Beyond the Neasamani phenomenon: exploring actor Vadivelu

Beyond the Neasamani phenomenon: exploring actor Vadivelu

The Neasamani phenomenon, where many Tamilians prefixed ‘contractor’ to their names on their social media handles, similar to the ‘chowkidar’ campaign run by Prime Minister Modi, is well-known by now. But Tamil actor Vadivelu’s other characters are also popular in their own sense. So, what makes these odd-ball characters so appealing to the audience, even if it is a niche crowd?

His other characters have become the source material for many memes, GIFs, catchphrases and social media jibes. Vadivelu’s character Neasamani in the 2000 Tamil movie ‘Friends’ recently went viral on social media. The hashtag #Pray_for_Neasamani was trending internationally on the day Narendra Modi was to be sworn in for the second time.

Different characters

Hover over a character to hear popular dialogues

In the film 'Friends', painter Neasamani lands a well-paying contract from a wealthy family. In order to get the work done at minimum cost, he hires one of his relatives and two other friends. There, Neasamani tries to boss around the others and calls them ‘apprasantigal’, his way of pronouncing the word ‘apprentice’.


Kaipulla is a character everyone pities because of how pathetic he is. The unemployed man is anything but your charming hero. The movie is consistent is its motif that Kaipulla gets beaten up by various people. A cloud of bad luck hovers over the character as he spends his time bossing around similarly unemployed people and attempts to help his brother in his love life. What makes Kaipulla so humourous is that even the villain who beats him up feels sorry for him and leaves him alone after a while. The character’s persistence adds to the comedy.

Pulikesi and Ukraputhan
Imsai Arasan 23-am Pulikesi

A classic plot, Vadivelu plays a dual role — twins separated at birth. One character is King Pulikesi XXIII, a stooge of the British. A weak ruler, he wants to be popular among his subjects but doesn’t know how to run a country. He is essentially a puppet to anyone who is smart enough and can easily be manipulated. The other character, Ukraputhan, is a sensible commoner who helps Pulikesi get his country back from the oppressive hands of the British. The King’s brother is the saviour that Pulikesi and the kingdom needs. He balances the King’s whimsical behaviour.

‘Vatta seyalalar’ Vandu Murugan
Ellam Avan Seyal

This role can be seen as a parody of politicians and political parties. At first, the character is an incompetent lawyer who is jailed for wasting the judge’s time. When he asks his assistants to get him ‘jameen’ (bail in Tamil), they go to the fish (meen) market and try to get it there. They come back and tell him ‘it’s not there in the ocean itself’. This kind of humour is typical of Vadivelu. Then Vandu Murugan decides to become a politician who switches loyalty from one party to another, which is a common sight in real life.

Vetri Kodi Kattu

A Dubai-returned product to a small village, Sudalaimuthu is seen as a great man and commands certain respect from the community. Of course, anyone who goes abroad garners admiration from locals, and our character is treated like a landowner. Seen wearing (as always, in any Vadivelu movie) ridiculous clothes — bright kurtas on dhotis and sunglasses — he shows off his ‘wealth’. But one day, a friend finds out what Sudalai really did in Dubai and he is mocked relentlessly for it. While he lords over people in his village and enjoys the power in India, he was a toilet cleaner in Dubai.

Subbaiya ‘Soonaa Paanaa’ Pandian

Rough around the edges, Soonaa Paanaa (as he is called) is unemployed but has a knack for stealing. He also has a way with words. One day, he is brought before the village panchayat for an investigation. But speaking in a high decibel voice, without showing any fear, he manages to threaten the people who complained against him. His character is overly confident and fears no authority. He takes pleasure in interfering in others business. He’s used as a pop culture reference for someone who comes in, disturbs everything and walks away happily.

Vadivelu was a pop culture icon long before social media came along

N Vinoth Kumar

The last time we saw Tamil actor Vadivelu in a movie was ‘Mersal’ in 2017. Though he played the role of a comedian, his usual rib-tickling one-liners were absent. It was in 2011, when ‘Kavalan’ (the remake of Malayalam film ‘Bodyguard’) released, that we saw the comedian in his full form. Even today, the line from the movie ‘Ayyo paavam. Avarey confuse aagittaaru (Poor thing, he himself got confused)’ is famous. After that, the curtains came down on his career because of his involvement with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Intriguingly, eight years after the film’s release the catchphrase applies to the actor’s present situation. After the hashtag ‘Pray_for_Neasamani’ went viral worldwide, the actor saw a comeback of sorts. But the actor himself was oblivious to the happenings until the media approached him. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Neasamani episode brought huge comic relief to a state that’s at the receiving end of political brickbats now.

Vadivelu brought a new kind of narrative to the comedy scene in Tamil cinema. Till the late 1970s comedians were used as ‘set property’ or ‘atmosphere fillers’ in most films. That changed a bit with the arrival of Goundamani and Senthil. However, the duo, considered by many as a replica of Laurel and Hardy, mostly played ‘master-slave’ kind of roles. They dominated the screen time and secondary actors were hardly seen in their films.

The start of a new era

Vadivelu highlighted the various shades of comedy, which was refreshing for the audience. His brand of humour, the self-deprecating kind, was something that people found relatable. His roles also gave a fair share of screen time to small characters, so even his side-kicks shined in the films. Actors like ‘Halwa’ Vasu, Singamuthu, Muthu Kaalai and Bava Lakshmanan were some of the noteworthy side-kicks. At certain times, these side-kicks try to overpower the lead comedian and that is how most of the comedy scenes became popular.

While his contemporary and competitor, actor Vivekh tried to make the audience laugh with his tongue-in-cheek dialogues and sense of timing, Vadivelu through his screen presence and body language, provided a good laugh to viewers.

Many equate him with Nagesh, the erstwhile comedian because of his ‘self-deprecating’ roles. But Vadivelu often goes beyond Nagesh with his one-liners, many of which have now attained a cult status. His one-liners have become a part and parcel of the everyday lives of Tamils. Take these one liners for instance: ‘Katta Duraikku kattam sariyillai (Katta Durai’s time is not good)’ (used when one’s time is not good), ‘Maappu, vechittaanga aappu (Dude, you’ve put me in trouble)’ (used when one’s in a ‘Catch-22’ situation), ‘Risk edukkurathellam enakku rasku saappidara maathiri (Taking risk is like eating rusk)’ (used when one achieves something easily but shows it off as a risky job).

These one-liners received such a great response that they even overshadowed the ‘punch dialogues’ delivered by the protagonists. Through these lines, Vadivelu taught the viewers to face any kind of difficult situation in a comical way, so that one isn’t immersed in their worries. In one way, he taught us to live the way of life Thirukkural taught: ‘Idukkan varungaal naguga’ (Try to laugh at turbulent times).

All these popular one-liners are phrases people used, albeit in different forms, even before they heard them in the movies. That is where the success of Vadivelu lies. He always has an ear to the ground — he takes words from laymen and popularises them through his films. Coming from a village background, he easily translated even flat sentences and words into lines with memorable connotations using voice modulation. For example take these phrases: ‘Vandhuttaanya… vandhuttaanya (He’s come...he’s come)’, ‘Veynaam… valikkuthu (No… it’s painful)’ and ‘Marupadiyum muthalla irunthaa (Again! From first?)’, are hilarious when said in Tamil.

Preserved by meme culture

Introduced by actor Raj Kiran in his film ‘En Raasavin Manasiley’ (1991), Vadivelu started to shine from the film ‘Kadhalan’ (1994), directed by Shankar. One of his dialogues in that film had the words ‘Jil Jung Juk’ to define the girls in college. The slang later became the title of a film starring Siddharth. Initially delivering dialogues written by others, it has been said that Vadivelu eventually developed a team to pen his lines.

All these lines saw a comeback when the meme culture took the internet by storm. One-liners like ‘aaniya pudunga vendam (STFU!)’, ‘vada pochey (used when lose something)’, ‘ka ka ka po (used to appreciate someone’s cleverness)’ were and are used as satirical overtones. Now, the audio and video from many of his comedy scenes are being used separately, to match it with current happenings and news videos.

In 1998, he had a film titled ‘Kannathaal’ in which he acted as the character ‘Soonaa Paanaa’. In one of the scenes, after he dispersed a village meeting, he looks here and there and says to himself: ‘Baley, soonaa paanaa… unnai yaarum asaikka mudiyaathu’ (Hats off Soonaa Paanaa… no one can do any harm to you).

Even though Vadivelu is considered past his prime by tinsel town, his comedies and one-liners are etched out in the present and for the coming generations.