(With much thanks to blog reader Dr TN Subramaniam, who suggested the theme for this post, and who also supplied the first three examples of the actors that appear on this list).
I did not watch too many regional Indian films until fairly recently. True, Doordarshan did show regional cinema back when I was a child, but I was never tempted to watch (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure those films were subtitled). But in recent years, ever since I began to make a concerted effort to watch more non-Hindi films, I’ve been struck by the gap between regional cinema and Hindi cinema. A gap in many ways. For one, in the types of films made; in the production values; in the standard of acting and directing (note: I do not at all think that Bombay’s Hindi film industry outdid its regional counterparts in these areas. In a lot of cases, it was the opposite: regional cinema turned out a lot of films that were more original and generally of a higher standard than Hindi cinema, enough for Hindi remakes to be churned out).
And then there were the people who acted in these films. On the one hand, there were the many actors who confined themselves to the cinema of the region they belonged to. These were the majority, some of them even very fine, well-respected actors (think Tulsi Chakraborty, for instance) who were never seen in Hindi cinema. On the other hand, there were actors, big stars of regional cinema, who were also fairly successful in Hindi cinema. Bengalis like Suchitra Sen and Utpal Dutt; stars of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema like Padmini, Vyjyanthimala, and Waheeda Rehman: stars in their own regions, and stars familiar to Hindi filmgoers as well.
But there were some regional stars who, for some reason or the other, never could make it big in Hindi cinema. Perhaps they never felt the need to pursue a career in Hindi cinema (Soumitra Chatterjee, I know, was one of these), and never had the time; perhaps they could not be bothered with the language skills needed (though I can think of several people who did make names for themselves in Hindi cinema without being too good at Hindi). Perhaps they just didn’t have what it took to make them popular with a Hindi-speaking audience. Perhaps they were pure unlucky.