Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Changing Phases of Comedy in Tamil Cinema.


      Laughter is a universally approved therapy for the mind, laid up with its myriad moods.N.S Krishnan,the Tamil comedian of tall order,sang a memorable number classifying the different kinds of laughter.If laughter can be of so many types,one can imagine the scope and levels of the comedy spirit generating laughter.This comedy spirit, is the outcome of sharing of moods and views, in a gregarious get together of people, with a genuinely socializing attitude. In a formal  creative background,the comedy spirit takes on a regulated and systematized pattern to deliver the intended effect through books, radio stations,the drama stage,and the screens, big and small.Any pattern of comedy for that matter, is a bilateral formulation consisting of the comedy- making unit and the recipients of  humour . The patterns of comedy, change periodically.Films are no exceptions to this change.
       Comedy plots in Tamil films, have smoothly moved from one phase to the other,sensing the pulse of the audience.Quite often as a coherent sub plot, it forms a compact layer of the main plot.At times, it becomes an independently identifiable subplot, without joining the main story domain. Once a way, comedy itself takes the main course of action of a film, with tailor made situations and sensible  verbal interactions among characters occupying the show, leading to hilarious moments.The comedy element in Tamil films has been physical or verbal,slapstick or farcical, comedian-oriented or context-oriented, depending upon, the changing popular mood and reception.
       During the days of Kali N.Rathinam,T.S Dorai Raj and N.S Krishnan, the comic element was intrinsically bound to dialogues but carried its impact on the audience not only through healthy banter, but also through facial expressions and body language of the actors.These comedians were not noisy,and they measured their utterances with common sense and witticisms without bordering on vulgarity. There were no dry jokes either.The comic spirit was always a part of the conversation as we could find in 'Malaikallan' between the Police inspector M.G.Chakrabani and the head constable T.S.Dorairaj. The frequent interruptions of T.S.Dorairaj might irritate the Inspector but would never fail to send the audience into continued spells of laughter.
       N.S.Krishnan was a personification of clean humour. He would not strain his nerves to tickle the audience. His tone of satire and his positive comments implying a sense of disapproval of the existing systems and values,were his specific assets built up with a mature perception of the humour concept. His controlled delivery of dialogues would tease but not hurt because he knew how to assuage the feelings of the fellow comedians. Along with his wife T.A.Madhuram, NSK always resorted to a pleasing, well planned,and coordinated comedy throw, of a mutually amicable couple.The comedy track of NSK would certainly keep intact the  social values, cherished during his time, besides trying to take a dig at the highly prevalent superstitious beliefs. We could categorically say that the NSK couple, always provided responsible comedy,joining hands with great heroes like  MKT Bagavathar, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan.
     J.P.Chandrababu and K.A.Thangavelu who came later, had also acted with NSK, but they both provided comedy in two diagonal directions. Chandrababu believed more in physical comedy, twisting his face muscles as Charlie Chaplin would do. Being a powerful dancer of rock and roll,he believed perhaps, more in gesticulation than in clear dialogue delivery. His clumsy movement of the body combined with his singing and dance core, took his comedy to greater heights in movies like 'Pathini Dheivam' and 'Maman Magal' with Gemini Ganesan and 'Sabash Meena' 'Padhi Bakthi', 'Manamagan Thevai''Pudhayal','Maragatham' and 'Aandavan Kattalai' with Sivaji Ganesan. He had continued his physical thrust in comedy, in many other movies including those of MGR such as 'Mahadevi' 'Gulebaghavali'. 'Pudhumaipithan' 'Nadodimannan' and 'Adimaipenn'.His other great films are 'Anna'i,'Sagodhari' and 'Kumararaja'.
      Whereas,Thangavelu  firmly believed in verbal comedy,following the footsteps of NSK. But his humorous word play, in response to the queries of others, marked his level of intelligence in comedy transmission.The comedy subplots of Thangavelu  in films like 'Aduthaveetupen', 'Kalyana Parisu' and 'Arivaali'  reached each and every home in the form of gramophone records.K.A. Thangavelu and  V.K.Ramasamy were great exponents of verbal comedy,the latter with a temptation and capacity for vulgar connotations too.But Thangavelu  and the character actor-cum-comedian T.S.Balaiah, always made their comedy move on the  track of decency for family watch. Thangavelu also provided comedy, playing the hero or second hero in films like Rambayin Kadhal and Kaidhi Kannaayiram. The next entrants into the comedy field, like Suruli Rajan  and Thengai Srinivasn continued this verbal component of humour both in the form of farce and higher level comedies.
     Nagesh who  secured an unparalleled position in Tamil Cinema as a comedian,became a lovable mix of Chandrababu and Thangavelu, in the sense that he was capable of performing physical and verbal comedies in the same degree of excellence.Though not a great singer like Chandrababu, Nagesh was  an amazing dancer in his own way, and he could assertively demonstrate his word power with clarity and control, like Thangavelu.
    The list of films of this comedy legend, is too vast to include here. But no one can forget the most enduring comedy moments he created with the veteran T.S.Balaiah in 'Kadalikka Neramillai' and 'Bama Vijayam', his road comedy with A.Karunanidhi in 'Madras to Pandicheri' and later, the stomach curdling laughter kicks he gave in a dual role in 'Anubavi Raja Anubavi'.He has mixed up dejection with comedy in films like' Server Sundaram' 'Major Chandrakanth'  and 'Ethir Neechal'.His dark humour  emanating from the character's terminal illness was emphatic in 'Neerkumizhi' and his comedy born of villainous mischief was pretty much enjoyable in 'Thillana Mohanambal'.He could also generate contextual comedy by exposing his predicament in helpless situations as the one successfully displayed in Thiruvilaiyadal. The comedy of Nagesh never slipped into indecency. Cho Ramasamy,the vibrant contemporary of Nagesh,was  an amazing verbal comedian,capable of generating  intelligent comedy sparks reflecting the true fire of political and social satire.Both Nagesh and Cho put up a dual parade of intelligent and idiotic humour, in  films like Thein Mazhai and Ninaivil Ninraval. 
     The next generation comedians began to view comedy as a part of the every day reality.From the mid seventies ,Tamil films in general began to move to villages in terms of theme,story content and characterization, and as a result, the comedy segment also moved to the rural block to a great extent. The focus of directors and music composers turned to the emotion and language of the village folks. Along with Barathi Raja and Ilaya Raja, came the Goundamani- Senthil duo to occupy the comedy side of many successful films, for more than a decade.
      Their comedy was both physical and verbal, but had to move on a downward slide, to determine the strength of a new variety of humour with the domination of the rural slang.Most often refreshing, but at times ritualistic, this new comedy wave casually put Senthil at the receiving end, here and there,Sentil taking Goundamani unawares, for a ride.Their decade old comedy parade, was augmented by the arrival of a black lean man, to make it a gang of three, driving the audience to  laughter with a triangular pull. Vadivelu,the new comer, began to play his independent ISI mark physical comedy, receiving crowd- blows, each time  for a different reason, in every movie, and making himself a butt of ridicule in a fresh mode. However,thanks to the intelligent comedy track evolved by the director-cum- actor Parthiban, it made the comedy bullets shot by Vadivelu boomerang and hit him quite unexpectedly and this type of manipulative comedy, composed of dialogue twists, threw the audience into the peak of laughter.
       In the midst of these comedians,there grew up an independent voice of humour, pruned by the school of K.Balachnder,to fly his comedy wings in a free zone.It was the voice of Vivek, who chose the midway between the iconoclast and the idiot extremities to fix himself at the delivery point with a package full of positive messages. His rationalistic intent and tone of presentation became his plus points.The stuff of Vivek is a spontaneous medley of the comedy perspectives carefully evolved and developed by N.S.Krishnan and K.A Thangavelu.But even this superior brand of comedy, occasionally slipped into bathos, in the form of inferior jokes excavated from the sexy, and scatological trash. From rich contextual comedies of a mixed verbal order,Vivek's humour skits, also inducted an itch for the physical comedy of getting beaten up, to provoke laughter. However,Vivek's comedy sub plot in movies like 'Saamy' and T'irunelveli' was full of social awakening messages and his script was mostly enjoyable in many films that include 'Kadal Sadugudu','DumDumDum'  'Parthiban Kanavu' and 'Thenkasipattinam'. On the whole, Vivek's position as a seasoned comedian stays unchallenged.
      Santhanam who is currently making waves on a massive scale, is channelizing his humour flow on a spotlight basis, cutting others into their edge of discomfort, through a commendable  thrust of one liners..It is difficult to say if he has the Goundamani formula in mind or coming out with a creative side of his own by amalgamating the comedy genres of Thangaveu, Gaundamani and Vivek. At times, his jokes also tilt towards the lavatory side.
     Making sensible,decent and enjoyable comedy is not that easy.The creative base of a comedy plot is as much a serious affair as that of the main story line. Like the various components of film making,the comedy intercessions also need good time sense and spontaneous deliberation. Whether the comedy is physical or verbal, it is the appeal and reach that matter more. The full length comedy entertainers like 'Missiamma' 'Adutha Veetu Pen' 'Sabash Meena' 'Kadalikka Neramillai' 'Bama Vijayam' and 'Ullathai Allitha', had  their comedy substance and style of presentation effectively interwoven so as to keep the verve and tempo undeterred for a hearty laugh from the beginning till the end.
      The second line of farcical outlets of laughter like 'Galatta Kalyanam' 'Ootivarai Uravu' 'Veettukku Veedu''Utharavinri Ulleva' 'Madras to Pandicheri' 'Kaasedhaan Kadavulada' 'Anubavi Raja Anubavi' and the most recent films like 'Bass Engira Baskaran' 'OruKalOruKannadi' 'Kalakalappu' and Theeyaa Velai Seiyyanum Kumaaru', were all based on strong foundations of notions of laughter, and proved to be committed endeavours to woo the targeted audience for a comedy time.
      The comedy spirit weighs at invaluable levels in the hands of script writers and actors of both the main and sub plots of comedy skits. Crazy Mohan is a wonderful comedy script maker and actor, with a flair for fun and frolic, through his comedy of errors; and whenever this intelligent comedian joins hands with Kamalahasan it is a comedy storm that hits the theatres. Cho Ramasamy,the esteemed comedian, writer and political satirist and actor came out with his commendable comedy of manners in films like 'Muhammed bin Tukhlaq',and 'Yarukkum Vetkamillai'. The previous generation's skilled comedian and script writer A.Veerapan, showed a Midas' touch in transforming common place situations into fountains and streams of laughter.
     There has never been a dearth of positive comedy or talented comedians in Tamil Cinema. The phase of humour is always subject to change. But the changing phase of comedy should definitely retain its true face and formula to create the lighter side of life, without demeaning the purpose and experience of laughter.Let there be any phase of comedy, but not the one that breaches the line of refinement, to create bad taste in the name of laughter.

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