Man of Steel

How suffering turned a college lad into a Tamil superstar

01 December 2013
NATHAN G FOR THE CARAVAN

ONE

IT WAS THE BEST NIGHT of Kenny’s life. It was the worst night of Kenny’s life. And it began on the pitch-black stage of the open-air auditorium at IIT-Madras.

At first the audience at the annual inter-collegiate festival thought that there was a technical glitch: they could hear the actors but not see them. They began to fidget. They began to boo. Then, about 15 minutes in, some of the viewers began to shush the others. They got what was happening: the play—Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, in which Kenny had the lead role—began in darkness but, eventually, the lights would come on. The shushing gradually overwhelmed the booing and the fidgeting. There was silence, then laughs. When the curtains came down, there was a standing ovation. Among the audience that October night in 1986 was Shailaja Balakrishnan, who knew that she would marry Kenny even though he was barely aware of her existence. She watched him get the Best Actor award, beating candidates from all the other colleges. Later she would say drishti pattuduchu—someone had cast the evil eye.

Baraswaj Rangan  is a National Award-winning Film Critic and Deputy Editor with The Hindu. His book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam, was published by Penguin in 2012.

Keywords: cinema filmstar performance Tamil Cinema commercial Indian audience actors Mani Ratnam
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