In recent times, not a single day passes by without this song playing at least twice in my house. My mother’s smartphone plays the visuals that put a beaming smile on her face. The song: Vayaadi Peththa Pulla from Kanaa. It is catchy, and it’s also endearing to watch Sivakarthikeyan sing along with his daughter, whose pronunciation and rendering of this upbeat number has garnered close to 30 million views!
As a bonus, my mother also had this to say: “Sivakarthikeyan is so talented and good-looking. He will come up very well, like Rajini.” My mother is 71 years old and her interest in arts belies her age. I was quite intrigued by her comment, as I had put up a tweet earlier comparing Sivakarthikeyan’s comedy capabilities to that of Kamal Haasan, which got differing comments.
I’d tweeted that Sivakarthikeyan has the best comedy timing since Haasan, and that he dances, fights, and romances well. My tweet continued, “Delivers lengthy Tamil dialogues with good diction, is on the talented Top 5 heroes list, BUT, doesn’t he also need a cohesive script? Seemaraja is his biggest ever opening?”
The comments didn’t debate whether Seemaraja is a hit or not. They instead looked to counter my opinion that Sivakarthikeyan has the best comedy timing since Haasan. Some wanted to know why I had not mentioned Rajinikanth’s flair for comedy or Vijay’s comic timing. To them, I have only this to say: A mainstream hero doing a comedian’s role is something that only Haasan has done so far. Be it Chaplin Chellappa in Punnagai Mannan or Balram Naidu in Dasavatharam — and I will add the underrated biker Haasan plays in the comic caper Mumbai Express to this list — no other hero has traversed comedy in Tamil cinema, with much the same penchant as our ace actor, Nagesh. What Haasan has done is most difficult to accomplish.
In this context, when I watch Sivakarthikeyan talk in his interviews where he ad libs to much delight, when I see his films where his counter dialogues to his fellow comedian is sharper than what anyone can write on paper, I wish he really did some “serious comedy” because comedy IS serious business. It requires not just good writing but the practice of executing scenes and dialogues in such a way that the viewer is left in splits. Eg: Chaplin’s antics are funny for us but not for him. The poker face has to go hand in hand with the body language and it’s crucial that the actor has the right timing. Sivakarthikeyan has this tough combination of talents, and his mannerisms can work well to pull off exaggerated capers and bizarre situations on screen. In this, he differs from his counterpart Vijay Sethupathi whose comic timing is wry and witty and more dialogue-driven. Meanwhile, Sivakarthikeyan displays potential to take on a full-fledged comedy role.
Yes, I hear you when you ask, “Doesn’t he combine comedy in his films?” Yes, he does. A Sivakarthikeyan movie is never complete without a few standard elements and a comedy track is one of them. He has a ‘formula’ to his films. But in this day and age, is a formulaic outing at the films the sole path to box office success? I would love to see Sivakarthikeyan do his own version of, say, The Truman Show or The Mask or a Pink Panther series, because he can make the absurd look comical and evoke laughs.
Will this happen? Will Sivakarthikeyan break away from his ‘hero-driven masala stories’ and give us cinema that takes us into its world and stays authentic to its story? Will his masala films also have space for a narrative which does not merely have him playing a good, politically correct, clean guy? Can he break away from this MGR-Rajinikanth-Vijay template and get into the the road less traveled, traversed by the likes of Haasan?