lesser actor. From causing floods to bombing the temple festival, there's no limit to Mayan's madness, making it one Tamil cinema's scariest villains. Though not a thoroughbred Tamil film, the only character that's as evil is perhaps Bijjaldeva from the two Baahubali films.