The Indian film industry is a supermarket, wherein most members are adept in at least two or more disciplines. They move from one project to another with ease. This isn't true of all actors, or people who work behind the camera. But there are hundreds of examples to show how Indian cinema has celebrated multi-taskers. From Raj Kapoor (actor, producer, director) to Kamal Haasan (actor, producer, writer, lyricist, singer, director, choreographer), the big screen has been kind to several generations of celebrities. And this is a very small list of directors from South India who have comfortably eased into acting too.
Gautham Vasudev Menon
Though Gautham's first screen appearance goes back to the days of Minsara Kanavu (1997), he was just a man in the crowd then. After making several blockbusters, he has been roped in by Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam filmmakers to play various characters. His most famous outing so far this year has been in Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal, where he plays a tough cop. And, as the movie progresses, the layers surrounding him unravel.
Ravikumar has always had an actor inside him. He even matched steps alongside Rajinikanth in the song 'Kikku Yerudhey' (Padayappa, 1999). And, in recent times, he has made more noise as an actor than as a director. While his roles in Thanga Magan (2015) and Comali (2019) earned him praise, his directorial ventures such as Lingaa (2014) in Tamil and Ruler (2019) in Telugu were disappointments. Also, Ravikumar has acquired the unique gift of portraying characters with grey shades — he can't be stereotyped.
Perumal initially collaborated with Mani Ratnam. He directed Dumm Dumm Dumm (2001) and also starred in Ratnam's Alaipayuthey (2000). But what changed his fortune was the Selvaraghavan film Pudhupettai (2006). Since then, there has been no looking back for this director-turned-actor. He is not directing films anymore, but fits like a glove in most of the Tamil films being churned out these days.
Bharathiraja, like Gautham, has played himself in many movies. However, since starring in Mani Ratnam's Aaytha Ezhuthu (2004), he has made a conscious effort to steer his career toward the acting department. And this decision has brought him many rewards as well. His distinct gravelly voice is an asset and he uses it to make his characters sound rusty or violent (or whatever else the script demands).
If you take one look at Viswanath's face, you'll do anything he says. He's got that good-natured vibe around him and his characters, more often than not, are of the ageing patriarch. His role in Athadu (2005) is remembered even today in spite of it being a blink-and-miss one. His age may not allow him to do much during the pandemic, but there's still hope.
Krish sometimes surprises the hell out of everybody. His scene-stealing cameo in Mahanati (as KV Reddy, the director of Mayabazar, 1957) was perfect. You can almost sense his directorial voice in the scene where he tells Savitri (Keerthy Suresh) how to cry. It's hard to imagine anybody else in his shoes.
Tharun Bhascker is the new messiah for short filmmakers in Hyderabad. With just two feature films under his belt, he has made a good name for himself. He was, of course, excellent as the goofy scaredy-cat in Meeku Maathrame Cheptha (2019), but there's still a lot of talent that hasn't been seen on screen as yet. If he continues to star in films made by other directors, he'll find himself in a happy place in Telugu cinema.
There's a certain lyrical style with which Yogaraj Bhat, who made the blockbuster Mungaru Male, rolls his words. They come out sounding pleasing and playful, and effortlessly at that. His bearded avatar in Bell Bottom (2019) was irreverent and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In the coming years, we hope to see more of him on screen.
Guruprasad's eccentricity knows no bounds. He usually plays these over-the-top characters that require him to put on the mask of a man who yells comically, or raises his eyebrows far more than necessary (his own Eddelu Manjunatha (2009) is a perfect example). Also, like Yogaraj Bhat, he has the ability to lighten the mood with his mere presence.
Easily the best actor among directors, award-winning performer Lal started off his career as the blockbuster director of films such as Godfather, In Harihar Nagar and Ramjirao Speaking. Yet, as an actor, he became a sensation right from his first set of performances in films as diverse as Kaliyattam, Punjabi House and Kanmadham. Over the years, he's done a rich range of roles — villain, hero, sidekick, gangster, fool, Romeo…he can play almost anyone.
Although famous for his narrations and voiceovers, Ranjith the actor is more a recent discovery for a lot of people, even though his performance in Jayaraj's Gulmohar received a lot of praise. Through his roles in Koode and Ayyapanum Koshiyum, he's played Prithviraj's father twice, but these characters couldn't be more different from each other. As intense as they come, Ranjith would be a great fit to play one of the dozen great villain roles Ranjith the director has crafted for others.
Though not an immediate sensation as an actor, Johnny Antony has earned a lot of fans after his performance as the shrink/health coach in this year's Varane Avashyamund. He's genuinely funny in the film and promises to be a great addition to the comedy genre — a place other director-actors like Rafi couldn't hold on to.
Among the newest and youngest to join this league of actors is the director of Godha and Kunjiramayanam. He's been around for a while now, but has been in great form in recent films such as Manoharam, Gauthamante Radham and Kakshi: Amminipilla, where he played the hero's best friend, but in three distinct ways. His role as a Malabar-based "album singer" in Kakshi: Amminipilla single-handedly made him a favourite as a WhatsApp status icon.
With inputs from Vishal Menon.