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Friday, June 08, 2001

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From scratch to success

Senthil has carved a niche for himself as a comedian in Tamil cinema. SUDHA UMASHANKER profiles the actor.

SENTHIL, WHO represents good fun and a natural style of acting after twenty years in the film industry and many laughs, has captured a definite place in the hearts of moviegoers. Senthil entered the film industry after some solid training in the world of theatre. ``I did a lot of drama and used to act in the troupes in `Aiyya Theriyathayya' Rama Rao, K. Kannan, Isari Velan, A. Veerappan, Director Sundarrajan, etc., playing any kind of role small or big, and frequently filling in for co-actors who had taken ill or couldn't make it.''

He made plenty of friends in the cinema industry thanks to a lodge at T.Nagar (now converted into a commercial complex) where he used to stay, which was frequented by the likes of Parthiban, Bharathiraja and Ilaiyaraja, `Sangili' Murugan and others, and through them made a foray into the film circuit.

Senthil was not one of those who was rewarded with instant recognition in cinema. Success took its time. He made his debut in a Malayalam film ``Itti Karai Pakki'' with Prem Nazir (introduced by production manager Thoothukodi Ramachandran) and did several Tamil films like ``Pasi'', ``Poi Satchi'', ``Inru Poi Naalai Vaa'' and ``Vaidehi Kaathirinthaal'' before he got noticed. Other Tamil films ``Thooral Ninnu Pochu'' and ``Malaiyur Mambatiyan'' got him some attention, but it was the Goundamani- Senthil combination that made his popularity soar. ``A. Veerappan paved the way for our entry as a pair and penned dialogues for us.''

Senthil's naivete and foolishness often got Goundamani into some kind of spot. The ``vazhaipazha'' joke in the film ``Karagattakaran'' (with Senthil setting off to buy two bananas and polishing off one en route and trying every trick in the book to convince Goundamani that the one in hand was the other one he was asking for) became so popular across the State and is evergreen in the memory of Tamil film audiences. Or take the scene in C. Sundar's ``Azhagusami'' in which Senthil accompanies Goundamani to check out a prospective match for the latter and successfully spoils his chances. Other enjoyable interludes provided by the duo include the sequence in ``Vaidehi Kaathirunthal'' in which Goundamani advises a morose Senthil to buy some flowers and halwa and give it to the wife to patch up. More damage is created with Senthil not comprehending the instructions properly and offering them to Goundamani's wife.

There is good clean fun in ``Udayageetham'' too thanks to jailmates Senthil and Goundamani (Senthil being jailed for picking 50 paise from someone's pocket and Goundamani chiding him for setting his sights so low). This enthuses Senthil to take Goundamani's address just before being released and gain entry into his house to steal under the pretext of being a friend. As luck would have it the just released Goundamani spots Senthil on the platform and catches him redhanded happily selling all the former's belongings.

In true, Senthil- Goundamani style, Goundamani beats him up to his heart's content. It is to the credit of the pair that both came up with utterly natural, convincing and credible performances.

Says Senthil ``Goundamani and I are good friends. I know him from his drama days. He is very friendly but once he puts on make up he becomes totally involved in his work.''

And about working with Goundamani he observes ``We always made sure the audience will like what we do and perfected our scenes before the final take. We could easily tell if something would not go down well and raise laughs. And we would let the director know. During the course of the rehearsals we often came up with improvisations and finally it usually evolved into something good.''

Ask him to pick out one favourite comedy sequence from the many he has done and he is reluctant. ``I've done hundreds of films. I can't single out any one. It's like choosing a favourite child.''

As for the net tally of films (he has done films in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and even a couple in Hindi. ``Phool Panayankara'', ``Insaniyat Ke Devatha'') he says, ``I have always been weak in Mathematics.''

Senthil respects the fact that the director is the key person in a film and says that nothing is done without the permission of the director and that the brief is never exceeded. However he says, when directors ask the duo to improvise they oblige.

How does he feel about being cast as a bumbling idiot most of time? ``This is only acting. Its all for the audience. Cinema is like a painting that emerges out of someone's imagination to entertain the audience and keeps them happy. Otherwise will you have a lead pair singing the opening lines of a song at home and dancing away to Ooty by the time it's the end of the pallavi? It is all fantasy.''

He sees comedy as a vital ingredient of a film. ``Comedy is like a sweet. On auspicious occasions and during celebrations sweets are always offered. We offer a unique flavour.''

``Dry jokes won't do. Even full length comedies will do well but there should be a sequence in the whole story.'' He is however of the view that comedy actors before him, like Thangavelu, NSK, Baliah, M. R. Radha and Nagesh were more learned and able to convey great thoughts. But given the length of films nowadays, hardly 13-14 reels, one can't do much. Films in those days ran into 22 reels.'' The Tamil language he feels lends itself well to comedy and adds that he speaks a mixture of all dialects - Tirunelveli, Ramanathapuram, Tiruchi, Salem and Coimbatore, to appeal to a wide cross section of people.''

He is currently working in ``Vivegam'' directed by actor Arjun and ``Love Pannunga'' with Livingston besides a couple of other films of director Manoj Kumar.

His goals in life are pretty much the same as that of many others. ``I want to educate my two sons well.'' And Senthil being Senthil adds ``I want to do cinema till the end and make people laugh.''

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