'We lack the ability to laugh at ourselves'
Vivekh, who plays himself in Brindavanam which has released to positive reception, looks back on a 30-year-long career
Veteran comedian Vivekh is a dead serious man. He is dead serious about his comedy, his acting. The actor, who recently completed 30 years in the industry, reflects on his career: "The journey has been
everything from wonderful to terrifying. At the same time, it has been quite gratifying".
Excerpts from a conversation with the comedian:
There was a time when you were part of almost every film.
How long could I play the hero’s faithful friend? I've refused many offers because they weren't exciting. I didn’t have the time to introspect 15 years ago because I was busy with too many films. Eventually, I got bored. Today, there are enough comedians around who are doing the same. Also, acting isn’t my only area of focus. I'm passionate about planting trees. So far, I've planted 28,73,000 saplings, thanks to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and his vision.
Has this introspection allowed you to experiment more with your characters?
I'm comfortable doing roles that appeal to me, like the ones in Uthamaputhiran, Kaashmora or VIP. I'm picking films that can't sell without me. Take Brindavanam, for instance. The script needed me.
In between, you also did films like Naan Thaan Bala and Palakkattu Madhavan, which didn’t do well at the box-office.
But I don’t regret doing them. Several factors contributed to their average performance. An actor's worth doesn't diminish because of an unsuccessful film. When Naan Thaan Bala gets telecast on TV, I get a lot of phone calls, and I wonder where these people were when it was released in theatres. I'd love to do a sequel to the film. I couldn't promote it in a big way then. But now, I know how to. Again, Palakkattu Madhavan was a good film. But Papanasam was released during that time and so I got no theatres for my film. I am not blaming Kamal Haasan. It was just unfortunate.
Over the years, Kamal Haasan is probably the only top actor who you haven’t really worked with.
I have great respect for him. But what I don't get is, why is nobody asking him this questions? Only he's in a position to offer roles to me, not vice-versa. I was approached for Thenali, but it didn't materialise.
While you have always incorporated social messages into your tracks, you don’t entirely keep it clean. You use a lot of double entendres, for instance.
There's no such thing as healthy or unhealthy comedy. I write my own tracks and I know my limits. Over the years, my tracks have become more refined. Whatever people enjoy is good humour. I can't keep doing what NS Krishnan did. Apdiye panninaa, enna outdated-nu solli oram kattida maateengala? (Laughs) People know that my comedy isn't meant to hurt anyone. Even when it does, it has only one purpose: humour.
So, you don’t really regret some of your sexist and sizeist jokes on screen.
It's all in the way you see it. Women aren't dressing the way they did in 1950. Why, then, do you expect me to do the same old thing? In Hollywood, they're open to doing kissing scenes. Are you suggesting that’s unhealthy? That's their culture, and it's acceptable. But here, it's not! So, can we say that's wrong? At the end of the day, remember that films are a business. Producers believe in me and invest money. I can't afford to be preachy.
Do you wonder if such jokes affect certain sections of the audience?
The answer is in your question. Does it affect everybody? No. Do you know that women are the ones who laugh the loudest at those jokes in the theatres? I think we Indians lack the ability to laugh at ourselves. That's the issue. I can't stop doing certain things just because it hurts a specific set of people. We get hurt and offended too quickly. Cinema is for everybody. The idea of a comedy track is to be a mirror to society; to wake up the collective conscience of the audience.
I read that you're quite spiritual. How do you then reconcile with making fun of rituals in films like Saamy?
I am against superstition and I've made fun of social evils including fake godmen, corrupt politicians, sex doctors and so on. I'll continue to do it. But that has nothing to do with me being spiritual.
While on Saamy, are you part of the sequel?
I'm yet to listen to the script. If I like it, I'll surely do it.
Thirty years in cinema. Any unfulfilled dreams?
I am confident that I can excel in doing a negative character! You know why? Only handsome guys are approached to play villains these days. (Laughs) But nobody has approached me with an apt script.
You don’t really play your age in films.
Why should I... when I don't look my age?
In Brindavanam, you say that many comedians have established themselves while you’ve been busy with social work. You’re working with one of them, Santhanam, in his upcoming Sakka Podu Podu Raja.
I play a taxi driver in the film. Santhanam gave me my own space, and I liked it. It's an interesting character.
Who're your favourite directors?
I am grateful to KB sir for introducing me to Tamil cinema. I also like Mani Ratnam, Seenu Ramasamy, Gautham Menon and KS Ravikumar.
Is direction on cards?
Eventually, yes. I'll make an official announcement soon. I'm already writing scripts.
There was a time when comedians were treated with great respect. Do you think that’s changed?
Yes, and I think they're not being taken seriously by audiences because directors don’t give them great roles. If directors take them seriously, the audience will too!