‘Strange as it may seem, comedy is the most difficult of all genres of action’ is one of the most popular beaten-to-death statements in the cinema world. When we zero in on to Tamil Cinema, a lot of comedians from the past and the present would probably agree with this statement. But, if an inference has to be drawn going by the body language of the comedian performing the act, there would be one person who would prove the hypothesis wrong. He is Koundamani!
The spontaneity with which he does his comedy on screen makes one feel that he is a natural at it, extremely gifted and also that comedy is not difficult at all to be portrayed on screen. For proof, watch this particular comedy from a film where he, as a barber, wins in a lottery and goes about kicking stuff in the verandah of his house shouting “I am fifteen lakhs owner”; “A/c yo A/c” etc. That one scene is ample proof of the unbelievable ease with which he performs his style of comedy.
The comedians in Tamil cinema could well be fitted in three eras.
The veterans from the past N.S.Krishnan (of whom I haven’t seen much), Chandrababu (who was our own version of Chaplin) & Nagesh (a genius who again had traces of Chaplin in him) ruled the scene from 1940s to 1970s. People like Suruli Rajan gave them company.
The modern day comedians Vivek and Vadivelu entered in the 90s and attained their peaks in the early 2000s. The one who is creating the waves now is Santhanam who debuted in mid 2000.
But what about the two-and a half decades in between? That was the era when Koundamani ruled the roost. The specialty of him is the fact that he doesn’t follow a template like Vivek or Vadivelu do. Of course there would be naysayers to this claim stating that he beats Senthil and that’s his method of doing comedy – I can clearly say that those are people who haven’t watched much of Kounder’s antics. There are a lot more unnoticed aspects to his method of comedy. He keeps doing something with his hands, legs, dances across which are all admirable to the core which would not have missed the eyes of his hardcore fans. The jerks and turns he gives after breaking the door to save Senthil from committing suicide in a famous comedy scene is an example to the case in point.
He has been the best when it comes to performing solo or elevating the humor quotient in super hero films with his omnipresence with the hero in almost all scenes. He has single-handedly ensured the success of many films he had acted in the 90s. That too makes him special. His combination with Sathyaraj is the most special of them all! (Nadigan, Brahma, Maaman Magal, Malabar Police etc.). One can keep watching those riotous comedy scenes again and again and still laugh till it aches! Numerous passing remarks of his stay evergreen but I am sure no one would have scripted them for him; such one-liners would have come spontaneously from him on the sets. An example to this being the scene from Mannan where he chases Rajni from a marriage hall and sits on a shop keeper’s chair to have some rest; when the fellow asks him to get up, Koundamani would touch the wig in his hands and say ‘Oh, andha vela paakaravanaa nee’ which doesn’t mean anything at all but still is incredibly funny! Maybe I am one of the few who would have admired such inane one-liners; May be not! His other associations with Rajni, Kamal, Sarath Kumar, Prabhu, Partheeban, Vijay, and Ajith (the list goes on...) have all been terrific – Not even a single film would have lacked in comedy. Another highlighting specialty of his is the ability to silently take sarcastic digs at super heroes in their own films even as he acts with them. That is something I haven’t seen from any other comedian! Contrary to his electrifying presence on screen, he maintains an unbelievably low profile off screen and of what I have heard of him, he is humble, benevolent and that again is a special aspect of his.
Comedians and their methods generally have a peak period. A careful look would show us that his kind of comedy has no expiry like those of Vivek/Vadivelu. Now, their styles are in the wane but the trend of Koundamani is what has been aped, altered and successfully dished out by Santhanam and that is now a raging hit. Koundamani’s era might have ended but his legacy lives on! Forever, a Kounder fan! I would love to see him on screen once again. Thalaivaa, listening?