His one-liners may be light-hearted, but actor Santhanam does not take his craft lightly, says K.R. Manigandan
His presence in almost every big film waiting to hit the screens is proof of his soaring popularity. Santhanam, without doubt, has become a star in his own right.
From Rajesh's Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, starring Udhayanidhi Stalin and Hansika Motwani, to Sundar C's Masala Café, the man has the unenviable task of making people laugh — a task that is not as simple as it seems. Santhanam says, “The love fans shower on me is fulfilling, and the faith directors and producers have in me is inspiring. But deep down, I'm scared. With every hit, expectations rise, and the pressure of meeting them worries me.”
His concern is valid. Most directors entrust the comedian with not just a role to play in their films but a mission to accomplish — the mission of entertaining the masses and drawing them to theatres at a time when the art of filmmaking is being threatened by video piracy. That's probably why he cannot afford to take his business lightly.
Santhanam says, “Comedy is actually serious business and involves a lot of homework. I have a team of childhood friends with whom I sit and work on my lines and comedy.” The seven-member team has specialists in punch lines, counter dialogue and slapstick comedy. “Murugan, Anand, Sethu, Sundar, Udhay, Guna and Balaji are the friends with whom I have my discussions. Sometimes, the lines we speak may appeal to us, but not to others. My team helps me gain a clear idea. They also draw my attention to fresh phrases in vogue and give me suggestions on sharp retorts. From ideas to intonation, we work on everything. For instance, the ‘nanbenda' phrase from Boss Engira Baskaran, which went on to become a roaring hit, evolved after many such deliberations.”
Talking of Boss Engira Baskaran, one is compelled to ask about the rapport he shares with director Rajesh and the experience of working on his latest film, Oru Kal Oru Kannadi. “We share a very special bond. We think alike. Rajesh first got in touch with me after watching my TV show, ‘Lollu Sabha.' That was when he was making Siva Manasula Sakthi. After the film became a hit, we worked together on Boss Engira Baskaran and now on Oru Kal Oru Kannadi.
“Rajesh loves comedy. Even when he had to trim the length of Boss Engira Baskaran, he cut out the fights and retained the comedy part. Most directors would have gone the other way round,” says Santhanam. He has been part of all three films Rajesh has made so far, and he will also feature in the latter's next film, titled All in All Azhagu Raja, starring Karthi.
It's difficult to believe that two people working together so often can be friends without having so much as a disagreement. Toss this question to Santhanam, and he smiles, saying, “I am someone who shoots off my ideas. Rajesh is someone who will hear you out. He will first listen to you even if he has a different take on the issue, and then present his viewpoint. Later, we come to a conclusion on which of the two is better.”
Who knew making people laugh was such serious work?
Keywords: Tamil comedian Santhanam