|Actor Besant’ Ravi.|
Behind each daredevil stunts that add to the popularity of our heroes are the life-at-risk action sequences performed by the ‘stunt dupes,’ who do the turtle turns, high-dives, and somersaults. Sporting a costume similar to that worn by the heroes or sometimes, female artists, these stuntmen do the perilous action scenes that have a high probability of proving fatal.
When M. Suresh dived out of a car during a shoot for a television serial, he fell on a rocky surface. He suffered a nerve injury and within moments slipped into coma. “It took a year for me to recover. But what was really difficult was to meet the hospital expenses,” says Suresh, who has been a stunt artist for 20 years, and ‘dupe’ for actors such as Arjun, Murali, Prabhu and many Telugu actors.
‘Besant’ Ravi climbed up his career ladder in the industry swiftly to become an integral part of many acclaimed action sequences. In ‘Mudalvan,’ he risked his life for a fight sequence with actor Arjun on Anna Salai.
“We were fighting on top of a bus that was moving at an extremely fast pace. We escaped a terrible accident when the bus passed under a huge signage that hung very low. Arjun pulled me down and we ducked at the last moment to save our lives,” he recalls. Such instances are not one-off affair in lives of a ‘fighter,’ he says, as he steers the talk towards his transformation as an actor. “I grew up watching film shootings near my house in Besant Nagar. Every day, I used to walk down the lane and gaze at the shoots for hours. That was part of my life’s routine and I soon became familiar with the artists and technicians on the sets.” For someone who had it easy to gain entry through such contacts in the industry, Ravi had to confront a predicament when it came to choosing his career. “I wanted to join as an actor, but I was good at martial arts and boxing. People told me it is easy to get fight roles for someone like me. I joined classes under Pandiyan master.” Only when fight master Pandiyan trained him for film fights did he realise that film fights are a different ballgame altogether. “It is not just about kicks and punches. We need to react in sync when we are hit. Even a second’s lag would reflect badly on camera.”
“Many dupes have died as a result of the injuries suffered during action scenes. Earlier lookalikes were made into stunt dupes. But today with camera tricks, anyone can be the dupe for an actor if he has a similar body structure,” explains Pandian, president of South Indian Cine Stunt Directors and Artists Union. Car and bike stunts are the riskiest sequences for the artists.
A minor slip can blow up the car or result in a major crash. Fire sequences, where the dupes don the role of heroes, have proved fatal for many despite fire-safety jackets. “Many have died of suffocation. Our fighters have worked for films in all languages and Hollywood movies,” says Mr. Pandian.
Kaasi has been a dupe for many foreign actors. He has proved his mettle in French, Italian and Hollywood movies. “They (foreign film makers) are astounded by the amount of risk our stuntmen take,” he says, adding the safety measures in foreign films are very high.
Saravanan, who has been in the field for 17 years and a dupe for Sarath Kumar, flashes a deep scar near his jaw. It was the result of a fight sequence in which a glass piece pierced into his mouth. “My face has been disfigured with many such instances. But it is not the risk that we fear. It is the poverty. We lose our livelihood if the injury results in disability,” he says.
These artists are selected after a rigorous test of their martial arts, driving, swimming and horse-riding skills. As Mr. Pandian puts it: “We walk into the jaws of death every day. But we still pray that we get such sequences frequently to stay in job.”