If you stake claim to be a fan of good cinema and have an interest in Tamil films, then you better have watched the recent “Vellai PookaL.” One of the best-written thrillers in recent times, the film has a jaw-dropping twist at the end that is so powerful, so convincing and so unexpected that it forces you to forgive the mercifully rare missteps in this movie. The pleasures of witnessing a well-crafted film are aplenty in the movie. The ingenious twist astonishes us for sure. That is the cerebral gratification offered by the film. So, kudos to first-time filmmaker Vivek Elangovan. But even he would be the first to admit that the primary reason the memories of the film lingers in one’s mind long after the end credits roll is the riveting, controlled performance of its lead actor Vivekh.
Unlike unidimensional comedians, Vivekh has always been a well-rounded, thinking comic actor. Right from his early roles in K Balachander’s movies such as his 1987 debut feature Manadhil Urudhi Vendum, Pudhu Pudhu ArthangaL (which featured the famous, “Iniki Seththaa NaaLaiku Paal” line) and Oru Veedu Iru Vaasal, there was a certain amount of intelligence and wit in the humor. In an interview, Vivekh mentioned that KB, during the shooting of Oru Veedu…, spotted a rainbow. Wasting no time, he asked his cinematographer to capture its splendor and then shot a close-up on Vivekh, asking the latter (who plays a writer’s assistant) to ad lib a few lines about a rainbow. Quick to seize the opportunity granted by his mentor, Vivekh came up with the following gem:
Vannangal Koartha VaLaindha Malar-aa…Vaanam Aditha Water Color-aa…
Arjunan Vilenum Kanavu Poster…Andavan Than Idharku Drawing Master!
In the 1990s, his career stuttered, his limited roles in movies like Veera going almost unnoticed. A year before he skyrocketed to fame with Vaali, he had a wonderful role in Saran’s Kaadhal Mannan. Playing a friend of Ajith’s who is staunchly opposed to the very idea of love, Vivekh’s characterization was fresh, a stark contrast from that of comedians whose sole reason for existence was to help the heroes in their attempts to woo the heroine. The humor was unforced, his lines were sharp and his chemistry with veteran MS Viswanathan was quite delightful. Having worked closely with Saran on the making of the film, he was even credited with associate direction credits for this film.
Of course, 1999 came. Vaali released. On the merit of writing and acting in some side-splittingly funny scenes, Vivekh quickly became Tamil cinema's busiest comedian. And Thirunelveli, released the next year, set the template – and standard - for his humor for the years to come. Mixing social consciousness with sardonic dialogue, his scenes were undeniably the sole highlight of an otherwise unremarkable film. Over the next few years, he went from strength to strength, writing some of his scripts but also working with one of the most unheralded comic writers of them all – the late Prasanna Kumar, the writer behind the splendid humor in Run, Manadhi Thirudi Vittaai, Pennin Manadhai Thottu among other films. His collaboration with Shankar has spanned three films till date – Boys, Anniyan and Sivaji. He was in dazzling comic form in Anniyan, the train scene a real hoot, specifically the “Kamal Sir” comment!
After being prolific for a few years, his output in films diminished at the same time that he evinced keen interest in his passion project – the Green Kalam, focused on planting trees. In 2014, he turned in a brilliant performance in Naanthan Bala in a serious role, which was applauded by critics but was not commercially successful. I state this because had the movie set the cash registers ringing, similar roles may have come his way. They say, better late than never. That is exactly what has happened with Vellai PookaL.
There is a stupendously acted sequence in Vellai PookaL where Vivekh breaks down in the solitude of his son’s house. I watched the film on Amazon Prime. I would have loved to have watched this in the theater; I can wager a bet worth the film ticket that there would have been pin-drop silence during and applause after the end of this sequence. His dialogue delivery is as refined as it has ever been, the power of lines like the "Test match" line being brought to life by the actor with a conviction of his own. Vellai PookaL has received several encomiums from critics and fans alike. I hope that this film kicks off the next phase of Vivekh’s career. Of course, it takes many a perceptive filmmaker to be the “drawing master” to help chalk out a new path in support of an actor and comedian par excellence. And they need to look no further than Vellai PookaL for a testament of his immense ability.