By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai:Top movie stars and political leaders like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajit, Vijay and also late Chief Ministers M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), J. Jayalalithaa and others are available for ‘hire’ at the temple town Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
Well, not the real actors or political leaders but their lookalikes.
Madurai has given stars like Vijaykant, Pandian, Vadivelu and Vivek. And it is also known for celebrity lookalike artists.
Lookalike artists are those who imitate the movie actors or political leaders with proper makeup, costumes and on- screen/real life mannerisms on a stage.
Such artists dance to the popular song numbers of the actors whose make up they don on stage.
“The demand for the services of lookalike artists is seasonal – during temple/church festivals and wedding season. I got into this profession after my 10th standard. I joined a dance troupe first and got trained,” V. Saranathan known as Saara told IANS.
Forty-year-old Saranathan whose main profession is driving an auto-rickshaw also runs a troupe called Cine Star Abhinaya with several lookalike artists.
After a year of the Covid-19 lockdown and other restrictions, the recently concluded Tamil Nadu assembly elections gave the lookalike artists some much needed earnings and relief.
During the elections, those who imitate MGR, Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi would be in great demand.
During the 2021 assembly polls, the three women who imitate Jayalalithaa were in great demand.
As a result Velmurugan, a male, donned Jayalalithaa’s makeup.
“There was a demand for Jayalalithaa lookalike. But the women who normally do the role were busy. A friend of mine suggested that I try that image. In just a day I got the necessary costume ready and was hired,” Velmurugan, a billboard artist told IANS.
The artists said the demand for their services is seasonal.
“It also depends on the movie market of the actor whom we imitate on stage. We have to learn the style and mannerisms of several actors to be in the profession,” Velmurugan said.
“Initially I used to imitate actor Silambarasan/Simbu. But there was not much of demand for that role and hence I had to learn the style and mannerisms of actors like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Ajit and other actors. There is one person who can imitate late actor Chandrababu, but there is no demand for that image now,” he added.
These lookalike artists have to invest in the costumes and cosmetics including wigs.
“We have to be careful about out diet. We cannot risk putting on weight,” Velmurugan and Saranathan said.
The lookalike artists have also tried to enter the tinsel world but were not largely successful.
Velmurugan has done small roles in movies like Rajini Murugan, Dummy Joker (imitating Kamal Haasan), Sagakkal (Silambarasan), Engadda Iruntheenga Ivvalau Naala (Vijay).
“I did seriously try to improve my movie entry chances by staying in Chennai for 20 days and visiting movie companies, but did not succeed,” Velmurugan said.
Another artist M. Nagaraj who imitates actors MGR, Vadivelu, Satyaraj and Ramarajan on stage has also acted like MGR in a movie Ennakku Veru Engum Kilaigal Kidaiyadhu in which comedian Goundamani was the hero.
With the second wave of coronavirus spreading in the state and the government tightening its Covid-19 restrictions, the lookalike artists bemoan the loss of earning opportunities.
“The Covid-19 lockdown last year and the restrictions on temple and other festivals affected our profession. We will be in good demand during some temple, village and other festivals and wedding celebrations,” Saranathan said.
Earlier there used to be good demand during some festivals in villages in other districts. But that started to decline as lookalike artist troupes from Madurai refuse to do risquï¿½ dance movements, Saranathan said.