There is a perception about South Indian men that they love to flaunt their facial hair — be it a neatly groomed one, a thick moustache, a uniformly rugged one, or a bearded visage. It is seen as a symbol of manliness, strength and being “macho”. Of course, a sizeable chunk is clean-shaven too, but the majority is still on the “hairy” side.
Tamil film stars have played a big role in shaping this perception. In the 1970s and majority of the 80s, the popular style statement was a nicely shaped moustache. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth were the emerging icons, with their own unique hair styles and facial hair. The young people tried hard to imitate them. The other popular Tamil stars that followed, like Sathyaraj, Vijayakanth, Prabhu, Karthik and Sarath Kumar, stuck to the moustached look with minor variations. In the early 1990s, Vijay, Ajith, Suriya and Vikram also followed this trend. Gradually, the simple moustache made way for other trends and with increasing exposure to the latest fashion trends, Tamil stars upped their style game.
Of late, the full-blown beard is in vogue. Suriya is sporting a thick beard for his under-production NGK, directed by Selvaraghavan. Vikram recently went for a similar look in Sketch, in which he looks a lot younger than his actual age of 51.
Kamal Haasan started it all. His bearded look in Sathya (1988) was a rage back then. Many of the current crop of heroes still talk about his “Sathya look” — short hair, an unkempt beard, a ‘kada’ in his right hand, a black rope around his neck. Kamal continued to experiment with his beard in films like Thevar Magan, Nammavar, Hey Ram, Thenali, Pammal K Sambandham, Panchathanthiram, Virumaandi, Unnai Pol Oruvan, Manmadhan Ambu, Vishwaroopam and Thoongavanam, with success.
In the 90s, Rajini appeared with an artificial beard in blockbusters like Baasha and Padayappa. He sported a stubble in Baba (2002) and a french-beard in Enthiran (2010). He will be repeating the latter in the sequel 2.0 as well. In recent films like Kabali and Kaala, the “Superstar” has sported a thick white beard with his signature flamboyance.
Vijay didn’t jump on the bandwagon until recently, in films like Theri and Mersal. In Mersal, his twirled moustache and beard with streaks of white hair was a huge hit. Since Thirumalai (2003), he has mainly been going with the light moustached-bearded look.
Ajith started sporting a stubble in the late 90s and early 2000s, in hit films like Amarkalam, Kandukonden Kandukonden, Mugavari and Dheena. He went for a rough, shaggy look in Aegan (2008), and in Asal (2010), he made quite a style statement with long sideburns running into his moustache. In his recent films, he has mostly gone with his natural grey hair-bearded look. Among his different looks in Yennai Arindhaal (2015) was a full-blown beard.
Suriya has always looked great sporting a beard, in films like Nandha, Mounam Pesiyathe, Aaru and Anjaan. He keeps experimenting with his facial hair, and is one of the few conventionally good-looking Tamil heroes. His Singam moustache is famous all over the country.
Vikram has aced the bearded look in films like Gemini, Dhool, Arul, Bheema, Raavanan, Irumugan and Sketch. His salt and pepper, unshaven look in his upcoming Dhruva Natchathiram has already caught people’s attention. Madhavan pulled off the unkempt, bearded look with élan in his comeback vehicle Irudhi Suttru, while the rough look stayed in his blockbuster Vikram Vedha as well. Sasikumar doesn’t appear onscreen without a beard either.
The younger lot like Dhanush (Pudhupettai, Maryan, Maari, Kodi and his upcoming Vada Chennai), STR (Thotti Jeya, Achcham Yenbathu Madamaiyada and his upcoming Chekka Chivantha Vaanam), Karthi (Paruthiveeran, Aayirathil Oruvan, Komban), Sivakarthikeyan (Remo, Velaikkaran) and Vijay Sethupathi (in most of his films) have also sported beard onscreen.
In the recent Taramani, the kid lovingly addresses the bearded hero (played by Vasanth Ravi) as “Beardwala”. We can’t get enough of them, can we?