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As success smiles...

From humble beginnings to an amazing career spanning 12 years, Vadivelu is all set to complete his 300th film. An interview with the popular comedian of Tamil cinema.

HIS IS truly a rag-to-riches story. From the street corners of Madurai to being the neighbour of Tamil cinema's top gun Vijaykanth in Chennai's Saligramam, Vadivelu has come a long, long way. Vadivelu rules on screen these days, as he and Vivek are neck-to-neck for the "king of comedy" slot. His slapstick comedy caper "Sundara Travels" released about a month back, is a phenomenal hit and his latest film "Namma Veetu Kalyanam" where he is one of the heroes, has taken a bumper opening. Vadivelu is the most sought after comedian in Tamil cinema right now, and doles out dates by the hour! The distributors logic is: If it takes a Vadivelu to herd in the crowds, sign him at any cost. In an amazing career spanning 12 years, making people laugh, Vadivelu is on the threshold of completing his 300th film with Vijay's "Bhagavathy". Excerpts from an interview with the sultan of smiles.

The audience come alive when they see you on screen and they clap and whistle more than what the hero receives. How do you evoke such response?

Evoking laughter is a difficult business. The comedy has to hold the audience attention. There is so much of tension, anger and frustration in our daily life that we need an outlet to sooth our frayed nerves. I have found that laughter is the only medicine that acts like a soothing balm.

In Tamil cinema, comedy has always been an essential ingredient for the success of any film. Has there been any marked change with today's heroes themselves being good comedians.

No, the pattern continues. Nagesh used to provide all the comedy in MGR films and he used to acknowledge it. MGR was magnanimous unlike today's heroes who do not like the comedian getting equal footage or even his face appearing on the posters!

Some of the heroes of today accuse you of being a scene-stealer. Is it true?

Some of the young heroes of today feel that I may steal the thunder from them. These arise out of their insecurities, but there are actors like Kamal Hassan, Vijaykanth and even Vijay who encourage me a lot. Recently a hero insisted that my `ugly' face should not be used on the posters of the film. But after the film flopped, the producers printed new posters with my face so that the film could at least get a decent run in the B and C stations!

Tell us about your background and entry into films?

I have a very humble origin from the streets of Madurai, where I used to be the comedian in street-corner theatres. When all my friends started saying that I should try my luck in films, I came to Chennai in 1987 and managed to get a bit role in T.Rajendar's "En Thangai Kalyani". But when I realised that no big break was coming my way, I decided to go back to Madurai where my father was a glass cutter doing framework. I decided to continue in the family business and almost gave up my dreams of making it big in films as a comedian.

So you were in limbo for some time?

I was assisting my father for nearly three years after that before my prayers were answered. One of my friends told me that director Raj Kiran was in town for a wedding. I went and met him at the Tamil Nadu Hotel and begged him for a role. He had a few hours to kill before the departure of the evening Pandian Express to Chennai and asked me to perform in front of him and his friends. I entertained them with my gags and they were all so impressed that he asked me to come and meet him in Chennai. I bagged a role in his film "En Rasavin Manasile" where I had six scenes and a song "Poda..Poda..Punnakku..", which gave me a toe-hold in Kodambakkam. I stayed in Raj Kiran's office for over a year and it was a good address, which gave me a lot of breaks.

So your mentor is Raj Kiran?

Raj Kiran, R.V.Udayakumar, and later Kamal Hassan were all my mentors. In "Thevar Magan" the role of Essakki established me as an actor.

How different is your comedy from Vivek's?

Vivek has his own comedy track in most of the films while I may be a part of the story as it unfolds. Anyway we have our own style and there is enough space for both of us. Healthy competition is always good according to me.

But of late they say that you are putting a lot of inputs in films you are doing. Please comment.

I am concerned about the state of comedy and so at times I improvise on the role. I observe a lot which I put it across in my films. I want to be like the common man, so that the audience would relate to every character of mine.

Now after the success of "Sundara Travels" are you trying to become the comic hero?

I am doing 14 films at the moment. It is up to the producers to sign me up as a hero and the audience to accept me. Anyway director Vinayan has promised to do a film with me in the lead and I am also being approached to do the remake of the super hit Dileep film in Malayalam "Meesa Madhavan".

SREEDHAR PILLAI

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