The actor opens up about staying relevant, turning screenwriter, and what he looks for in films these days
In films, Vivekh is a laugh riot. He makes up jokes on-the-go, and regales the audience with his supple sense of humour. Most of his comedy tracks are casual and have traditionally focused on the idiosyncrasies and plight of the common man. Perhaps that's why he still continues to be relevant as a comedian. But off the screen, like a few other comedians, he has a different persona, a more serious one. He's socially conscious and spiritually-inclined to boot.
Excerpts from a conversation with the veteran comedian, whose Sakka Podu Podu Raja got released last week:
The Santhanam-starrer has a host of comedians. Ten years ago, would you have been part of such a film?
I doubt it; I was a different person then. Though Vadivelu and I have worked together during the initial stages of our career, we never got to do many films. I've never had issues doing films that another comedian is a part of. I'm glad it has happened with Santhanam. I wasn't completely convinced when he narrated the story. I heard he had plans to drop this project if I didn't agree to it. Also, I discussed with my daughters, and asked their opinion. They insisted that I go ahead.
Tell us about your character in Sakka Podu...
I play a taxi-driver who comes from Bengaluru to Chennai. I am seen throughout the film with Santhanam. It was a different kind of experience. Most of the times, we spent time laughing on the sets. With VTV Ganesh, Mayilsamy, Robo Shankar, Power Star Srinivasan, Sanjana Singh and others, it was nothing short of fun.
How do you manage to stay relevant?
As long as people like what I do, I'll be relevant. Of course, the process is challenging. I've to make sure I don't sound too old. (Laughs) For that, I need to understand how their minds work. Take Nagesh, for instance. He was the most sought-after comedian once. Then slowly, that changed. That's because he had certain restrictions. He started doing character roles. To avoid repetition, I started accepting different roles even when there was limited scope to talk. Take Uthama Puthiran for example -- I didn't have much to speak. It became a huge hit. When I was offered the role, I felt terrible because it's hard for a comedian not to talk.
You belong to the older generation. And Santhanam was also a comedian once. Did you guys have any conflict of ideas?
(Smiles) Yes, we did. But those constructive arguments are always healthy. In general, I am confident about what I say and think. I am not saying this because I am an experienced artiste, but because I've always trusted my instinct. Cell Murugan (my assistant) and I did a comedy track in the film, 1977. At that time, the editor of the film, Anthony, had an opinion that this 'Awas anjing' track wasn't necessary. But I was firm in retaining it. I told him if this didn't become a hit, I'll apologise. Those portions became a massive hit. Anthony is also the editor of Sakka Podu... (Smiles)
Most comedians seem to be serious people in reality.
Enaku kovam romba varum. (Laughs) I think that's good in a way. Kamal Haasan-oda kovam society ku nalladhu dhane? We all express ourselves in different ways. Just that the way of expression is different. Writers write, some make films. Others talk, protest. Writing itself becomes a kind of activism. The world's greatest personalities including Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are a combination of humour and intensity.
What do you look for in films these days?
The story, and a good producer. My character needs to be important to the film. That's why I (even) refused to do Saamy Square. I really loved my character (Venkatraman) in the original.
Was it hard to say no to the sequel?
I am emotionally attached to my roles. Adhan Saamy sequel pannala. (Smiles) I was busy for a long time doing back-to-back films. But now, I am content doing a few that I really like. If I can't say no after 30 years... apram enna iruku?
What are you working on now?
I am writing two scripts, of which one is a psycho-thriller. I am planning to rope in Madhavan for the film. Talks are on. I was a comedian in Madhavan's first film. I thought it would be nice to have him in my debut directorial project. On the acting front, I've this untitled film in which I play a retired investigative cop.
Some of your comedy tracks have been sexist and sizeist.
Really? But... irukardha dhaane sollirken! There are three types of comedy tracks: standup, situational and slapstick. The third one is all about insulting the ignorant. I am referring to Goundamani and Senthil jokes. En jokes thappu naa, appo, naai-pei nu solradhu okay-a? Don't you think as a society, we have accepted and laughed at their jokes? On a serious note, how many of you have taken the right things I've said -- like planting trees?
Any unfulfilled wish?
I have always wanted to do a full-fledged negative role. Till this date, nobody has approached me with one. Handsome-a irukaravan dhaan kettavan ippo! (Laughs)