1999’s Unnaruge Naan Irundhal was a marker of how Kollywood comedy would be shaped, at least for the next few years. Headlined by Parthiban, who was largehearted enough to take up roles which provided room for most supporting actors of the comedic variety as yes he could vibe well with them, being a humorist himself. Unnaruge Naan Irundhal had Vadivelu, as the village drunk who Parthiban’s character encounters, the scenes between them are indicative of their partnership which would reach peak in next year’s Vetri Kodi Kattu.
Vivek joins the party much later, as is typical how this movie could have been made- a collection of random humorous sketches and a thin story to string it all together. As a frustrated actor-director who comes to the village to make a Rambha film (yes this is the Meena-Rambha movie ) , Vivek steals a movie really did require stealing, it was after a long time when the industry made fun of itself- he covers night schedules, late coming actors, sentiment scenes and Telugu style dance steps (Paniyaram Paniyaram Paniyaram anyone?). The short time he is on screen would earn him his first Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Comedian.
Let’s come back to the indicative part, while Vadivelu was excelling in the comedy situations that left him feeling like fool or left him beaten black and blue; Vivek would take up an issue and deconstruct it, even within the framework of the sketch comedy that the films that was being offered to him, allowed. Unnaruge Naan Irundhal is like a fork in the road where Vadivelu and Vivek parted.
In the new millennium, Vivek found an immediate place as the funny friend of then up and coming youth heroes, Vijay, Ajith, Vikram and Madhavan- but the frustration in his comedy remained (recollect the Shaeey! Kadhalukku silai vekkuranga, nee elai vekkure from Minnale ) and he elevated himself to the position where he could make fun of the heroes themselves (later Vivek gave up this position to Santhanam) but never would he miss out to include issues ( as in daily travails that the youth faced- ahem of the time) like mobile phone bill, petrol prices and even boring art films (Kadhal Jothi in Eyy Nee Romba Azhaga Irukke!). He strived to not reduce himself to a meme.
A combination of factors including the multifold ‘image’ growth of the above mentioned heroes and the game changing Winner- well, we all know what happened after that.
It is this short period between 2000 and 2003 that Vivek shone, he would talk about enrollment in caste societies (Dum Dum Dum), brahminism ( Saami) , ills of city life (Run), advertising ( Eyy Nee Romba Azhaga Irukke- Ullam Ketkume Beer) but it never seemed like he was making a statement for the sake of it, only all round good natured humor.
Vivek couldn’t go full on into body language adi-dhadi comedy ( he tried that too for a while when we clearly see that Vivek was Vadivelu stand-in such films) , he couldn’t go into insult comedy of his predecessors, but he found his niche in the mix of pop-culture (Mission Impossible, Indecent Proposal all found a place)- harmless imitations (mostly Kamal, Sivaji, Kalaignar and Vairamuthu), social awareness and daily irritations. Sadly this golden period, like all golden periods, only lasted for a time.
He would do them at a bigger scale (naturally) in later Shankar films which still had the smell of early 2000s in them.
Like all good artistes,Vivek reinvented himself by occasionally playing against type and because comedy is the most difficult of arts, he could do everything else, the most recent of which is Vellai Pookal, a well made thriller set in Seattle- an example of how he could carry a film with relatively unknown actors.
Of course, there are many Viveks (within the screen and outside) that are worth of public adulation, it could be his mission to plant one crore saplings or his quest to further the memory of APJ Abdul Kalam in the state or in general the goodness of his twitter account.
Many will write about those facets and rightly should, but these are where my memories begin.
No end card for you Vivek sir , this could be just another ‘Take Diversion’ and thank you for humor.