Mirthful social gatherings, a peculiar slang and the jocular behaviour of the people make Madurai the comedy centre that it is

“Ticket ticket... Idhu LSS bus pa... edaiyile nikkadhu,” cautions the conductor on a crowded bus. “Edaiyile nikkathunna?... Indha bus yenna polyester veshtiya?” a witty comment from a passenger eases the stifling atmosphere as those on board break into laughter. Such hilarious incidences are everyday happenings in Madurai, where everyone from kids to the elderly sport a funny bone.

It’s a city where every second person walking on the road may pass comments with no inhibitions. Humour runs in their blood, as the slang and the body language are amusing to any outsider. From the earlier times, this clan has thrived on the thinnai pechu and arattai culture. Time-pass here was always synonymous with the comical keli and kindal.

Whether in a family gathering or a temple festival, the ubiquitous nakkal and naiyandi can never be missed. Even during serious and solemn occasions people always find an opportune moment just to insert little humour. This is a trait that’s peculiar to the Temple City. Else how can one explain the fact that top comedians in Tamil cinema hail from Madurai?

Be it Vadivelu’s goofy and slapstick comedies or Vivekh’s witty and chucklesome humour, they all definitely stem from experiences and incidences in Madurai. Who can hold back laughter when Vadivelu lets out his trademark cry, ‘vandhuttangayya… vandhuttangayya’? While Ganja Karuppu induces laughter with his typical facial expressions and the highly stretched out slang native to the region, Soori, a relatively new entrant is increasingly leaving the movie halls in splits with his dialogue delivery.

Actor comedian Vivekh says, “Humour can always be found in a place where there’s fearlessness. The audacious remarks and lively diction are something unique to the people here.” He says, the Vattara Vazhaku (local dialect) of the region can never be boring as it’s laden with subtle humour. “My inspiration for film comedy comes from here. Spend a day on the Madurai streets and you will be amused at the way these people speak and behave. They have an inherent ability to be hilarious,” vouches Vivekh.

K. Gnanasambandan, Tamil scholar and popular debate personality who has spent his childhood and youth in the villages, recalls numerous anecdotes. “These days, people pretend to be decent and have stopped cracking jokes. The urge to speak in English has also marred certain earthy and rustic Tamil words that are humourous,” says Gnanasambandan. “But, people in Madurai speak their mind. They are candid and convivial and give much importance to relationships. They are known for their timing sense and presence of mind.”

Historically, Madurai is where the Tamil language flourished and people gathered for trade and festivals. “Humour is born out of pain. People here laugh their problems off,” says R. Venkatraman, retired professor of history. “We have not given enough respect to humour and hence even our classical literature is quite serious, whereas, folk literature is more light-hearted.” He refers to Kutrala Kuravanji and the Pallu Padalagal that’s laden with plenty of humourous left-handed compliments and taunting called as ‘Yesal’ in Tamil.

Also, Madurai has a thriving theatre scene. Street-plays and koothu are an everyday affair, where people interact liberally. The arguments born out of these are laced with comical overtones. Like for instance, karagattam and pattimandram are known for their witty repartees. “The tremendous humour sense that we come across in common people has evolved over years. It comes out of melancholic experiences. When one sees life’s lessons from outside, they look hilarious,” says Popular pattimandram speaker S. Raja.

Stand-up comedian M. Christopher Gnanaraj points to the rural lingo that evokes laughter. “The villagers convey even serious matters in a comical way. They package advices in the form of a hilarious joke. These are called ‘Solavadai’ in Tamil,” says Christopher. He gives few examples -- ‘Konavayan kottavi vitta mathiri’ (One shouldn’t try to be too creative in difficult times and end up bringing upon more trouble). “Even a poor man would express his poverty in a humorous way with an evident nonchalance in the tone,” he says. ‘Naan iruken thothala, yen veedu iruku pothala’ (My house is flimsy and my life is clumsy).

Madurai slang

posaketta paya : useless fellow

patraya podu: sit and relax

imbutukoondu: very little

roota kudukatha: Don't tell lie

yekkoi: Elder Sister

Madurai humour club

Stared in 1991 by K. Gnansambandan in association with the Madurai Meenakshi Mission Hospital, the Madurai Humour Club provides a platform to its members, both young and old, to share their jokes. The club encourages only clean comedies and is just a year away from celebrating silver jubilee. Gnanasambandan also publishes ‘Sirippu’, a laughter magazine.