Hello! My name is Lekha Washington and I engage in safe, peaceful activities like sky diving or working as a lead actor in South Indian cinema. If I were to put it in one word, my career has been, how shall I put this politely? – Bat-s*&% crazy. So you think you know all there is to know about being a South Indian actress? Well, here’s 10 popular myths about South Indian cinema that I have been asked about countless times and I really feel like I need to set the record straight once and for all.
1) “Don’t all men have big moustaches down there?”
Well, I haven’t checked down there, but of the five actors I’ve worked with, four were clean shaven. Which is not to say there are no over-aged, overweight, sweaty moustached men around, but amongst the younger lot, it really isn’t a thing anymore. Really.
2) “Aren’t all women thunder thighed in south Indian cinema?”
Well, most of the top actresses currently here are – shock and scandal – pretty damn skinny. Probably to go with all the clean shaven men. Sure, there’s the odd big girl, but honestly, that’s a good thing as far as equal opportunity and promoting healthy body image is concerned.
3) “So, do you speak madrasi?”
There are four different film industries in the south – Telugu cinema, Tamil cinema, Kannada and Malyalam cinema. That’s four different languages. Four different nuances. Four different sets of emotional baggage. Madras used to be what Chennai was called and currently there is no language called madrasi. That’s like an American asking you if you speak Indian.
4) “There’s no casting couch there.”
Hahahahaha. It’s perhaps sometimes just a little cruder than bollywood, and all the game-playing exists.
5) “Don’t you just say one two three one two three and get away with not speaking the language?”
It depends on the language you’re working in – In Tamil, Telugu or Malyalam, there’s no way you can get away with not memorising or picking up prompts accurately, even if it’s phonetics to you. This is because the language is lip-distinct, it would be fairly obvious if you were reciting numbers. In Kannada cinema, there is a little more lee-way because the word pronunciation is a bit- marble-lly? – so you can get away with a little less distinctness. I still don’t think anyone begins to show off their counting skills though.
6) “The spot boys – and autowallahs, for that matter, know how to speak Hindi, but pretend not to understand me.”
While they might look like other spot boys or autowallahs you have encountered before, the truth is, they do not actually speak Hindi. They speak madrasi.
7) “It’s a patriarchal business.”
This is true. It is, in general, a male dominated, incredibly patriarchal buisness. Bollywood is, too, but less obviously. However, I have met some wonderful men who are quite refreshingly the opposite.
8) “Yenna Rascalla!!!”
If you have to learn one phrase in Tamil, learn it right! ‘Yenna’, meaning ‘what’ is correct. However, ‘Rascalla’ translates to ‘is it a rascal?’ and really doesn’t make any sense as a threat or show of bravado. It’s like asking if you really are the rascal I’m accusing you of being. If you must say it, it would be “Yenna, Rascal” or “Yenna da, Rascal”. Not “Rascalla”.
9) Here’s a really popular belief, I wish were absolutely true – “They really experiment, and make really good original films in the south” – a variation of it is “They are really professional in the south”.
I call this the grass is always greener syndrome. Let us ignore the fact that there is no one “south film industry” since I clarified earlier that there are four. The truth is that some teams are professional, some individual projects path breaking while some teams are maddeningly disorganised or mass entertainers or both. And I have heard countless times, filmmakers from the south looking towards Bollywood dreamy eyed and saying wistfully “They promote original content, they are so organized”. The grass is always greener. It’s who you work with, really, not which industry you work for.
10) “Rajinikant is God.”
Actually that one is true. He is God. Even in Japan.