Doctor Rajinikanth Vijay Sivaji Vijay Sethupathi Kamal Haasan
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There are different types of doctors in Tamil cinema. Most common is the doctor who delivers bad news: countless bespectacled doctors have pensievely taken off their spectacles and pronounced someone’s (impending) death. Naturally, they are barely remembered or even noticed. Comic doctors with small but memorable characters fare better: Kovai Sarala in Poovellam Kettuppar, Karthik in Suyamvaram, Kamal Haasan in Sathi Leelavathi, N. Mathrubootham (with the fateful name, Dr. Das) in Whistle, and Vivek (a veterinarian) in Azhagi. In fact, Crazy Mohan has the distinction of specialising in comic doctor cameos in several films like Magalir Mattum, Chinna Vathiyar, Naan Ee, Pammal K Sambandham, Kalyana Samayal Saadham, and Vasool Raja MBBS.

Ahead of the release of Doctor on October 14, in which Sivakarthikeyan plays an army doctor fighting organ trade, here’s a list of male heroes who’ve walked the walk before him — from the genteel and sophisticated Dr. Murali in Nenjil Or Aalayam to the brash and angry Dr. Adithya Varma.

Dr. Murali — Kalyan Kumar in Nenjil Or Aalayam  (1962)

Nenjil Or Aalayam Sridhar Kalyan Kumar

When he returns from studies abroad, Dr. Murali (Kalyan Kumar) finds his girlfriend, Seetha (Devika), married to Venu (Muthuraman). He devotes himself to cancer research as a way of forgetting her. But as his luck would have it, Venu is in need of the exact cancer treatment that Murali specialises in. Sridhar sets up a superb point of conflict in Murali’s mind: his professional success as a doctor would mean personal romantic disappointment. Kalyan Kumar’s portrayal of Murali defined the well-educated and gentlemanly doctor for a generation.

*Streaming on YouTube

Dr. Ravi — Sivaji Ganesan in Ooty Varai Uravu (1967)

Ooty Varai Uravu Sivaji

Sivaji’s Dr. Ravi is not even a real doctor in Ooty Varai Uravu. Sridhar recreates a trope from Kadhalikka Neramillai: a person takes on a false identity to help a friend out romantically. Sivaji’s character is generally restrained in the film, but in his scenes as the short-tempered but brilliant doctor, he’s superbly comic. Nagesh as Dr. Thirupathy is a riot. He actually has a degree but is absolutely clueless about medicine (and only refers to them by their color). Dr. Ravi is as clueless but makes up for it with his urbane sophistication. 

*Streaming on YouTube

Raja — Murali in Idhayam (1991)

Idhayam Murali

Nothing would have changed in Idhayam had Raja (Murali) been an engineering college student. But a medical college lends itself better to irony. Foreshadowing his penchant for poetic depictions of romance, director Kathir situates Raja’s broken heart — he gets a heart attack near the end — in the very place where he’s studying to medically fix hearts. A person who entered medical college as a student leaves it as a patient because he fell in love.

*Streaming on YouTube

Drs. Vishwanathan and Ramamurthy — Prashanth in Jeans (1998)

Jeans Prashanth

 

After Dr. Murali from Nenjil Or Aalayam, Vishwanathan and Ramamurthy (Prashanth in a double role) are foreign-educated doctors on our list. They studied in Los Angeles while running an Indian restaurant with their father, but we don’t really get to see them do anything as doctors in Jeans. Vishwanathan demonstrates solid knowledge of US healthcare practice and law though, and it helps save the life of his girlfriend’s grandmother. 

*Streaming on Netflix

Dr. Kailash — Jayaram in Thenali (2000)

Thenali Jayaram

Nominally, Thenali is the story of how Kamal Haasan’s Thenali, a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka, heals himself of his fears by interacting with the family of Dr. Kailash (Jayaram), a leading psychiatrist. We’ve seen other psychiatrists in Tamil cinema before, but they’ve typically treated their patients exclusively with shock treatment. But the writing in Thenali is better than that — it invests in both Thenali and Dr. Kailash with insecurities and faults. Gradually, we know the both of them better through their banter and arguments. The film also superbly brings out the stiff competition between Kailash and Dr. Panchabootham, Thenali’s ex-psychiatrist. Rarely is such competition among doctors narrativized in films. Kailash is the only doctor on the list cured by his own patient. 

(Dr.) Rajaraman — Kamal Haasan in Vasool Raja MBBS (2004)

Rajaraman aka Vasool Raja was never going to graduate from medical school because he was there only to spite the principal, his prospective father-in-law. It’s true that a person rang him once to consult about a baby’s diarrhea, right after his successful medical exam results (93.5 FM), but you can’t really get any meaningful medical advice from him. This doctor can’t help you get your health back, but he’s very effective if you ever need to recover a loan from a friend. 

*Streaming on MX Player

Dr. Saravanan — Rajinikanth in Chandramukhi (2005)

Chandramukhi Rajinikanth

Dr. Saravanan’s powers are a bit unbelievable: He’s a dasavadhani or he can perform ten tasks at the same time, and he can also read minds. This is in addition to his mastery of psychiatry (and the ability to keep a straight face to outbursts like ‘enna kodumai Saravanan idhu’). Beyond this hero buildup, what Saravanan concretely brings to a conventional horror-thriller like Chandramukhi is the idea that you can have a rational explanation for a seemingly supernatural occurrence. His training helps him focus on the character of Chandramukhi and set up a counterpoint character with Vettaiyan, instead of approaching the problem as a regular haunting. 

*Streaming on MX Player

Dr. Dharmadurai — Vijay Sethupathi in Dharma Durai (2016)

Dharma Durai Vijay Sethupathi

The melodrama in Dharmadurai’s life leaves him little time for practicing medicine. Exploited by his brothers as a young boy, he runs away from home to become a doctor. Thanks to his noble-mindedness, he sets up a clinic in his own village, but is driven by his family to alcoholism. Dharma Durai film is a (very literal) reminder of the harsh realities that the idealistic Dharmadurai faces because he served his own people, instead of going abroad like his friends. 

*Streaming on MX Player

Dr. Maaran — Vijay in Mersal  (2017)

Dr. Maaran (Vijay) is a soft-spoken doctor and generous to a fault (‘5 ruba doctor’). His father, Vetrimaaran, built the first hospital in his village, and also became one of the first victims of medical malpractice at the hospital. Apart from a cool scene at the airport where he expertly performs an emergency surgery, the film doesn’t really use the fact that Maaran is a doctor. In fact, it’s his brother Vetri, a magician, who masquerades as Maaran for most of the film. 

*Streaming on Netflix

Dr. Adithya Varma — Dhruv in Adithya Varma  (2019)

Dhruv Vikram Adithya Varma

The last entry on this list is the stark opposite of the first: Dr. Murali is self-sacrificing, gentle and approachable in Nenjil Or Aalayam. Dr. Adithya Varma, an orthopedic surgeon, is self-destructive, has anger management issues, and is an unpleasant individual to be around. We’ve come a long way portraying a doctor as a complex person, especially compared to the ideal, self-sacrificing doctor in Nenjil Or Aalayam.

From the trailer of Doctor, it looks like Sivakarthikeyan’s Varun is a doctor in the army. But he’s also shown kidnapping people. So, is he a doctor who gets into crime, or is he really a good guy who just seems like he’s doing something criminal? Whatever the case may be, Varun could be an interesting addition to the roster of Tamil cinema doctors.

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