V for Vadivelu

A period in Indian cinema when heroes are admired for their ability to beat up 10 goons at once; here’s the ‘anti-hero’ who is renowned for his ability to handle being beaten up by 10 goons, at once!

Growing up watching his comedy, I really disliked Vadivelu. I found the jokes crass and wondered what was so funny about just getting beaten up.

As I grew older, I began to enjoy his comedies so much. Sigh, what a wasted childhood!

STD na varalaru dhana

Hailing from a remote village near Madurai, Vadivelu was introduced to Tamil cinema by the yesteryear star, Rajkiran. His first official release was however the 1988 T.R. film, En Thangai Kalyani.

In the initial stages of his career, Vadivelu mostly played third wheel to the comic pair, Goundamani- Senthil. However, it was the 1994 Shankar hit, Kadhalan that gave Vadivelu his big break. And as they say, the rest is… “STD”.

At 51yrs of age and 275 films to his credit, Vadivelu is a powerhouse of talent. Yet he remains one of the most underrated actors AND comedians of all time.

Vadivelu, the comedian

Like I stated earlier, it requires maturity to understand Vadivelu’s unique brand of comedy. Whilst other comedians of his time tried to convey social messages, make fun of others, or merely play a sidekick to the hero; Vadivelu was all about making fun of himself. Now, isn’t that the thumb rule for a comic?

The character he portrays in every film, the dialogues he delivers and the way in which he does, stays with us much longer.

It is like watching an acrobat perform — you wonder how the head, hand, body and legs do different things, at the same time in perfect harmony. In a much similar way, Vadivelu’s body language, his voice modulation, his dialogue delivery, and his comic timing are seamlessly in-sync.

In Winner, his iconic “Sanda na satta kizhiya dhan da seiyum” dialogue is (one of the many) testimony to this.

Vadivelu, the actor

Vadivelu is one of the best actors of Tamil cinema, hands down. He underplays and overplays his character with equal ease. Take Kuselan, for instance, the scene where he finally meets the Superstar. If you don’t remember this scene, first of all, what kind of Vadivelu fan are you? Second, go watch it now and then continue reading.

In that scene, he is overwhelmed with joy that he jumps around frantically. He is initially thrilled to see Rajinikanth and the emotion quickly yet smoothly changes to that of accomplishment and the joy of finally getting to be with his wife. This is just one of the several instances where the actor and comedian in him equally shine.

If somebody else had played this part or this scene in specific, it could have easily been misconstrued as ‘over-acting’. But it is Vadivelu’s ability to moderate his exaggeration and his methodical acting that such scenes seem so unforced. You forget that someone is acting the part; you simply see yourself there. And for a comedian to achieve that, is a wonder in itself.

Another proof of how amazing an actor he is, is the fact that he is one of the best ‘supporting’ actor out there. While his iconic pairings remain Kovai Sarala, Prabhu Deva, Parthiban, Arjun and Vijay; every other actor he has acted with, he has managed to have a brilliant on-screen rapport with (think Suriya in Aadhavan or Bharath in Emmtan Magan).

He doesn’t overshadow the hero, nor has he ever come across as a mere second fiddle. However, there have been films that remain barely known, but his character in it, hugely popular. Like, Madasamy in Keemu, ‘Style’ Pandi in Thalainagara and of course, Snake Babu in Arya.

Aundy all animals liking me

Vadivelu can be liked or disliked (I think that’s just you being immature or non-Tamilian); but simply cannot be ignored. His comedy sequences are so ingrained in my mind, I situationally quote at least a dozen of his dialogues during the course of my day. And almost always, be it my sister, my colleagues or my friends; they counter with a befitting Vadivelu dialogue. And I am sure I am not alone on this one.

It is easy to stereotype Vadivelu’s comedy as slapstick. But, it is a stereotype that he did not try to break out of, but gladly embraced and developed.

It is not merely the characters that he plays, it is Vadivelu’s portrayal of the character and the life he breathes into them that makes it so relatable. Let’s take three distinct characters of his — Pulikesi, Alert Arumugam and Ayachami. The three characters aren’t relatable because of the situations (honestly I could never see myself as a king, a thief or an elderly college student.) Yet when I watch (and re-watch) these comedy sequences, I am so drawn in to the realms of the characters, I hardly feel like I am watching a film anymore.

Even when Vadivelu plays a character more than once, it will hardly ever seem the same. He played a college student in Kaadhalan, Manadhai Thirudivittai and in Sachein. The role is the same in all three, the story obviously varies; but he was still the sidekick to the hero. You wouldn’t expect a comedian and a sidekick to render the kind of depth and personality traits as Vadivelu so cleverly did. Also, the three films set in different timelines, show the evolution of the actor.

Vadivelu, the Phenomenon

It’s a pity, Vadivelu is so relatable only to the Tamil populace. You know why? Because, the rest of the world will not understand the language nor his body language. That’s a shame.

Charlie Chaplin became a comic phenomenon, worldwide because well, he did not speak. Vadievlu, his acting and his comedy has that kind of potential, if not more.

But then again, that’s the beauty in his comedy. His is so raw and so indigenous that it can’t be remade or translated to other languages. He remains a treasure, Tamilians get to cherish forever.

Vadivelu, the all-rounder

Vadivelu has played the sidekick, the comedian and even the hero. And he’s delivered equally, regardless of his character’s prominence in the movie.

Vadivelu has truly redefined comedians, comedy and most importantly, acting. He is someone who truly deserves to be “world pura pamous”.

I would gladly sit and analyse his other iconic characters — Pichumani, Body Soda, ‘Encounter’ Ekambaram, to name a few. But that’d require a dissertation (which I sincerely am planning to work on).

So until his next, Dr. Boothri comes out, imma binge watch his old comedies (my kinda Netflix and chill)!

Happy Birthday, Vadivel! :D

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