Homegrown talent

Growing up in Tamil Nadu in the 1980s (we turn of the century souls are doomed to sound so old so soon, aren’t we?), one of the most important questions that you were judged on was, “unakku yaar pudikkum? Rijini-ya, Kamal-a?”[1] This question was an important divider, a quick and dirty way of determining if you wanted to continue your acquaintance with the new kid in class, or confer upon him / her the label of “weirdo” (or “loosu”, to use the vernacular) and take comfort in the knowledge that your life would not in the least bit suffer from not having this person in it.

I suspect this is a cultural phenomenon unique to the 80s. I don’t know if my parents were divvied up based on their preference for Sivaji or MGR or who ever was big in their days. And I doubt that this question matters today. Can you imagine letting say, Bharath or the Chimp (aka Simbu) define your identity in any shape or form? (*shudder*)

But as always, I digress. Us 80s kids had one more question that was an almost equally important divider – the Crazy Vs. S.Ve.Sekar question[2] [3]. Like the first question, this one too appears to be a purely 80s hang-up[4].

Personally, I have always firmly been in the Crazy camp. I was introduced to Sekar first. My cousin (who being older pretty much dictated most things taste-wise for me in those days) was a big fan, and used to watch his plays. Since I didn’t live in Madras, I used to borrow my cousin’s recordings (I remember the audio tapes of Kaatla Mazhai and Mahabharathathil Mangaatha). I loved them, and tried to hold on to them for as long as I possibly could.

I might have continued life as a Sekar fan ( I remember that that old line “ullae veliyae ullae veliyae ullae veliyae” used to make me laugh uncontrollably), but something happened that changed my loyalties forever. 4 words: Michael Madana Kama Raj.

MMKR is, bar none, my all time favorite Tamil movie ever. And am pretty sure it will retain its position for the rest of my life. There may well be funnier movies, but none will have the “I grew up with this movie” cachet that this one has. I still watch this movie once in a while. I don’t laugh at every joke any more – but just for my favorites (the incident of the poor mama’s false teeth, most scenes involving the dad in the last third of the movie (his wanting to make tea at the tea estate, his wanting to relocate discussions to inside the refrigerator), and others that I love because I remember these are my parents’ favorites (for some reason the line “kizhinjithu, ithula Telungu vera” used to make my Dad laugh the hardest I remember him laughing, the “thiruppu thiruppu” joke that always set my mother off, the “Beem boy Beem boy” thing that one of my cousins used to recite till we were convinced that the gift of speech, especially in boys under the age of 10, was something that the family should be able to turn off at will).

MMKR’s cult status apart, Crazy has done some awesome writing for a number of other movies and of course, there are the plays. I’ll move on after a brief mention of my favorites – A-Ha (my kingdom for the deaf thaatha, and the classic one-liners like “Sweet name. Jangiri”), Aboorva Sagodharargal (Manorama at the police station and Mouli get funnier with reruns and Janakaraj & Shivaji remain as fresh as ever), Thenaali (Dr. Panchabootham & his assistant Ramesh Khanna who always gets Thenaali’s name wrong), and Kaathala Kaathala (I don’t like this movie (too many kadi jokes), and mention it out of fear of legions of Crazy fans issuing a fatwa in my name).

I thought about why I came to prefer Crazy over Sekar. The answer lies in the fact that Crazy is closer to PGW than Sekar is. The intricate plots, characters that spill over from one play to the next, his masterly use of props (in one play, Crazy plays a character who’s supposed to kidnap someone, and goes around begging all the characters in that scene to take the chloroform drenched handkerchief from him, there’s another that involves a sack of coconuts), his use of Madras-English (he gets it bang on – his English dialogues remind me of grandfathers-who-write-to-the-Hindu-editor, convent-taught-kids (think Church Park, DB – the “old” schools), The Hindu, and well just Madras), and his ability to bend language to his purposes (“I mean what I mean, but they can’t be so mean” is a priceless thing to say when your main characters are losing their minds about fish in the Sambar).

S. Ve’s plays are funny too. In her post, Tilo calls him the Seinfeld of Madras. I agree. Seinfeld and Larry David are very funny, but do make their characters likable. The reason you laugh at Kramer or George or Elaine is because they are so uniformly obnoxious that it gives us immense pleasure to watch them falling flat on their faces. All of Crazy’s characters by contrast are immensely likable (at least I find them adorable). They have a Wodehousian detachment from reality. No one is remotely evil, political or social issues of the times are almost never dealt with, characters are mostly bumbling and adorable idiots. If you like your comedy to be of the escapist variety, Crazy’s a fairly dependable sort to turn to.

But of late, it’s a pity to see both Sekar & Crazy stuck in a rut. It’s as if comedians are like Russian dolls and have only so many jokes inside them. Once you’ve gotten to the last tiny doll, you can only reassemble them and start over. But I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, really. All you need is MMKR and your family around to escape from

[1] The truly hair-raising part is that this question continues to be asked. Only this time as an outdated, but nevertheless important conversation starter in arranged-marriage-first-phone-call conversations. Even the possibility that judgements about one’s character or personality are being made on the basis of one’s response to this question is at least one important reason why the process sucks.
[2] Important disclaimer: I haven’t watched any of the plays of either playwright, and my exposure is restricted to the movies they were involved with, the odd audio recording and any crumbs thrown to the masses via television.
[3] Somehow YG Mahendran never figured in this question. At least that was the case in my family. Perhaps there vast numbers of YGM fans out there put me in the, er, “loosu” category on the basis of my answer some secret question that didn’t actually mention his name. To these YGM fans, I’d like to say, “You were right”. I’ve never liked him, and we wouldn’t have had much in common.
[4] Then again, what choice do kids these days have? To actually harbour a preference for Karunas or the hundreds of Karunas wannabes means that you have not only seen their work, but know enough to distinguish between them… When you have been reduced to such lows, it seems too cruel to ask you questions about wit and timing and plot and all the other qualities that mark the good comedian.

Update: For non-Southerners, the closest Hindi example to MMKR is Jaane bhi do yaaron. MMKR is no where as cynical, though. Similarities are limited to the way the plot is set up (layers and layers of carefully planned and executed scenes that all add up to a wonderfully hilarious finale)

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2 comments so far

  1. tilotamma on

    No comments here? This is the trouble with crossposting.

  2. Pavithra on

    I am lauuuing it this post! One teeny crib – if you’ve watched _Meesai aanalum manaivi_ how, just how, could you not mention it? More posts like this one, please!


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