Cinema

Smiling satirist

DARLING OF THE MASSES: Actor Vivekh.Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Over the past two decades he has etched his name in the list of illustrious comedians of Tamil film. His comedy sequences are so popular that he gets the kind of reception a movie hero would get. Ever smiling, he connects with the audience wherever he goes. His thought-provoking comedy tracks attack social maladies without hurting people. His sense of humour is both subtle and strong. Meet Padmashri A. Vivekanandan, better known as Vivekh.

“The credit for my success as comedian primarily goes to my mother Maniammal,” Vivekh admits. “Her astounding sense of humour even during difficult period amazes me. It is a big learning curve as it helps you to view things objectively. Brought up by her, I naturally have this instinct and it continues till date,” he says.

Vivekh is meticulous in his work and plans things to perfection. Even at the time of this interview he was preparing for his speech “Madurai in My View” for the Madurai Vizha 2012. “Comedy is a serious subject,” he says. “It may look spontaneous but a lot of effort goes behind every dialogue delivery. I discuss with my associate ‘Cell' Murugan about issues and work on my scripts. I am cautious that my approach does not hurt the sentiments of anyone. It is a hard task.”

He wrote scripts and began acting at the American College, where he studied commerce. “At college, I was quite adept passing comments at people performing on stage during cultural events. Having noticed this, Tamil professor Samuel Sudanandha threw up a challenge one day when I was chatting with my friends, whether I could do something useful to fetch laurels for the college. That ignited the spark in me. It could be termed as an accidental coincidence. At that time, the college, being the host, had no representation at all-India cultural competitions. I burnt the midnight oil to prepare a skit, ‘Interview', and staged it the next day. The hilarious play won a prize. It motivated me to write more,” he reminisces.

He followed it with another script, “Namo Narayana”, for the college function. “I was demoralized to see the 30-page script get reduced to 10 pages by Samuel Sudanandha. But then, he taught me a valid lesson that a comedian should first know where to stop.”

It was English Professor J. Vasanthan who introduced him to world cinema. Vivekh also attempted a dance drama in therukoothu style through “Around Madurai in 18 Minutes”. His face became popular when he did a comedy show for Doordarshan. “It was a mimicry programme, where I tried to mimic a street vendor selling ‘legium' (a medicated paste). It became the talk of the town overnight,” he says.

Vivekh is comfortable handling satire. He writes his own dialogues for most of his movies. He captures the essence of daily life and approaches it differently to wake up the audience. “It all started when I was asked to do comedy track for the movie ‘Tirunelveli', after the scheduled shoot was over. I watched the movie and it was filled with caste clashes. Then it struck me why not we lampoon the subject. I did that and it was well accepted by the audience,” he says.

What followed was a string of comedy tracks for ‘Saamy', ‘Run' and other movies that had thought-provoking dialogues well received by the public.

An ardent follower of the styles of N.S. Krishnan and M.R. Radha, Vivekh always wanted to contribute his mite to society. He tries to create social awareness through his humour and feels that may be why he was awarded the Padmashri.

Outside his film activities, he runs an educational and charitable trust in the name of his mother that helps the poor with education and medical expenses. His concern for the common good was spotted by Abdul Kalam, who encouraged him to promote the planting of saplings. Vivekh called the project ‘Green Kalam'. He aimed to plant 10 lakh saplings before December 2011 but he achieved 11 lakhs.

Having succeeded as a script writer and an actor, now he braces himself for the next role. “At present, I am busy concentrating on my next project, ‘Murattu Kaalai', where I play the role of a eunuch. I am also working for Muktha Srinivasan sir's production ‘Pathayiram Kodi' and with P. Vasu sir's son in ‘Vesham'.”

For the first time Vivekh is acting in a Kannada movie, “Mareecha”, playing a negative character. The movie will also be made in Tamil, tentatively titled “Vazhipokkan”.

Whenever Vivekh finds himself in difficult situations he fondly remembers what his professor Mallikarjuna Rao said. “It was an economics class and was boring to the core. As usual I was trying to play some tune with broken pieces of blades and an irritated professor literally cursed me that one day I would find myself on streets. It happened during the shooting for the movie ‘Run'. It was a scene where I had to take a dip in the Cooum River. I had no other go but to do it. Immediately his words flashed in my mind.”

Whatever his work schedule, Vivekh does two things without fail, reading and exercising. He likes to read Sidney Sheldon's novels, and he works hard in the gym to keep his body fit.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 3:53:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/smiling-satirist/article2949835.ece

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