Into The Socially Aware World of Actor Vivek's Humour

On the heels of the late actor's 61st birthday, let's revisit his brand of comedy that cracks you up, but also gets you thinking
Into The Socially Aware World of Actor Vivek's Humour

“Take Diversion”, “Naataama Theerpa Maathu”, “Chair ku edhuku da sattai?”

These might look like individual words that carry no meaning. But if you have been following late comedian Vivek’s films, you might need no context. "Innaiku Setha Naalaiku Paalu" (If one dies today, they will be offered milk and cremated tomorrow) is the first dialogue that made the actor famous. This dialogue puts into perspective that life is not permanent. His one-liners have gone on to become seeped in Tamil pop culture today, with his punchlines gaining a cult following of their own. 

His brand of comedy soon became so unique that even if you didn't recollect the name of his movie, you’d still remember his wisecracks. His comedic scripts are often a plot unto themselves that run in parallel with the film's main narrative. And the actor has used his humour to send strong social messages against corruption, water scarcity and unemployment issues, superstitious practices, and a lot more. On his birthday week, let’s look at some of his dialogues that remain relevant to date. 


In a movie like Indian (1996), when you see a police officer asking a rider for a bribe, you know the deadly consequences the cop will face at the hands of the Indian thatha. But what if that scene was rewritten for Vivek? That's exactly what plays out in Vikram's Saamy (2003)

A greedy traffic police officer keeps insisting Vivek's Venkatarama Iyengar drive an '8' even after his licence and other documents are in place. Upon learning that the officer is looking for some kickback, he decides to teach him a lesson, taking him on a ride to hell, evoking a few laughs on the way. 

Caste and Class

When you think of the Tamil Brahmin milieu in the Tamil film setup, you are more likely to remember the jokes of Crazy Mohan (remember Michael Madhana Kama Rajan (1990)?). But Vivek put his own spin to the milieu in Saamy, using it to address education, caste, and class issues. For instance, when he brings poor children from the neighbourhood into his house, his wife and family refuse to feed them. He shuts them up by mocking them for offering food to crows but not fellow human beings. But the highlight of the film is when he takes digs at caste discrimination in the educational system. 

When he tries to enrol a kid into school, the principal says, "Ivanga laam sattai podaadha jaathi da" (These kids belong to a group that doesn't wear clothes), he immediately pulls out a chair cover, makes it into a top and says, "Chair ku edhuku da sattai?" (Why does a chair need clothing?). These scenes could have easily become preachy. But props to Vivek’s body language and dialogue delivery, they make you laugh and think at the same time.

Road issues

Vivek often dons the role of an urban youngster, a young NRI, or a foreigner visiting India. These characteristics give him the room to question events, sometimes offering insider and outsider perspectives to various issues in the country.  

The unending pothole/borewell issue

In Bale Pandya (2010), he plays the role of a foreigner who comes across a huge crowd on a narrow lane. When he learns that a baby has fallen into the borewell and died, he questions the officer about the expenses spent in trying to save the kid. The officer estimates it to be around ₹10 lakhs. 

Vivek says, “Instead of spending so much, you could have spent ₹150 and closed the borewell with a lid.” (Why have governments never thought of this?) While the officer initially blames the child, he realises that Karma is a boomerang when he falls into another borewell. This iconic scene resurfaces on the internet whenever there is a pothole or borewell problem in Tamil Nadu. 

Take Diversion

We are all familiar with the multiple underground road works that lead to frustrating roadblocks and diversions. But what if the road departments decide to do the underground work on a particular day? Say, you have your job interview that day? When Vivek is running late for his job interview in Thirumalai (2003), he finds hope in his friend Vijay, who offers him a ride. But the quick ride soon becomes the longest ride of his life, as they are asked to 'take diversion' a ridiculous number of times. And after many such u-turns, they finally reach. Well, not the interview spot, but the Tirumala Tirupati premises. (Govinda Govinda)


In Ullam Kollai Poguthey (2001), astrology gets a technological development - a computer reads out horoscopes. When such a horoscope predicts that Vivek will run into danger when in contact with water, he vows to stay away from water. But that is where his troubles begin. From his character avoiding stepping out in the rain to not taking baths for days, the sequences ridicule people's superstitious beliefs. 

But one his best digs comes in Thirunelveli (2000), where he plays a young man aspiring to settle in America. Throughout the film, he is peeved with people’s blind belief in astrology and superstition. "Ungalayellam thiruthurathuku 100 Periyars vandhaalum mudiyaadhu da (Even a 100 Periyars (prominent Tamil social activist and politician) cannot change you)," he says at one point. 

Superstitious Beliefs and Dated Practices

Vivek as Subbu, a foreign-return in Kadhal Sadugudu (2003), needs a separate column in this feature. From weak rape laws in rural areas to female infanticide and other superstitious beliefs, Subbu questions all dated practices followed commonly in villages. Sample this. When he sees an older woman feeding poisoned milk to a new-born baby girl, he scares her off by trying to feed her the same milk. Watch out for the sequence where he talks about farmer suicides and family planning, all within five minutes, leaving you in splits. 

Food Adulteration

Without going into the details of the film or character, what are you reminded of when you hear the words "Kaakaa Biryani (Crow Biryani)"? This immediately takes us to the scene in Run (2002), in which Vivek’s Mohan visits Chennai to meet his friend and make a new life for himself. But he is dealt a bad hand at life, gets cheated and is left broke. So, when he sees a street side vendor selling biryani for just ₹5, his face lights up. After polishing the tasty leg pieces, he realises that his voice has been replaced with the crow’s caw. Why, you ask? “Pinna Kaakaa biryani saapta kaakaa koral varaaama, Unni Krishnan koral ah varum?”

In Vijay's Thamizhan (2002), on the other hand, when he eats fritters from a roadside vendor, and asks for a newspaper to drain the excess oil. But he soon learns that the fritters were fried in crude oil! How’s that for saving some money?

Water Scarcity 

Remember the youngster who gets robbed and cheated by multiple people in Run? Before he eats the crow biryani, he actually tries to drink some water from the corporation water pipe. And to his disbelief, there is not a single drop of water left; the more he opens it, the more it lets out air. This would dishearten anyone, and Vivek’s Mohan gets sad too. But in his signature comical turn, he instead makes the mood lighter and says, “If they connect a tube to the tap, they can pump air into bike tires and earn money. Nobody seems to get this idea. Idea illaatha pasanga.” 

Vivek wasn’t called the Chinna Kalaivanar (lover of arts) for no reason.

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