Cinema

‘Manmohan Singh used my line’

Vadivelu in Eli.

Vadivelu in Eli.   | Photo Credit: Silverscreen Inc.

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With Eli ready for release, Vadivelu talks about his role in the film and his evolution as a comedian.

Vadivelu cites several examples of Tamil Nadu’s affection for him. It is this affection that has brought him back from his self-imposed sabbatical from the industry. He tells me about the girl who awoke from a coma to watch his comedy track playing on TV. He talks about the woman who was about to hang herself when she got distracted by a channel playing his comedy.

She was rescued when a neighbour spotted her with a rope around her neck, intently watching the ‘ Kaiya pudichu izhuthiya?’ scene. More recently, a police inspector threatened to go on a hunger strike if Vadivelu didn’t do more films. “The policeman felt that the criminals would then be occupied with watching my scenes on TV and the crime rate would come down as a result,” laughs Vadivelu. “All of them want me to do cinema. So, that’s what I’ll do.”

And so he is, with Eli — his second solo hero subject in two years after Tenaliraman — about to hit theatres this Friday. The film is full of typical Vadivelu comedy — the slapstick variety where he plays an innocent victim who gets bashed and bullied. The idea of playing characters like Kaipulla ( Winner) and Naai Sekar ( Thalai Nagaram) is drawn from his observation of street life in Madurai.

“At tea shops and saloons, I’d see people abusing each other, almost as if they couldn’t wait to rip each other’s throat off. The more people held them back, the louder they’d get. And when eventually left free, they’d simply walk away, shouting warnings about how they’d kill the other person in a few days. I found these incidents funny and used them in my tracks.”

Despite the slapstick comedy, Eli, according to Vadivelu, is different. “There’s a social message in it. I realise that I’ve never cared much about educating people with my humour, but that’s something I want to do now.” He adds that though he hasn’t consciously flavoured his jokes with a social message, people have benefited anyway.

“Lines like ‘ Varum, aanaa varaadhu’ are being used casually without people realising I came up with them. A man who doesn’t get promoted uses this line in a fun way to deal with disappointment. What about our ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh, who when asked about a policy he promised to implement but failed, simply said that situations change in the matter of a month? It seemed to me that he was repeating a line of mine: ‘ Adhu pona maasam. Idhu indha maasam.’ Social message or otherwise, who can figure out the million ways in which people benefit from comedy?”

Vadivelu is quite excited about a song in Eli. “We have shot an old Hindi song from Aradhana called ‘Mere Sapnon Ki’. I lip-sync lines from the song. It’s hilarious.” Eli is a translation of the English word, rat, which is slang for ‘spy’. The director, Yuvaraj Dhayalan, explains that he was inspired by repeated usage of the word in The Departed. Vadivelu, naturally, is the spy who manages to funnily wriggle out of tight corners… like a rat.

The most difficult job in the world is being a comedian, he says. “A villain just has to scream and look menacing. Inga vaa da! ( He screams) See what I mean? Being a hero is easy too. In fact, for the fight scenes, the dupe will do all the work. But there can be no dupe for a comedian. In every single frame of every scene of every film, it has to be me.”

Vadivelu was a bit rusty initially. “I was pretty nervous stepping into the set of Eli on the first day. I did a scene, and everybody laughed, and then I knew the flow had returned.” His unsuccessful stint in politics, he admits, caused him to take a two-year break. “ Vamba vela kuduthu vaanginen.” But he says the break was helpful. “I spent time with my family; I relaxed. It had been a long time since I did that.”

When he’s down, he watches his comedy tracks to cheer up. “I can often be spotted laughing out loud, watching my compilations on YouTube. Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi, Friends and Marudhamalai are among my favourites.” I exclaim that he’s able to enjoy his comedy like a commoner. “When I’m not acting, I am a commoner.” He’s unable to do such tracks anymore as “quite a few films these days are like an extended comedy track, and don’t need a separate one.”

He agrees that comedians come and go. “There were probably 5,000 comedians in between N. S. Krishnan, Thangavelu, Chandrababu and Nagesh. But we only remember those four.

I hope I stay in people’s hearts like they did.” It’s no surprise to Vadivelu that he became as popular as he did. This was the only thing he was ever good at. In his words, “ Padippu yerala. Nadippu yerichu.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2018 4:00:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/vadivelu-about-his-role-in-new-film-eli/article7312839.ece

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