A Comedian Turns Parallel Hero

Posted in Cinema, Tamil, Trend by Suganth on May 6, 2012
Coming from a television background, Santhanam has managed to carve a niche for himself in K-Town as a comedian who commands an opening

Comedians have always been a major draw in Tamil cinema, right from the times of  N S Krishnan and Nagesh, but now, it seems Santhanam has managed to break new ground. We hear that the directors nowadays treat the actor as a parallel hero in their films, a fact that is quite evident from his recent hit Oru Kal Oru Kannadi. Not to be left behind, producers are rushing in to capitalize on the popularity that the actor is enjoying nowadays and are using the actor to promote their films.

A leading distributor, on condition of anonymity, says, “Today, Santhanam has reached a level where he is able to generate an opening for a film. He is in that enviable position that his predecessors like Goundmani (till the late 90s), Vivekh (from 1999 to 2006) and Vadivelu (from 2004 to 2009) were during the their heydays that many distributors that I know are willing to buy films featuring smaller stars, solely on the basis of the actor’s involvement in the project. That is the reason why you are finding him being given a prominent space, sometimes even more than the film’s hero, in the ads of some of the upcoming films.”

Santhanam’s style involves the best qualities of Goundamani, Vivekh and Vadivelu. His lines can be as snarky as Goundamani without being too obvious, as intelligent as Vivekh without being too preachy and he can act as naive as Vadivelu without going over the top. Plus, he adds his own style to this heady mix — in the form of casual quips coming from a guy-next-door, which makes his brand of comedy potent.

One other important reason why the comedian has ascended to the top is because he has been wise enough to ensure that his character is a part of the narrative and doesn’t come across as an add-on. In an earlier interview with CT, the actor himself remarked about his dislike for a separate comic track, which was what his predecessors were doing. “When you do comedy as a separate track, you’ll be playing yourself again and again and risk the chance of over exposure. But when you do comedy appearing as a character that is part of the film’s plot, there is less chance of repeating yourself. That way, every role will have a different flavour,” he had said.

Explaining what makes Santhanam click, Shankar Dayal, who directed him for Karthi’s Saguni, says, “He comes across as an ordinary man whom you meet everyday, which makes his character appear natural. Also, he doesn’t believe in doing slapstick just for the purpose of getting a laugh or two. Instead, he observes and focuses on the little things that the character he is playing might do and does them funnily.” He adds that the actor doesn’t appear as a comedian but as a prominent character in his film. “While I didn’t write the role with him in mind when scripting, my first, and the most obvious choice, for the role was Santhanam,” he adds. Meanwhile, the current industry buzz is that some directors are hunting for a suitable pair for the actor in their films!

Industry insiders tells us that from superstars like Vijay or Karthi to smaller heroes like Vimal or Vinay, every actor feels comfortable sharing screen space with the comedian. The actor himself explained to us that this was because he tries to adapt to the style of the actor with whom he shares screen space. “Charlie Chaplin had once remarked that a comedian should be like liquid. So, I always modify my style a little to suit theirs. This flexibility is the reason why you will find me sharing a great chemistry with the heroes I work with,” he said.

Rivals In Decline
Vivekh: He was the top draw at the turn of this millennium, when he was able to bring in the crowds with his intelligent and witty one-liners. Though he is seen as an urbane comedian, the actor has also been involved with rural projects where he used his message-oriented comedy to good effect. This notable aspect even endeared him to a person like former president A P J Abdul Kalam, who has remarked that he is a big fan of the actor. However, his critics point out that the actor took his style of mixing comedy and messages a little too seriously that took the sting out of his comedy and made his scenes seem too preachy.

Vadivelu: The actor started his career as a secondary sidekick of sorts to other comedians like Goundamani but with his unique body language and nativity-laden dialogue delivery created a niche for himself with rural roles. He played roles that had him as a gullible person who ends up in trouble. Though this shtick turned out to be repetitive at times, he endeared himself to children with his slapstick-based comedy and was able to succeed as a hero with Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi. However, the actor’s decision to enter politics proved suicidal and has made him a pariah in K-Town today.

Copyright ©2012 Chennai Times

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