Goundamani turns 81 on May 25. The Tamil comedian may have been edged out of the screen and replaced by newer actors, but he's far from being forgotten.
Like idli-sambar and barotta-kurma, Senthil-Goundamani is a combination that Tamil Nadu loves. Their comedy wouldn't pass any test for political correctness. It was sexist, racist, classist and possibly twenty other -ists that Goundamani will counter with an "Adhu yenda enna paathu andha kelvi keta?" (Why are you looking at ME and asking that question, da?)
But it was funny. It's hard to put a finger on why exactly. Was it Goundamani's exclamations like "gokka makka" or Senthil's "muzhi"? Why was it so funny when Goundamani beat the hell out of Senthil? The universe does not have an answer for some questions.
Their comedy was slapstick and involved repetitive sequences but go to YouTube and you'll find innumerable videos from the several films that the two of them have acted in together. There are even ringtones that feature their comedy tracks!
Dubbed the "Laurel and Hardy" of Tamil cinema, both Goundamani and Senthil have a background in theatre. While Goundamani's debut film was "Server Sundaram" in which he appeared in a small, uncredited role, Senthil's was a Malayalam film titled "Itthikara Pakki". Goundamani was already a successful comedian (his first credited role was in "16 Vayathiniley" where he was Rajinikanth's sidekick) by the time Senthil came into the picture.
Known for his quick tongue and ability to "counter", Subramani Karupayya became "Counter" Mani or "Goundamani". Senthil was his apprentice and their senior-junior equation was replicated all through their pairing which spanned over two decades.
Senthil's characters were typically foolish yet cunning at times. The iconic "vaazhapazham" comedy from "Karagaatakaran" best illustrates this:
How to have your banana and eat it too? Goundamani-Senthil gave Tamil Nadu the answer to this profound question 27 years ago!
Senthil would often ask Goundamani questions to which he didnâ€™t have an answer. Like the "petromax" joke from "Vaidehi Kaathirundhal":
The dialogues would have fallen flat if the two actors had not been in sync, their expressions perfect for the situation. Senthil's puzzlement and Goundamani's annoyance play off each other, eliciting humour from an inane situation.
Their comedy track in "Chinna Gounder" is remembered as one of their best films together. Once again, Senthil asks Goundamani "intellectual" questions and Goundamani responds with biting sarcasm and the familiar kicks that the audience loved so much.
Goundamani's creative abuses flew off his tongue effortlessly â€“ somebody was always some kind of "thalaya" (head) or "vaaya" (mouth). The target was mostly Senthil whose appearance was always the butt of jokes. When Goundamani asks Senthil "Unga son peru ennanu sonneenga?" (What did you say your son's name was?) in "Indian", the latter says, "Aravind Swamy". Goundamani's response to this is, "Adupula vendha saamy-nu vainga, sariyaa irukum" (meaning, someone burnt on the stove).
Critiquing these jokes from the perspective we've gained over the years about cinema and conditioning will require trashing many of these legendary one-liners. However, laughing at somebody's appearance is a continuing trope in Kollywood comedy (Vadivelu is famously known to be a "veengi pona onaan" or a "swollen dragon lizard") and comedians often make these self-deprecating jokes for their own benefit. Indeed, Goundamani's affectionate abuse towards Senthil was what the audience loved and kept the pair going film after film.
Considering the two of them acted together from the 1980s to the early 2000s, addressing each other as "anney" (older brother) and "naaye" (dog) in almost every film, it's impossible to list all of their best moments in celluloid. Their ardent fans have put together several compilations on YouTube and other platforms where they're repeatedly watched.
Although Senthil and Goundamani haven't acted together in a movie for over a decade, and their successors like Vivek, Vadivelu, Santhanam, Soori, Yogi Babu and others have brought in their own brand of humour, Tamil films continue to make references to those golden tracks because Tamil Nadu never gets bored of it. We like our idli-sambar, barotta-kurma, and Senthil-Goundamani any time of the day, all through the year.