Can you get a stranger to smile? Make him laugh? Make him forget all his worries, even if it is only for a brief moment? Get him to like you? In spite of your limitations?
But a few people can. And did. Koundamani is one of them.
I am a big fan of Koundamani. I declare it whenever and wherever I can. The response is often one of the two – either the other person is also a fan of Koundamani, or is someone who cannot tolerate him. In some sense that represents the response he normally generates amongst the audience. People either like him, or hate him. Very few people stay in the middle.
His critics have many things to say about him – his brand of comedy is mostly loud, often vulgar, almost senseless, degrading, and many such similar descriptions. And it is not for nothing that such observations have emerged. I would not attempt to defend him. That is not the purpose of this blog. I only wish to record his performances that influence me and how I feel about him. Rest, we all have our lives to live.
In many ways, he was unlike other comedians in Tamil cinema. Every successful comedian in Tamil cinema, at some point of time in his career, gets compared with Nagesh. It is both a privilege and pain. Privilege because only the best get compared with him. Painful because it often exposes all your limitations. And Koundamani’s brand of comedy was very different from Nagesh’s, leaving very little scope for him to emerge unscathed in any comparison with Nagesh.
Most comedians from his earlier generations also made a mark for themselves as character artists – NS Krishnan, Nagesh, Chandrababu, Thangavelu, VK Ramasami, etc. Koundamani, however, did not make much of an impact. Neither as a villain nor as a character artist. Some interpreted this as a limitation. They wouldn’t accept that someone can remain a comedian, without having played any memorable character role.
Most comedians in Tamil cinema also felt for themselves, a need to propagate social messages through their cinematic performances. NS Krishnan, Chandrababu, and recently, Vivek, earned a name for themselves as comedians who also conveyed a social message through their performances. Koundamani, however, hardly ventured into that arena. He was an entertainer, pure and simple. No pretentions about that. Some felt this too was a limitation, a failure to fulfill a social obligation.
When one sets aside all prejudices, and sit downs to look at his accomplishments, one may see a really different picture. I have lived outside of Tamil Nadu for nearly 2/3rds of my life. That, coupled with the fact that I am not a great follower of Tamil cinema, meant that I have not watched all of his performances. But even the limited portrayals that I have seen, cast an impression upon me.
Though he worked with every major Hero, his pairing with Satyaraj and Karthik became particularly popular. Timing, voice-modulation, and to some extent his antics, were his major strengths. Most of the characters that he played can be described as street smart, some bordering on shamelessness, with brash arrogance or indifference towards others, loud-mouthed whose words often get him into trouble. Yet he finds a way out of it. However, they were all not always similar. He did don varied roles. Some of the memorable ones that I enjoyed watching and remember, are:
* The politician in Sooriyan – [Arasiyalla idhellam sadarnamappa]
* Traffic Cop – [I am strictly 25 rupees]
* Kalling – [He introduced the ‘Romantic Look’ to Tamil cinema audience]
* Workman in Mannan – [Naangalavadhu onga kitta sollitu vandom, Neenga yengakitta sollitta vandhinga?]
* All-in-All Azhaguraja – [Konda vechruka pombalaikellam Ariken Lampu tharadhilla]
* Thavil Vidhwan in Karakattakaran – [Americavula Michael Jackson kuptaho, Japanla Jackie Chan kuptaho, yennadi color colora reel vudara…..]
* Milkman – [Don’t know the movie name, but he and Senthil, the postman, fight over Vadivelu’s sister without even seeing her, “Jakkamma Paal, Jakkamma Paal”]
* Aspiring singer who impersonates a long-lost, dumb grandson, with a view to usurp the property of ailing grandfather – [Onna yaar da jangiri kuduka sonnadhu?]
* Cook suffering from night blindness in Chinna Thambi [Oru kodi ruba kuduthallum, sayandram 6 maniki mela naan vela seiya matten]
* Hapless husband in Kanni Rasi – [Yendi, ulla oru kozhi pannaye irrukku]
* Day-dreaming cop in an Arjun starrer
* Pangaali’s son in Naatamai – [Ippa theriyudu, periya manushangallam yen sila mukhiyamana vishayangala telephonela pesurangannu]
* Coconut-water vendor – [Veedu pathi yerinja fire servicesu, vayiru pathi yerinja, elani servicesu]
* My personal favorite – Filmstar Silverspoon Shilpa Kumar [Varungala mudalamaichar Shilpa Kumar, Vazhga]
* Popular performances in Indian, Gentleman, Chinna Koundar, Ullathai Allitha, Malabar Police, Kadalar Dinam. And many more……….
To sum up, he did put a smile on faces of many strangers. Made them forget their issues and feel happy. He deserves to be admired and respected for this alone, if not for anything else. I wish him happy times.
Adrasakka, Adrasakka, Adrasakka……..