Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?
“Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?” he asked innocuously, supremely unaware of any potential to cause offence. I was at my institute’s stores issuing some stuff, when the counter-clerk, engaged in a debate with a colleague about film heroes, suddenly turned on me and startled me with this question.
My trouble sensor was sniffing one of my old bogeymen – an Aryan vs. Dravidian fight. A South Indian who lived most of my life in the North, I’m a veteran in this fight. Dravidians are short, dark, have names beyond pronunciation, cooperated with the British, while Aryans are tall, fair, have good names and fought the British. So they’re better. But Dravidians are mathematical wizards, man the higher bureaucracy, and have won more science Nobels* than Aryans, so they’re superior – my equally puerile counter-argument, which in my boyhood generally sealed the debate.
But to encounter a new broadside in the hackneyed debate was a shock. "Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?"
I must admit some of them do look like Ravana. Ambareesh, the Kannada superstar or Vijaykanth, the Tamil one do suit the description of Ravana - Nearly jet-black skin, huge mustachios and and a goonda-like physique. One does have better-looking types like Madhavan, but that doesn’t count with the North Indians.
“Well, you see” I began, “Ravana was the builder of the greatest city of Lanka. You guys believe that we Southerners worship Ravana, and that is quite true actually. Ravana was dark, had a great moustache. He was a great scholar who knew all the Vedas and Puranas and all the languages of the earth, including that of fishes and birds. He was of limitless muscular strength, and had defeated the Aryan god Indra and was matched in strength only by Vali.
“The Lanka that he had built was a city whose roads were paved with gold, and its walls were built of marble. He saw to it that none of his subjects ever starved, or had any needs. His granaries and treasuries were never just full, but overflowing. Thousands of petty kings paid homage to him. You must have heard of the ruins of Harappa on the Sindhu river. That is actually the site of original Lanka. Archaeologists have proved it.
“Sita was his daughter#, but in his youth he had erred and buried her as a baby in Janak’s kingdom. But now he heard that she was married to a Prince Rama who turned out to be a good-for-nothing. He had been thrown out of his kingdom Ayodhya in favour of his abler brother. Full of remorse that he had not treated his daughter properly, Ravana brought her away to Lanka.
“But you Northerners paint it as if Ravana was a kidnapper. But it is the victor who writes the history. Ravana’s fatherly feeling did him in; perhaps he should have left his daughter to her fate. Instead he invited the wrath of the bloodthirsty Aryan, Rama.
“The Aryan race is naturally hot-tempered and violent. See the murder rates in UP-Bihar, or look at the Pathans and Punjabis. Rama was no different. He descended with a horde of monkeys upon Lanka. Aided by that villainous cheat Vibhishana, he laid Lanka to ruin.
“He assassinated Ravana and burnt the city of Lanka. And to add insult to injury, he did it on Dasara day, when we worship our great goddess Chamundeshwari. The great Dravidian civilization was destroyed completely. The people had to leave the city and their belongings and flee far into the South. Their land was taken by the invading Aryans. Our ancestors discovered an island in the south, and tried to recreate our ancient city there. That is why it is called Sri Lanka. That barbarian Rama left scars that still hurt us deeply after thousands of generations.
“Even today, we look up to King Ravana as our role model. The builder of cities, the nurturer of men, and the scholar of unmatched prowess. We try to be like him. In a South Indian movie, we live out a fantasy. We try to reverse our great tragedy, when the Dravidian civilization was destroyed by the Aryan one. What if our great King Ravana had not been killed, and Rama defeated instead?
“In a South movie, the villain is generally tall and fair and cunning, who has come to shatter our peaceful lives. The hero is dark and strong and wise, who will resist the villain and finish him. That is why South Indian Heroes look like Ravana.”
* C.V. Raman and S. Chandrashekhar (both Physics) vs. Hargobind Khurana (Medicine).
# In the Tamil version of Ramayana by Kambar, Sita is Ravana's daughter.
Disclaimer: All of this is concocted, and has little in relation with the official myth. But it seems to answer convincingly the stupid question that I have to face from time to time.