Heir to the legacy of N.S. Krishnan and M.R. Radha
Vivekh used satire to put spotlight on social problems
Almost every condolence message speaks about how actor Vivekh embedded messages against caste and superstition into his comedy.
Actor Vivekh, known by his moniker ‘Chinna Kalaivanar’, was the acknowledged heir to the legacy of N.S. Krishnan and M.R. Radha for using satire to highlight social problems. While he started out playing routine roles as a member of the hero’s gang of friends, Vivekh soon grew enough in the industry to be able to position himself as someone who supported social reform, rolling these messages into his tracks.
Writer Stalin Rajangam says Vivekh is part of the modern artistic tradition that believes in delivering social messages through art. “During the freedom movement and the Dravidian movement, the activists used plays to propagate social and political messages. Later, comedy and songs in films were used predominantly to turn focus on socio-political issues. Famous lyricist Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram is also a part of this tradition. Vivekh realised that there was a vacuum in the Tamil cinema during the 1990s and 2000s and adopted the techniques of M.R. Radha and N. S. Krishnan though he himself was not directly part of the rationalist movement. Vivekh’s formative years as a student of American College, where he had been part of theatre plays that dealt with social issues, might have played a crucial role in his growth,” he said.
Prince Ennares Periyar, organiser, Self-Respect Movement Media Centre, said Vivekh ensured mainstream attention to several of Periyar’s key messages such as the need for shedding superstitious beliefs, caste bias and discrimination, empowering women and developing scientific temper.
“Until he did Tirunelveli, Vivekh used to act as the hero’s friend in college, making usual jokes. Only in Tirunelveli, did he go from imitating M.R. Radha to taking inspiration from him and propagating Periyarist ideals. The dialogue spoken in the film “Ungala Ellam Ethana Periyar Vandhalum Thirutha Mudiyaadhu” became so famous that it took Periyar to the next generation,” he said.
Dravidar Kazhagam president K. Veeramani bestowed the Periyar Virudhu on Vivekh after the release of the film in 2000.
Two other films that are cited as examples of such messaging are Minnale and Saamy. In Minnale, the character played by Vivekh meets with an accident and will make fun of the ‘lemon’ tied to a lorry, before asking “Is the vehicle going to run because of the lemon, when it has 750 spare parts? You people cannot be reformed.” In Saamy, Vivekh played an orthodox Brahmin who spoke against caste bias and discrimination and in favour of education for all. His passing will leave a vacuum in the film industry, but his role as a man with a message will be missed sorely.