It’s okay if people make fun of me, says comedian Yogi Babu

Yogi Babu, one of the most successful comedians of Tamil cinema, gets talking about his journey so far, being body-shamed and what keeps him grounded

November 26, 2018 11:46 am | Updated 11:46 am IST

For some years now, almost every mainstream film has had a part for Yogi Babu. He’s usually body-shamed for laughs but some films have cast him in roles of substance. Working across shifts, he barely catches three hours of sleep a day. The actor laughs it all away, saying this is the time to work.

In his nine-year journey (since the 2009 Yogi that lent him his prefix) to become the star he is, Babu has been clear about one thing — he will never discuss his struggles. “It will hurt my mother, my family. And, I’m not the only one who has struggled. From Ajith sir to my fellow artistes such as Rajendran, Munishkanth, Ramesh Thilak and Kali Venkat, all have gone through it. My fans look up to me for some laughter. Why tell them my sob story?”

Some dialogues targeted at Babu make people wince. How does he react? “I don’t mind them, but my mother feels bad. I convince her that it’s all to elicit laughter. That said, the industry has treated me very well. In Kolamaavu Kokila , I suggested that the character of the young boy in my store should tease me. Director Nelson was worried, but I told him it will work. There’s a scene where Nayanthara has to keep her foot on my face. I told her it was fine, but she could not bring herself to do that. She would keep wiping her feet so that no dirt fell on me. That’s the kind of respect people have for their co-actors and the profession.”

In many ways, Babu looks up to Senthil of the iconic Senthil-Goundamani duo. “Every film saw him get hit in a new style. It’s all right if I’m made fun of. Do people laugh? Is my career on track? That’s all I worry about.”

It helps that thanks to this image, Babu still retains his old lifestyle. He still hops on to his grey two-wheeler and zips around Saligramam, visiting the local supermarket and tea shop. His friends date back to his school days {“They are the best, and 96 brought back many memories”} and Babu says the respect for his profession keeps him grounded.

Recently, film-goers saw him in a sensible supporting role as Anand in Pariyerum Perumal after the 2016 Aandavan Kattalai . “ Pariyerum Perumal is a very important film for our State. Friends who saw the film appreciated my role. If the film helps people understand why they should not hold on to casteist feelings, I will be very happy. I’ll always be grateful to Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj for that.”

As always, Babu is busy with many films, with stars such as Ajith, Vijay Sethupathi, Sivakarthikeyan, Nayanthara and Jayam Ravi. There are also some small films that will depend on him to bring in the audiences. He works through the month, but might get a day or two off in between. “When I find time, I set off to the Murugan temple at Thiruttani. It gives me peace.”

Unlike others in comedy, Babu does not write his own track. “Luckily for me, directors come to me with a definite storyline. All I have to do is follow their lines and improvise at times,” he says.

After the hugely popular ‘Kalyaana Vayasu’ song in KoKo , Babu is now set to dance to yet another number in Viswasam . And contrary to rumours, he has no intention of turning hero. “I’m a comedian and I wish to stay that way. Producers are also under duress. Why will I want to trouble them further by wanting to become a hero?” he laughs.

Babu says he’s stayed out of controversy by following a simple policy — don’t get suggestions from anyone, and don’t let down those who trust you. “I’m very careful. Like they say, at noon, even your shadow is not yours. So, whom do you depend on? And what if they keep praising you and you start believing them? I always remember that there was a time when I struggled to earn ₹50. Only my slippers know my journey.”

Among his co-stars, Babu shares a special relationship with Vijay Sethupathi. “During the shoot of Junga , we spent a lot of time together. I love hearing him speak about life, and try and imbibe the things I like.”

When did Babu, who dreamt of joining the Army and following his Havildar father’s footsteps, realise that he had a funny streak? “In school, I guess. My parents were forever being called to school because of my mischief. I’ve always landed in trouble because of what I spoke,” he smiles. As a child, the family moved with his father, and Babu studied in Jammu in the early 90s.

Till today, Babu remembers those who initially helped him. He speaks fondly of director Sundar C and Ram Bala ( Lollu Sabha ), who provided the opportunities he used as a stepping stone. And, the one feedback he holds closest to his heart is his mother’s; she loved KoKo .

How does one wrap up a Babu interview without asking him about his most defining feature — the mop of hair with a mind of its own? Today, it is a style statement, but as a child, his math master loved to drag him by his hair and hit him. “Ah, adhuva . The secret is in the oru rooba seeyakaai powder. Everyone has moved to shampoo, but not me!”

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