Monday, February 02, 2009

Dharumi will live forever

When I read about Tamil comedian Nagesh’s death, I had an urge to watch his performance as the poet Dharumi in the 1952 movie “Thiruvilayadal”. Nagesh is extremely loud but extremely funny in this and many other movies, and I think his comic performances with veteran comedienne Manorama in various movies are absolutely the funniest. Modern comedians like Senthil or Vadivelu are not a patch on those two, separately or together.

Thiruvilayadal was one of the movies that I remember watching my grandmother watching... nodding in appreciation at Avvaiyar’s advice to young Lord Muruga, patting her cheeks in religious ecstasy every time any “God” appeared on screen, totally enraptured by the divine “plays” staged by Lord Sivaji – I mean Lord Shiva... It was almost as entertaining watching her watch the movie as it was to watch the movie! (I kind of like religious movies, anyway – all those miracles and “special effects” accompanying the Gods, the trial by suffering of the devotees and their redemption and so on. I don’t suppose any devotee of the Lord evoked such roars of laughter from the watchers, even as they empathised with his suffering as a poor and struggling poet, as Nagesh in his role as Dharumi.)

Anyway, nostalgia led me to watch some of Sivaji Ganesan’s histrionics in the movie as well – was there ever an actor who so consistently and splendidly overacted in every scene? The way he refused to entertain Parvathi-as-Dakshayini’s entreaties to accept her back was so over-the-top arrogant, it was almost too painful to watch. And I guess Sivaji dancing the “Thandavam” was about the most agile he ever got. It was pretty impressive, I’ll say.

But as far as I’m concerned, the piece de resistance was his absolutely delightful performance as the fisherman – I don’t suppose he meant to delight anybody in a less-than-dignified way
but the way he walked towards the villagers was so hysterically funny that it left me giggling for the rest of the day, every time I pictured it in my mind thereafter. I’d forgotten just how camp and exaggerated his walk was, although I guess it was meant to be manly and impressive. It didn’t help that he was wearing a very truncated dhoti that ended up something like stylised shorts with a swingy bit in front.

NB: (The way he behaved with Parvathi – I forget her name as the fishergirl – was very unfunny, though, because it was nothing short of physical harassment or eve-teasing in today’s world. Very uncomfortable to watch. But I suppose it can be condoned in a way, because the movie was from yesteryears, and it was meant to be divine "comedy".)


just another mommy said...

Aw - Nagesh is my absolute "favoritest" comedian. His timing is simply awesome. I can almost narrate that Dharumi sequence from mind... seen the movie atleast a zillion times.

Kamini said...

Thanks for some lovely memories. I just LOVED watching Nagesh - nobody could make me go into splits of laughter the way he did. He and Sivaji Ganesan - what a pair of buffoons!

Sowmya Srikrishnan said...

And I understand that the actors those days went so OTT because they were all from the stage-drama scene where shouting out loud to obviously get heard, a lot of makeup and over-action so they get seen even by the last 'benchers' was the norm. Explains why Sivaji (ever seen AVM Rajan?) emoted 'so darn much' in every scene, right?

ammani said...

Nagesh was a good actor. In Neerkumizhi (Bubble), in which he plays a hospital patient with a terminal illness is an absolute gem. Also, his turn as Maadhu in Edhirneechal is brilliant. I think in his later years, Kamalahassan was the only one who understood this actor's potential and used him to play a villain role in Apoorva Sahodarargal. Wonderful, wonderful performer who will be missed.

Viji said...

Dharumi is my alltime favourite too! :-)
But I really like him in Magalir Mattum, where he acts as a dead body and still evokes so much laughter.

One other scene (serious one) I love is from nammavar. Nobody could have done it better than Nagesh.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't meant to bum you out.

Anonymous said...


Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

Too good your comments and sentiments about thiruvilayadal and I have felt the same way about the scenes you mentioned. How about shivaji's over 'cocksureness' in the song "paatum naane, baavamum naane" to chase the arrogant singer out of town?

Hmmm...Nagesh was mindblowing with his performance -- Dharmi deserves a post for sure:)

tris said...

Shyam: I think you will enjoy reading this tribute to Nagesh, Shyam.