Comedy is serious business, and for actors without a flair for the art, an ability to deliver one-liners with comic panache and just the right kind of timing and body language, itâs a domain best left alone.
Hence it comes as no surprise that many heroes in tinseltown turn down the chance to star in funny flicks, even if they are game for sharing comedy tracks with the comedians in their films. A rare early exception to the rule was a Marathi actor named Dada Kondke, who kept the box office registers ringing despite a fairly routine set of plots featuring himself as a village bumpkin opposite a voluptuous Usha Chavan as the heroine.
Down South, in Tamil cinema, most heroes have fought shy of being cast in full length comedies. One of the main reasons for their aversion is that such roles do not gel with their carefully cultivated images of swashbuckling supermen saving the damsels in distress. But there have been glorious exceptions too.
Perhaps one of the earliest Tamil heroes to venture into full-fledged comedy was TR Ramachandran who with his saucer shaped eyes and nuanced dialogue delivery churned out films like âSabapathyâ and âAdutha Veetu Pennâ maintaining a sterling reputation for comedy in the two decades between the two films, and ensuring that AVP too hit the bullâs eye at the box office.
Of the duo, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan who ruled the roost in Tamil cinema for decades, Sivaji was more adept at comedy and excelled in the genre in some of his earlier films like âShabash Meenaâ, along with ace comedian Chandra Babu, and in âBale Pandiyaâ where he essayed a triple role with consummate ease. He was also in his elements in films like âGalatta Kalyanamâ. The âKadhal Mannanâ Gemini Ganesan too had comic talents to display in Balachanderâs âNaan Avanillaiâ, playing the philanderer flitting from woman to woman.
Later leading men like Jaishankar, Ravichandran and Sivakumar all had set images, and humour was hardly their cup of tea. Ravichandran made his debut in the Sridhar-directed âKadhalikka Neramillaiâ, which was a laugh riot. But even there, the frothy and fun laden scenes were reserved for the other hero Muthuraman, the inimitable TS Baliah and, of course, the comedian par excellence âThairâ Nagesh.
Incidentally Muthuramanâs son Karthik, who arrived with a bang in Bharathiraajaâs âAlaigal Oyvadhillaiâ, revealed a marked penchant for humour. In films like Sundar Câs âUllathai Alli Thaaâ and âMettukudiâ, Karthik pulled off many hilarious sequences with popular comedian Goundamani. Another hero of that era who could hold his own against established comedians was âKokilaâ Mohan also known as âMikeâ Mohan for his propensity to hold a mike in hand and belt out peppy numbers in film after film. Mohan performed with elan in Balu Mahendraâs ace comedy film âRettaivaal Kuruviâ in the role of a two timing husband.
Two of Kollywoodâs most enduring stars, who have also managed very successful comic interludes are Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
Rajini reprised Amol Palekarâs role from the Bollywood film âGolmaalâ in Balachanderâs âThillu Mulluâ and with the inimitable âThengaiâ Srinivasan taking up the mantle from Utpal Dutt, the film turned out to be a breezy entertainer with Rajini coming out on top as Indiran and Chandran.
Kamal, of course, has never shied away from comedies and his excellent sense of timing and body language could give established comedians a complex. And interestingly, none of the comedies starring Kamal have been box office turkeys. In his comic avatars, he pulled off a variety of roles from the Chaplinesque act in âPunnagai Mannanâ to the partly comic roles of âSingaravelanâ, or âApoorva Sagodharargalâ (with Kamal in a dual role, one that of a dwarf), to all-out laugh riots like âThenaliâ, âSathi Leelavathiâ and âPanchathanthramâ. In all these films, Kamal proved in no uncertain terms that apart from intense, emotion-laden roles he could also regale his fans with his prowess in raising laughs galore. Two outstanding performances by Kamal that still remain green in memory are the multiple roles in âMichael Madana Kama Rajanâ and the role of the buxom, matronly, bespectacled maid in âAvvai Shanmugiâ, a disguise that lasts almost the entire length of the film.
Sathyaraj, the strapping six-footer who made the transition from villain to hero and carved a niche for himself in Tamil cinema too has experimented with comedy with great success. With a great sense of humour off-screen as well, Sathyaraj tickled the funny bone in films like âNadiganâ, âMaaman Magalâ and âMalabar Policeâ.
The highlight in âNadiganâ was the romantic interlude between Sathyaraj and an aging dowager played by the versatile comedienne Manorama. The actress had once said that this was one of the most difficult scenes for her as she had to be doubly careful in ensuring that Sathyaraj did not steal her thunder.
The role of a Malayali cop in âMalabar Policeâ too fitted him like a glove and with Goundamani as his Man Friday proving an apt foil, the comedy scenes were a thundering hit.
Jayaram, another versatile actor might have his base in Malayalam cinema but every time he has stepped across the border he has never failed to raise ripples with his comic avatars. His collaboration with Kamal Haasan in films like âThenaliâ and âPanchathantharamâ sent his reputation soaring in Tamil cinema and the success of his solo hero role in âMurai Maamanâ with Goundamani and Senthil providing excellent support proved in ample measure that comedy roles were right up his street.
While the top stars of the day like Ajith, Vijay, Surya and Karthi have all acquitted themselves admirably in comedy scenes in their films, no producers have come forward to cast them in full length entertainers as in Bollywood, where top heroes have had success in acting in no-brainer comedies for which there appears to be a captive audience.
Comedy films are a dime a dozen these days but most of them crash land at the box office as the humour is either stale and repetitive or the actors fail to deliver the goods as talent is conspicuous by its absence. Among the current crop of heroes there are not many who have shown a passion for taking up comedy roles if one discounts comic actors like Vadivelu, Santhanam and Vivek, not to forget an aging Goundamani who is making a slow and sedate comeback as hero.
Heroes like Arya, Jeeva, Mirchi Siva, Vimal, Bobby Simha and Sivakarthikeyan have given a decent account of themselves whenever they have been cast as funny men but the present tendency to cast a whole bunch of comedians in film after film has only turned out to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
One really hopes that the situation would improve and that more âfunâ films with a healthy dose of wholesome humour will go on the floors soon. Directors like Sundar C who have a good track record in this kind of cinema should take the lead and pave the way for others to follow.
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