On Vivek

(1961-2021)

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 the humor.

Rebecca (2020)

As the swivel chair spins #14

The second Mrs. De Winter sighs as Mr De Winter arranges granules of sand on her back and says something to the effect that if memories are life perfume, it could be saved within a bottle and the mere smell of it could be used to recapture the moment. 

Mr De Winter, played by Armie Hammer, however wishes to forget his past. If only the unnamed second Mrs De Winter had known before being whisked away to Manderley. 

Fortunately, I had no problems remembering or forgetting here, I had not read the Daphne Du Maurier novel nor seen the Oscar winning Selznick production, famously the only time a Hitchcock film won Best Picture at the Oscars. So let’s say I could watch the new film without the weight of the past, a state that Mr. De Winter would kill to be in. 

Heroes who could never move into the present because of their past weightage is a story that is of special personal interest, it is also at the core of another Hitchcock film, Vertigo’ but I was also thinking a lot about Uyarndha Manidhan, in which Sivaji Ganesan lives a suffocated life due to a burning incident in his past. 

Yes, the new Netflix production is designed to be dull and hence over the two hours I thought about other story strains that could have been inspired by Rebecca. It’s not spooky nor it is creepy, but what it is, abrupt, but mostly it is a shame, because I love creepy mansions and the ghosts that inhabit them. 

Which brought me to Manichitrathazhu, yes, the similarities were striking, both have mansions that hide more than they show, whole wings that are out of bounds, repressed feelings, alienation and bookish heroines recreating a classical painting (literally) . Hmm that’s more similarities that I thought.

Rebecca of course doesn’t have a Sunny Joseph or  Brad Lee’s disciple Saravanan to guide us through it. Although the Netflix film does have Kristin Scott Thomas in the supposedly scene stealing role of Mrs. Danvers. 

The parallels between the two movies are an interesting rabbit hole to pursue, considering the claims that Manichitrathazhu’s origins lie firmly in the royal family histories of Travancore and not a 1930s novel by Du Maurier. It’s even more interesting when I realize that today is Durgashtami, coincidental? Is this a sign from above?

Durgashtami or not, any day is a good day to watch Manichitrathazhu. 

Rebecca is now streaming on Netflix

Manichitrathazhu is now streamin on Amazon Prime Video

The fact that Sivaji was denied Best Actor at the National Awards for Uyarndha Manithan is a reminder that best work is often unrecognized. So yeah that’s there.

Movies As Two Different Things

Part One: Movies As Personal Things

On youtube (and mostly in life), one thing leads to another.

The first thing was a video of Y G Mahendran listing his favourite Sivaji Ganesan films as part of the 90th birthday celebrations of the actor; the video makes for interesting viewing even if you do not know that Y G Mahendran takes pride in calling himself a Sivaji Veriyan.

He throws into the mix, a set of acclaimed ( Deiva Magan, Thevar Magan ), popular ( Bale Pandiya, Navaratri) and overlooked (Motor Sundaram Pillai) but finally settles for a very personal film for his top pick; I guess I’ll leave that in suspense, you can enjoy the video here.

One is more often than one would like, asked to choose the best or favorite among a set.

To choose the best, one must have considerable technical knowledge to compare things on pure metrics. To choose a favorite is to tilt towards a generally accepted work highly endorsed within the community.

YGM does well in spite of the fanboism, because he is a cinephile and deep down-the movie that he reserves for the last is the film that affected him the most, personally. A film, when he watches every time makes him feel as though Sivaji is standing next to him, vacating the screen.

Great movies like great art (I always think before using the word art, because it has already been abused so much) is something that affects the person internally, resulting in some change to the person. This may or may not be the intention of the filmmaker, but the viewer forms a unique relationship with the film and this relationship strengthens on every rewatch. To put it in short, great movies for me are the ones that affect me personally.

Yes, I do not believe that movies are a communal experience; although there is an effect of watching movies in the theatre with strangers, it is not a lasting effect. When someone says that such a film is best enjoyed in such and such format in a specific theatre, it means that the movie takes second place over the medium.

A great movie should stand on its own, irrespective of how and where and to whom it is projected; and with that we have raised the stakes for what a great movie is. Stay with me as I summarize.

My great movie

  1. Brings about internal change
  2. Stands on its own, not dependent on medium/ message

Looking for the greatness of movies internally; gives me a sense of what I truly like and what affects me and this unending quest excites me. Although I would also like to add that this search for greatness is hard work and observations only manifests after a long time.

Part Two: Movies As Public Things

Coming back to the unseen force that makes us conform to a select crowd, that results in fanboism.

As stated earlier one thing leads to another on youtube and the second thing is also a Y G Mahendran video.


This was, as industry people would like to call it, a success meet celebration. Nevertheless interesting, because the movie Karnan was released in 1964 and its digitized re-release had exceeded expectations in 2012, running more than a hundred days.

Karnan is grand in scale, because the story demands it; and yes it has immense re-watch potential not only because it has Sivaji in it but also other appreciable parts.

Karnan is not a signature Sivaji film, like the ones YGM mentioned in his first video. Interesting to note that Karnan is not there in his top 10.

But here, YGM is before an audience, it is his core group, a selection of the choicest of Sivaji Veriyargal (who of course will have their own top 10, when asked to pick) who would do anything for the thespian, in fact one of them did the crazy act of re-releasing Karnan after 48 years!

YGM is in his fanboi-est best, in fact his aggression can be compared to the fanboisms of Thala-Thalapathy that populate tamil social media today.

Utterance after utterance is to establish that Sivaji Ganesan is the greatest actor to have walked the earth and how actors who came after, have ruined the field and hence movies themselves.

It is. by defintion peak fanboism.

When YGM and his group seek pleasure, it is not just the raising of Sivaji’s flag high but also garners relevance when their fandom is acknowledged by successive generations.

In effect, Sivaji’s legacy becomes the life’s work of the Veriyargal, because of course they cannot accept anybody else other than Sivaji.  

It is something like that quote from the Jungle book, for the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

Without the community, fanboism has no meaning; but there is an obvious downside to this as it heavily depends on finding common ground in an individual and not entire works which leads to unwanted superlatives and the time lost in countering or defending them.

The upside is that, their craziness preserves a good part of the legacy.

Part Three: The Conclusion

No this is not a point against fanboism, but it is certainly a post to remind viewers that comments made by people in the fanboi mode should not be taken seriously.

‘Movie-public’ and ‘Movie-personal’ are the modes that we operate in, and increasingly the word ‘great’ as used by fanbois is being mistaken for the meaning that an exceptional film provides, yes there is a difference and it should be noted.

Additional reading

You can also read an earlier Laureate piece on Karnan here. 

I don’t have a Sivaji Top 10, but would have put in Gowravam, Moondru Deivangal, Sivandha Mann, Ooty Varai Uravu, Thiruvarutselvar and the such.

But I do have a favourite song from Karnan, thank you for reading.