Actors taking a prefix to their names is not anything new to Tamil Cinema.Even among heroes we have some, taking their first film before their names.This is how Jeyam Ravi and Nizhalgal Ravi differentiate themselves.We have several other actors like Vennira Aaadai Murthi,a felicitous comedian known for his bilabial pranks and names like Oruviral Krishna Rao,Vennira Aadai Nirmala,Pasi Narayanan and so on.There are a few actors with a fancy prefix with their names like Bakkoda Kadher,Omakuchi Narasimhan,Thayirvadai Desigan Bonda Mani etc.But I am referring here to the two fabulous comedians of the Nineteen Sixties to Eighties called Thenagai Srinivasan and Suruli Rajan who were wonderful contemporaries in terms of age and their active period of participation in Tamil films.The prefix Thengai seems to have preceded Srinivasan on account of his role as a coconut seller in a stage play.But Rajan takes the name Suruli because of his native place near the Suruli Falls.Unfortunately, both these comedians did not live long to continue to provide comedy for a vast section of their admirers.
While Thengai Srinivasan is remembered for his bold eyes and cutting voice,Rajan's singular hoarse voice pattern would be lingering in the ears of the audience, perpetually celebrating his comedy sense. Thengai Srinivasan's comedy waves surged to reach the portals of famous production houses like the AVM Studios,Sujatha Cine Arts,Sathya Movies and Dhandayudhabani Fims, besides being closer to stalwart heroes like MGR,Sivaji Ganesan,Jai Shankar,Muthuraman,Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan.Suruli Rajan would have rarely shared screen space with MGR but has been a part of many films of Sivaji Ganesan, Jai Shankar,Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan. If Thengai Srinivasan was the favourite of director K.Balachander,Suruli Rajan was patronized by A.P.Nagarajan T.R.Ramanna and R.Thiagarajan of Dhandayudhabani Films.
Unlike Suruli Rajan,Thengai Srinivasan quite often turned to play villain roles with pomp and power, in films liken Muthuchippi,Mayanguhiral Oru Maadhu,Dharma Yudham,Sattam En Kaiyil and Thangamagan.It was a crude form of villainy that he performed in these films similar to that of Nagesh in Aboorva Sagodhargal. Some of his most popular comedy shows were teamed up with Rajini for films like Moonru Mugam and Thillu Mullu. He would have done almost equal number of films with Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan. His other great Rajini films are,Anbukku Naan Adimai,Billa and Padikkadhavan. His well known Kamal films are Meendum Kokila,Andha Oru Nimidam and Sakalakala Vallaban. But one of his brilliant and spontaneous comedy shows was in AVM's Kaasedhaan Kadavulada with R.Muthuraman and Srikanth and the song sequence ''Jambulingame Jadaadharaa''would speak volumes of the power of humour that Thengai Srinivasan was capable of delivering.The other two films in a similar category were Jai Shankar's Ungal Viruppam and Kalyaanamaam Kalyaanam.The most memorable films of Suruli Rajan are Moonrezhuthu, Naan,Thirumalai Thenkumari, Vaa Raaja Vaa,Kankatchi, Murattukkalai, and Maanthoeppu Kiliye. The last in this list in which he performed the character of a potential miser,created hilarious moments to become a historic comedy performance.
Both these comedians evinced a clear preference for decent and purposeful comedy without ever stooping to vulgarity either in their gesticulations or dialogue delivery.Like the veteran actor V.K.Ramasamy,both these comedians were fit for playing the characters of Accountants of Wealthy families or the sidekicks of landlords.Again like VKR,Thengai Srinivasan did characters prone for mischievous deliberations as he successfully delivered in films like MGR'r Rickshakaaran and Sivaji Ganesan's Thiagam. However,unlike Suruli Rajan,Thengai Srinivasan here and there appeared in very serious roles and the best in this frame was Kaliyugakkannan in which his action came closer to that of Sivaji Ganesan in Gowravam. The extraordinary characteristic of Thengai Srinivasan's acting calibre was his veritable sense of sobriety, in doing character and villain roles, giving a picture totally different from that of a comedian.
Though Thengai Srinivasan's contribution is marked by volume and versatility,Suruli Rajan's acting range and quality can not be underrated.Both these comedians reigned at a time, when Nagesh's career was ebbing and K.A.Thangavel was rarely playing comedy roles.They could be credited on their independent merit of dedication to acting in general and to the comedy zone in particular.They lived at a time when creativity was not running short of originality, or put under the pressures of the new age concepts of humour. Both these comedians could essay roles, with a perfect understanding of the rural and urban audience,though Suruli Rajan could easily fit into the rural pockets and Thengai Srinivasan to both the city and village mood.Above all, the greatest asset of both these comedians was their capacity to promote comedy without any semblance of artificiality.It is in this respect their contribution to Tamil Cinema,remains redeeming and and worthy of remembrance.