Laughter Therapist

 

Vivekanathan alias Vivek, a post graduate in Commerce, is a leading comedian in Tamil film industry. He has won 5 Filmfare awards for ‘Best Comedian’, and received the Padmashri award from the Government of India for his contribution to the arts in April 2009.

He is more of a satirist than a slapstick comedian, which are usually popular among the Tamil film industry. His roles usually draw humor from scenes of daily life. Some of his most popular jokes relate to serious subjects, such as bribery, over-population, and political corruption.

In an exclusive interview, Padmashri Vivek shares with Marie Banu his view about humour, and its importance in one’s life.

 

Why did you choose to enter the film industry?

Actually, it was an accident for me. While working at the Secretariat, I was a main entertainer in the ‘Madras Humour Club International’ where people used to come, sit, and share jokes. I was a pioneer who started acting a joke, i.e. pantomiming a situation. This fetched me the ‘Best Entertainer Award’ many times.

I did my M.Com and was working as a telephone operator in Madurai. I used to come to Chennai, entertain the members of the humor club, and return. P.R. Govindarajan, known as Kalakendra Govindarajan, was a member of the humour club. He introduced me to his friend K. Balachander, film director, who asked me: “What do you want Mr. Vivek.” I replied: “I don’t want anything, Sir.” Both of them exchanged looks. Govindarajan said to Balachander that I was a raw talent from Madurai and did not know how to talk. I stood looking at both of them and did not know what to say. Balachander said: “Neither Chennai nor Madurai, I cannot help you. Try to get a transfer”.

I applied for a transfer and moved to Chennai. While working, I appeared for the TNPSC examination, and got selected in the Group IV category. I joined as a Junior Assistant in Madras Secretariat. All fell into place.

I started writing scripts for Balachander for over four years. One day, he explained a situation and asked me to write a script for 16 characters. I finished this task over night. It was actually a test, which I did not know. Later , he told me that I would be acting as one of the brothers’ of Actor Suhasini in the movie ‘Manadhil Urudhi Vendum’ in 1987.

I wanted to be a writer, and then become an assistant director, but I turned out to be an actor.

 

Unlike others, you are more of a satirist than a slapstick comedian. Who has been your inspiration? How do you conceive your ideas?

N. S. Krishnan was the first comedian to bring social issues into humour. Both NSK and M. R. Radha have been my inspiration. Like them, I have also spoken about the future. In one movie, I appear as a yagava munivar (yogi) and say that London will get submerged into the sea in the next 200 years. It was just a fluke statement and this was much before the issue of global warming was brought to the limelight.

For certain scripts, I pre-plan. I discuss with my team about current issues and work on the scripts. I am careful to tell even serious issues in such a way that it does not hurt the sentiments of anyone. It is a tough job. They always say that comedy is not a joke.

 

How important is humor for one’s life?

Mahatma Gandhi has said: “If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” Humour brings laughter and when you laugh, certain hormones are produced. This is equal to the state of a yogi who receives deep enlightenment after meditation.

Humour is of paramount importance in everyone’s life. Laughter is an expression of joy and happiness. Everybody wants to be happy. In Psychology it is said that the goal in  one’s life is to get more happiness. Laughter has become a therapy now. Cancer specialists and cardiologist are prescribing their patients to watch comedy clips from movies.

 

Your jokes often relate to social issues of today (bribery, over-population, and political corruption among others). There have been instances when some social issues have been solved? How do you feel about it?

Ernest Hemmingway, a noble laureate has said: “Whenever I dip my pen into an ink bottle, I leave some flesh into it. When I receive recognition, I feel proud for having given some purposeful humour.

 

You have been supporting charities in your very own way. What is your impression about the social work sector?

There are good and bad people. The system is very bad and there is no town planning. In western countries, and even underdeveloped countries like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the streets are clean. But, here in our city the planning has been given to a real estate agency who encroaches every nook and corner, and even the main road. This is why we have so much of problems with traffic.

I have a charity formed in the name of my mother through which I help poor children for their education and health. I am presently supporting a medical student who is pursuing her doctorate degree in Stanley Medical College at Chennai. I have donated a vehicle to Mullaivanam, a poor boy who dwells in a hut. This boy never rests even a day without planting a tree sapling. Although he does not earn a single pie from this activity, he takes good care of the plants and trees in our area. We have good people around and need to support them.

 

Would you call yourself a social worker as you have been indirectly trying to solve social issues in your own style?

I am working in the society. That’s all! I do not deserve the big title of ‘Social Worker’. There are people who have totally devoted their life for the society and I stand no way near to them. If something in my humour evolves as a social message, I am honored.

 

You are a role model to many youth of today, if you were to capitalise on this strength and create awareness/solve some social problem, which are the issues you would like to address?

Global warming is threatening, for which I would like to campaign for. The next issue is about young couples admitting their parents in old age homes as they do not have time to take care of them. Children want to settle in the United States once they grow up. Their parents who have been with them and have struggled for their upbringing are left behind. I would like to strengthen the value of parent-children relationship. There is a joke: ‘A mother wrote an email to her son which read as: “My dear son, how are you? Here me— your mother, sister, and all are okay. It’s long since we have met you. If you have no work, please come down and we shall have dinner.” The email was sent from a mother to her son who lived in the same home. This is the type of parent-children relationship we have today. This was once the only culture that India was proud of.

Students should enter politics. Educated people do not cast their votes nor speak about politics. Then, how could you exercise your right? Nearly 35–40 % of their votes are being wasted or misused.

 

What is the biggest achievement or appreciation that you have received for your efforts in delivering social messages through humour?

Dr. Abdul Kalam was requested to be the Chief Guest for an event to be organised at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore on April 14, 2011, and was asked to speak on the topic, “What I can do for the society”. He has suggested to the organisers to invite me instead. I think this is my biggest achievement, and is more than a National Award for me.