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Small and spicy


Sunil Raoh, the actor who once nurtured ambitions of becoming a singer, shot to fame with offbeat roles. His sizzling outing in the recent film Masala has made big news

GUTSY Sunil considers himself a rebel. In his short career spanning five films, he has had the courage to take up anti-hero rolestoo Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Love for big cars, good music and a swanky music system, the latest handset, hanging out at coffee joints with friends and an instinct to walk down Brigade Road. He's just another guy his age. All of 26. He also looks the proverbial boy next door. And almost passes off for one.

But he's turning heads wherever he goes — be it the waiter at a restaurant, a security guard, an aunty in her traditional sari — faces light up as they recognise him on the road. They want a picture with him, his autograph, they want to tell him they are his big fans, and they desperately want his phone number.

Whipping up a storm

Sunil Raoh has done quite a bit of growing up from his days of being a child star in films such as Kendada Maley and Yelu Suttina Kotey, and has graduated to more masaledaar movies. Actually, quite an antithesis to the conventional hero in Kannada cinema, this small-made short lad has whipped up quite a storm both in action roles, in shades of grey and with hot heroines.

Kannada filmdom's baby-faced hero, he's seen a lot of hits in his career, has had a sort of image overhaul with Masala — his latest release. A tale of three boys slinking into a girls hostel in a women's garb may be a ghisa-pita storyline, but obviously draws much of the box-office crowd.

In an industry where branding and image is the mantra, Sunil is happy not to be typecast into any one slot. So he bravely donned a skirt and a woman's wig, and dabbed on lipstick for the film.

Sunil started out wanting to be a singer, like his famous mother and sister, playback-singers B.K. Sumitra and sister Soumya Raoh, but ended up doing an assortment of roles in mega TV serials. His first feature film in a lead role strangely was not in Kannada, but the early Hinglish crossover flick Freaky Chakra, where he starred opposite Deepti Naval.

"Thank God for small mercies, I don't have any of those tags, but that's how the industry looks at me, I'm told," he says, when I ask if he's the essential chocolate-faced hero. "The image I guess is that of a romantic hero, but I don't have hassles with that," declares Sunil Raoh, with a deep drag as he catches the beautiful view of the city from Paparazzi, Royal Orchid Central's new glassy 10th floor restaurant at Manipal Centre.

He's had a string of hits including Baa Baaro Rasika, Preeti Prema Pranaya, Chappale, Excuse Me. His filmi career took wing from his acting stint in prime-time serials that spanned across Janani, Saadhane, Manvantara, and Chaduranga. Then followed a spate of gumpalli govinda roles (lost in a crowd) in films like Chitra and Panchalee, says Sunil, where he started getting typecast as the hero's friend, or someone's brother.

His latest venture Masala, was seen by critics largely as a sleazy film, but it did what most such films do - set the cash registers ringing. He persists that it's not a sexcapade or a sex comedy or a blatant American Pie. Who reads reviews anyway, he says. "Those who want to see a film will go ahead anyway. Opinions spread more by word of mouth. It's not such a hidden fact either that certain papers give a high rating to certain heroes' films - it's a ridiculous system." Some of the flak they got, though, was justified, he admits. "But I feel there was nothing below the belt about the film," and then the helplessness and confusion of any young actor peeps through, as Sunil admits: "In a way it's an indication of how much I've resigned to the fact that the kind of films you do don't matter as long as it does well." Young philosopher? He generously volunteers: "Maybe if I weren't in the film, I wouldn't have watched it. It isn't my type."

The reason why he decided to do the film then, he says, was the whole challenge of transforming into a girl and thinking like a girl. "Now that's not something a star would do. Not everyone has the guts to do it. But I did it because I want to be an actor, not a star." Sunil considers himself a rebel, someone who's not been `normal', who had the guts to choose to be the anti-hero in a film like Excuse Me, despite being offered the hero's role. He opted to play a young man who turns around the life of an older depressed woman, bringing joy into her morbid life in Freaky Chakra.

"If Kamal Hasan can do it, Aamir Khan can do it twice over, why not Sunil Raoh?" is Sunil's point. He went through the rigours of transformation - waxing hands, chest... the works, and tried to get used to wearing padded bras. "It was so difficult - I had to consciously sit with my knees together during a shot; it would take more than an hour to put on the make-up so I had to wake up early. Aaarghh... with the kind of stuff we had to wear, I realised how difficult life must be for women."

He also believes he's a woman's man - the kind of hero who draws into theatres college-going girls and married women — a difficult audience to bring to theatres in the age of machchu action films. And this fan-following translates into good economics. "The producer's safety matters to me. The economics of a film is important." But all is not rosy in Sandalwood, observes Sunil. "There's a callous attitude... as they say, hittala gida maddalla. Once actors are a hit elsewhere, they are called back. My sister went through it. Ramesh Arvind and Prakash Raj have gone through it. If there is no respect, how long will you hang on to the same old shitty roles?" Sunil is working now on a film Sakha Sakhi, a remake of the Tamil hit Thiruda Thirudi. "I can say that this is my sixth film as hero and only my first remake. I know it's no justification."

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