Vadivelu isn't Vadivelu in the recently released Tamil film, Maamannan directed by Mari Selvaraj. He is something new, something different, and something terrific. But before we go into detail about how Maamannan is a brilliant departure from the brand of films that Vadivelu is known for, let's take a look at the legendary actor's career graph.
Who Is Vadivelu? What Is His Brand of Acting?
Born with a talent for tickling funny bones, Vadivelu, popularly known as 'Vaigai Puyal' (the storm from the Vaigai river in Madurai, his hometown), has brought joy and laughter to millions of fans across generations.
With a career spanning over three decades, the comedic maestro made his memorable debut on the silver screen in 1988 with the film En Thangai Kalyani.
Vadivelu, as a comedian, has had quite a journey. His remarkable career can be measured by the comic punchlines that have permeated everyday conversations in Tamil households. Regardless of your background –whether you're a toddler, an adolescent, or an adult – everyone can relate to his jokes.
Even if you can't recall the titles of the films he appeared in as a comedian, you will always remember the name of his character and the uproarious comic sequences that are incredibly funny and can be enjoyed repeatedly for their exceptional humour.
'Sangi Mangi', 'Snake Babu', 'Vandu Murugan', 'Nesamani', 'Kaipulla', 'Naai Sekar', 'Soona Paana', and 'Encounter Egambaram' are just a few of the many memorable characters that Vadivelu has brought to life to make one burst into laughter.
Master of Expressions
One of Vadivelu's greatest strengths lies in his ability to convey a myriad of emotions through his facial expressions. His elastic face can morph into a thousand hilarious variations, each evoking uproarious laughter from the audience.
Whether it's a raised eyebrow, a widened eye, or a contorted grimace, Vadivelu's expressions have become the stuff of legend, capturing the essence of the moment and creating timeless comedic moments that have left audiences in stitches.
A man of memes, Vadivelu has left an indelible mark in the hearts of audiences, becoming an enduring symbol of laughter in Tamil pop culture. For instance, when he plays Enounter Ekambaram, a vain and ineffectual police inspector, all it takes for him to crack the audience up is to say, "Eduthen paaru ottam" (I took a wild run to escape).
Similarly, take Vandu Murugan from Ellam Avan Seyal (2008), one of the most iconic roles where Vadivelu portrays an inept lawyer, he has audiences rolling in the aisles with his comical courtroom antics and witty repartee.
His impeccable timing and exaggerated expressions added a unique flavor to the character, making it an unforgettable comedic gem.
Vadivelu's portrayal of Kaipulla in Winner (2003) showcased his prowess in physical comedy. Playing a dim-witted thief with a heart of gold, he had audiences in stitches with his slapstick humour and comedic stunts.
Vadivelu's comedic brilliance knows no bounds. With his ability to effortlessly switch between various comedic archetypes, he has showcased remarkable versatility throughout his career. Whether it's the witty sidekick, the lovable fool, or the cunning prankster, Vadivelu has embodied each role with finesse and brought characters to life with his unique flair. His comedic timing and impeccable delivery have made him a delight to watch on screen.
Remember Nesamani? That's Vadivelu's iconic character from Friends (2001), which became an unexpected internet sensation in 2019.
The meme frenzy surrounding Nesamani began when a user on a Facebook group named 'Civil Engineering Learners' in Pakistan shared a picture of a hammer and inquired about its name in different countries. In response, a Vadivelu fan commented, mentioning that the hammer is called 'suthiyal' in Tamil and humorously referencing an incident from the film Friends where Nesamani, a building contractor with a comically chaotic team of helpers, accidentally gets hit on the head with a hammer by his assistant.
The posts led to an outpouring of humorous responses and memes, with people playfully discussing and speculating about Nesamani's well-being as if he were a real person. This light-hearted trend quickly gained momentum, with users creating the hashtag #Pray_For_Nesamani.
However, that doesn't mean he never tried his hands at excelling in solid supporting roles. Vadivelu’s characters in Rajakali Amman and Thevar Magan, for instance, showed a shade of his emotive side, where he was more than a laugher machine. In films like Em Magan and Vetrivel Sakthivel, he played meaty roles that had scope for emotional sequences while letting the audience split in laughter as the hero's innocent maternal uncle, who gets roasted in the midst of their family banter.
Another classic is 23 Pulikesi, a 2006 Tamil comedy film directed by Chimbu Deven that featured Vadivelu in a dual role. One, a foolish king, Raja 23 Pulikesi, and his innocent lookalike, Singaravelan. Vadivelu's performance was excellent, effortlessly bringing these contrasting characters to life with impeccable timing and hilarious mannerisms.
How Is 'Maamannan' a Unique Feather in Vadivelu’s Cap?
Maamannan isn't your typical Vadivelu film, where he has us rolling on the floor with laughter. There aren't ‘Naanum Rowdy Dhaan’ (I am a rowdy too), ‘Why blood, same blood?’ or ’Building strong-uh Basement weak-uh' kinds of funny punchlines.
While we have grown fond of Vadivelu's portrayal as a comic star, captivating us with his quirky expressions, amusing body language, and impeccable comedic timing, Maamannan presents a mindblowing treat that defies expectations.
It unveils a whole new dimension of Vadivelu's acting brilliance, showcasing the depths of unexplored talent possessed by this comedic genius. In this cinematic adventure, he takes us on an emotional ride, shunning the familiar mannerisms and comedic punches we've come to adore. He rather stuns us with his poised performance.
What Is 'Maamannan' About?
Imagine someone saying this: "It's the 21st century! Who discriminates against anyone based on caste these days? Dalits have progressed a lot. Many of them are educated, have become rich, and are in top leadership roles. I don’t know why they would still crib about casteism".
How callous, is this statement?
Featuring Fahadh Faasil, Keerthy Suresh, and Udhayanidhi Stalin in lead roles, Maamannan (music composed by AR Rahman), with Vadivelu playing the titular role, tries to debunk the 'naive' opinions of the privileged about themes of caste-based discrimination, reservation, and social injustice. The film directed by Mari Selvaraj, in many ways effectively succeeds in putting things into perspective about how oppression works, and delves deep into its structural and systemic nature.
The story revolves around a Dalit MLA (Vadivelu) and how he faces discrimination based on caste even after attaining political power. The film talks about the societal prejudices against a person who rises up the ranks, while coming from an oppressed community. The oppressor, accustomed to exerting power over the oppressed community, dismisses the importance of education and positions of power by asserting that oppressive practises are the norm.
Vadivelu's performance in Maamannan is a masterclass in portraying a character with complex layers of vulnerability and authority. On the one hand, he advises youngsters (who refuse to sit out of respect for his position as an MLA) to sit in front of him.
On the other hand, Vadivelu, despite holding a higher position, is conditioned to not sit on a chair in the presence of politicians from lower ranks but belonging to a dominant caste, solely because he comes from an oppressed community. This highlights how social hierarchy and discrimination can render education and positions of authority meaningless in the eyes of the oppressor.
Vadivelu Makes Us Want Change
In Mamannan, Vadivelu's performance takes a departure from the conventional comic roles he has played over the years. The protagonist in Maamannan (Vadivelu) doesn't face arduous challenges to attain a higher social position. Instead, the film takes an intriguing twist by delving into a compelling exploration of how the protagonist is treated by society even after achieving that position. As a Dalit MLA from a reserved constituency, he is made to believe that his position is the result of an act of favour from the dominant caste leaders.
However, it is exhilarating to see the transformation where he realised that his MLA position was a right he earned and not a free seat. It is a representation of the struggles that the Dalits have endured over generations.
This unique storytelling approach offers a fascinating narrative that delves into the complexities of social dynamics and sheds light on the enduring impact of societal prejudices. Maamannan's exploration of the protagonist's post-success experiences captivates the audience, leaving them engrossed in the thought-provoking portrayal of caste dynamics and the lingering effects of discrimination. It is this captivating narrative that sets Maamannan apart and makes it a remarkable depiction of the intricacies of social hierarchies.
One standout moment is the gripping intermission sequence that revolves around the consequences of him daring to sit in front of a dominant caste individual. It captures the intense drama and societal power dynamics at play. Additionally, there is a poignant scene where Vadivelu portrays a sense of helplessness and isolation as he sheds tears in solitude, realising that despite having perceived access to power, he is unable to make a meaningful impact.
These instances showcase Vadivelu's exceptional range as an actor, skillfully portraying the intricacies of his character's emotions and the challenges he faces in navigating authority and vulnerability.
To top it all, Vadivelu's captivating vocals in the song 'Raasa Kannu' in Maamannan resonate with deep emotion, effectively conveying the profound pain experienced by the oppressed. This poignant and excellent song evokes the essence of an 'oppari' (lament) with its powerful delivery.
After years of witnessing Vadivelu's comedy, it was truly invigorating to witness his transformation into a dignified hero who chooses self-respect. In this new role, he captivated us by evoking genuine empathy for his character's pain instead of eliciting laughter at his expense. It was a departure from his usual comedic antics, as he skillfully brought forth raw emotions that moved us to tears.