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COMEDY: TIME FOR A CHANGE IN GUARD!
By Arun Gopinath
At the starting of 2010 the top position in Tamil cinema’s list of comedians belonged to Vadivelu without even a shadow of doubt; daylight came next followed by Vivek. But, at present, those standings have changed. The opinion might now be divided; it is a three-way race for the top spot and the contenders are Vadivelu, Vivek and the man who had a sensational two years Santhanam.

Going by the rule book, it is not yet time for Santhanam to be a contender for the top spot. Both Vadivelu and Vivek had to go through formative periods which stretched for over a
  Santhanam
decade before becoming the lead comedians. Santhanam on the other hand is a little above 5 years old in the film industry, with a few years of TV before that.

So, what is it that has accelerated Santhanam’s ascent to the top? Yes, he has given some inspired performances, delivered rib tickling stuff almost every time he has appeared on screen and has also shown the capacity to evolve. What does one mean by evolve in a 5 year career? When he first burst onto the scene with films like Rendu, it seemed that here was a man who could be funny only when mouthing dialogues with double edges especially that had a bit of adult content in it. But, in a short span he has changed and adapted in a way that conforms to the requirements of Tamil cinema; humor that is palatable to the family audiences. The apex of it all came in Boss.

But, it is not just his performances that have put him on top. His rise has been coupled with a fall in the fortunes of both Vadivelu and Vivek. This is not to take any credit away from Santhanam or to suggest that Vadivelu or Vivek have lost their appeal. But, the magic of the big Vs has sort of dimmed in the last two years. Though they still get the big opportunities and are part of a lot of films, there is a definite feeling that their ability to elicit spontaneous laughs has been on the slide.

What is the reason for this? Both the Vs seem to have fallen into a trap of predictability. In other words they seem to have been consumed by their own success, repeating too much of the same thing and thus losing the punch in their humor. For more than 5 years, almost 8 one might say; comedy from both Vadivelu and Vivek has revolved around one idea/theme/premise; whatever you want to call it – in proper Chennai slang it might be referred to as the ‘Dubakkoor rowdy’ style of comedy; playing the wannabe gangster or big shot who always ends up getting bashed but never admits it.

Most of the comic acts of the big Vs have been centered along these lines or somewhere close to them. It all perhaps started with the phenomenal success of Kaipulla from Winner. From then on, film after film, the effort has been to create characters that can do the same kind of things, bring the same kind of fun. You have Thalainagaram, Padikkathavan – the classic examples of this syndrome. For a while (and it is quite a while) the fancy did last; the fun was alive. But, it cannot go on forever. Just like the Goundamani-Sendhil gags which ruled the roost for more than a decade was swept aside after a time; it is perhaps time for the ‘dubakkoor rowdy’ to be taken into the reserves.

A good indication of this is the way in which the comic track of Mappillai was received. It was perhaps one of the most poorly received Vivek acts in al his career and it was trying to recreate Padikkathavan; which in turn was inspired all the way down from Winner.

The ‘dubakkoor rowdy’ act might have had more shelf life than it has now, had it not been for the kind of comedy infused by Santhanam. Audiences who were slowly outgrowing the decade old act were jolted out by the new brand of Santhanam which redefined sarcasm and cheekiness; not as physical as Vadivelu or as dramatic as Vivek. The new element he has introduced is the use of hilarious analogies like the ‘muttabonda and tie’ from Boss. In effect, he accelerated the exit of the decade old dummy don style, catching Vadivelu and Vivek on the wrong foot and we hope that it is just a temporary blip. There have been evident attempts on the part of the big Vs to go different and it has been successful too; like Vivek’s act in Uthamaputhiran or Vadivelu’s role in Kaavalan. But, perhaps the ‘dubakkoor rowdy’ act has been far too successful for them to let go off so easily and that is why we see it still sticking around.

Comedians (all actors for that matter) do go through a phase when what they have successfully done for a long time suddenly becomes redundant. It is the ability to reinvent that defines greatness and endurance. Vivek has already done it once. There was a period in the early 2000s where he got extremely predictable with his ways of making comedy out of social issues, almost taking classes on civic sense for the viewers. It had been successful for a time, but it eventually lost its charm. But, Vivek shed that style and came back strong. Perhaps, now, after nearly a decade it is time to go through the same process again.
Tags : Santhanam, Vadivelu, Vivek, Deiva Thirumagal
 
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