Monday, November 03, 2008

Poornam Viswanathan

One of my favorite film personalities passed away recently. "All India Radio, seythikal vasippathu Poornam Viswanathan" was how he started at 5:30 AM on the morning of August 15th, 1947. He was the first Thamizh AIR radio announcer of free India and "India is a free country" were his next words. However, Poornam's claim to fame stems from the variety of character roles he has played in Thamizh movies. He is one of those majestic characters who made small roles look important. Those roles would have been condemned to anonymity if someone else had played them but people like Poornam Vishwanathan (or my other favorite character actors V.K Ramaswamy and Shanmuga Sundaram) gave richness, aura and life to those characters. Most TV/movie viewers regard Poornam Viswanathan as a household personality. A grandpa type person who seems to have been with us forever. Nobody wonders when he came into our lives. Not many can remember the year he made his movie debut. He has been there in most movies we care to remember and we take that for granted. Even if he did not have black and white movie to his credit (he may - but thats besides the point) we would still regard him with fondness that we reserve for veteran actors.

In his movies, he was mostly the innocent man. Ethical, often victimized, but one who tried his best. There were some notable exceptions to this too. My memory isn't what it used to be so I putting the following out with a higher-than-usual probability of error. Somehow, when I think of Poornam, I am reminded of the set of short-story series he did many years ago for DD. He did about 2-3 different short stories each spanning 2-3 episodes. One was about a middle class man's travails and another was set in the pre-independence era, where Poornam tries to avenge an English Durai. Those stories were really impressive and we got to see Poornam hog the limelight, which was usually never the case. Another forgotten but classic movie comes to mind when I think of Poornam. It has been many years since I saw this movie and I can only vaguely recollect it. How many of you remember the movie where he forges his daughter's caste certificate to indicate that she is a Scheduled Caste woman? Lakshmi plays the daughter who grows up to be an IAS officer (gets in through reservation). Poornam pretends to be her Gumaastha. She gets caught one day and there is a court case etc. It got a national award and was shown as part of Sunday afternoon DD series. If anybody remembers the movie's name please let me know.

Among his popular movies; Anjali (I love the way he says "Mrs Shekhar" and "society"), Mahanadhi, Thillumullu (his dialog "unga appan perusaa onnum sonnadhu kedaiyathu" somehow stays in the mind), and Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu stand out. He was criticised for his role in Moondrampirai. My least favorite role was the one Poornam played in 'Aasai'. He overcooked that role. My most favorite Poornam movie would have to be Varusham 16. As a head of the family who tries to unite two different factions in the family, his was an endearing and touching character. The scene where he deals with his goat getting shot is a magic movie moment. The situation was carefully constructed to touch an emotional nerve and the way Poornam delivered that scene was simply heartwrenching.

In my grad school days 2 sentences gained immortality among all of Poornam's Mahanadhi dialogs. They were "vayasu aayiduthu veggietariyan", and "appo nee brahmanan illaya" [said in Poornam style with the correct amount of give-up-ness or shock]. My grad school roommates repeatedly used the dialog to tease their meat eating/chivas regal amukkifying 'iyer' roomies. The dialog become so popular that we began to say these two sentences for pretty much everything. It did not require an explicit relevence for us to say these sentences. We just said it. People - who were lazy, who kept getting out first ball, who had pot belly, who had no energy or enthu - kept saying "vayaasu ayiduthu, vegetarian" - as some form of an an excuse. People - who watched porn, who made lewd comments on women's anatomy, who didn't understand sanskrit words, who basically did anything (normal or abnormal) were subject to "appo nee brahmanan illaya comment". At one point N.Indians grad students were saying this to other N.Indians without knowing the meaning of this sentence.

Poornam played a sad and serious character in Mahanadhi, which itself was a very serious movie. The fact that his dialogs in that movie are now being used in jokes and mimickry situations is a peculiar legacy that Poornam leaves behind. His stammer "athu..athu.athu vandhu vandhu" was his trademark filler before he began a sentence and this has become legendary. He is probably the most mimicked among all non-hero non-comedian non-villian characters. It probably speaks volumes about his unique intonation and voice. One can imagine how these characteristics were his assets during his radio career. But it is surprising to note that he translated that uniqueness to his movie stint too. In my mind, he joins small-role legends such as V.K Ramaswamy, Shanumuga Sundaram, and Major Sunderrajan. People who stood out in small character roles not just for their performance but also for the uniqueness they brought to the role. They delivered dialogs in their own idiosyncratic ways and while doing that they oddly enough reminded us of sombody we knew. That's why they are memorable. Poornam Viswanathan, his voice and his trademark stammer will live for a long time in our minds.

26 comments:

kowthas said...

I will always remember him for his distincy brahm accent. It is a pity.

I had no idea he was free India's first newsreader. Nice to know. Thank you :)

rads

Mannaru said...

nice trivia info hawkeye...

but i have to differ with u..i sensed a predictability in his acting long back...right from padikkathavan..anyway as they say 'nalla gunachithra nadigar'

Sri

Zero said...

Hawkeye,
"appo nee brahmanan illaya" -- this line never comes in mahAnadhi. Are you talking about a different film?

What Panjapakesan does ask Krishna is: "nI nAsthigan illaiyE?"

Hawkeye said...

zero,

you just told an innocent sweet believing child that santa claus does not exist. delivered the body blow. crushed memories.

i condemn you on behalf of all the great men who used this sentence for a noble cause.

sreekrishnanv said...
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sreekrishnanv said...

Even though Poornam V's dialogues are a cliche and has a predicatble performance, i think that is what people wanted out of him.

I would add that movie where he challenges Rajni with his cigar ... and what an energy to that scene !

I would like to add Delhi Ganesh to that elite list of unimportant role taker - making the role enjoyable!

Zero said...

adadA, I yam very sorry. vidunga, nilA enna AgasaththulayA irukku. manasula irukku.

AnA, innoru vishayam ennannA, "vayasu Ayiduththu vegetarian" line 'um irukkaradhA nenavillai. When Thalaivasal Vijay invites Poornam for dinner, he says "innikku nAn oru vELai dhAn... adhukkappuRam, nAn vegetarian... andha plate'la uLLa vAzhakkA thuNdu, mIn mAdhiri irundhadhu... pAththEn..." (vAzhakkA thuNdu! LOL!)

Actually, there's a Kameshwaran' line that would suit the scene you describe: "ERa mudialai. balamillai. vegetarian illaiyA..."

Zero said...

Madhan Bob's line from thEvar magan also comes to mind.

Hawkeye said...

zero,

We also said "mukka vaasi paya namma paya dhaaen" on par with the 2 'Poornam' sentences I mentioned. Few years ago I saw Thevar magan again and found out that it was actually "paadhi paya namma paya dhaaen"

periyava solli koduthathellam thappu.

Vee Cee said...

periyava solli kuduththadhaa??

sondhamaa onnum kaththukkaliyaa!!! waste! waste!

A-kay said...

I think the movie you are referring to is "Ore Oru Gramathile" and I remember parts of the movie - the one thing that stuck to me about the movie was Lakshmi's name was Gayathri.

Sachita(india) said...

No silly feelings Hawkeye, no silly feelings. ethuku ellam rishi moolam pakrethe thappu!

We do use the "vegeterian illaya, balamillai" dialogue from MMKR in our circles.

Karthik Narayanan said...

I have seen this grandpa chap in a lot of movies and grown to love him.

Good one hawk eye... But for me, the most important trivia was his name... I did not know it... :)

For me, his most memorable line was the line in thillu mullu "etnuru ruba sambalam tharan da... unnai underwear la poga sonalum poda..."

A glorious take on the materialism which exists to this day... I dunno who wrote the line, but his delivery immortalised it.

Karthik Narayanan said...

and yeah, as sree krishnan says, the wager of a toyota (was it?) for the cigarette flipping by Rajini in Ninaithalle Innikum is also memorable.

Of course being a Rajini hater, you might have passed on that one... :)

Maddy said...

I think you did not get the point right in that why people mimic him..His characters were very annoying in his later movies.check out "aasai"..Delhi Ganesh is better and i loved his performance in "Aaha"

Anonymous said...

maddy,

check out "aasai"..

Did you really read the post? Hawkie has mentioned this.

Anonymous said...

He played the lecherous, morally compromised uncle of Ganga (played by the actress, Lakshimi) in "Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal" (1974) which, by the way, was a black-and-white film.

He was fantastic.

Ram said...
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Ram said...

My tributes to the great actor. The movie name was Ore Oru Gramathile. I remember Lakshmi's fake name of Karupayi than Gayathri in tht movie :))

antbrain said...

One of Poornam's most memorable line is when he challenges Rajni to do his trademark cigarette-flick in air-catch series 10 times and dangles the keys to his Toyota car. First few times pose no problem and gradually Poornam places dettol bottle, knife and then cotton. Rajni backs off to save his finger. Lovely scene!

R-ambam said...

"vayasu aayiduthu veggietariyan" so sad though.I like Delhi Ganesh too..

Alan Smithee said...

Isn't Shanmugasundaram the guy who plays kanaga's dad in karagaatakaran? Why would you bracket him with poornam viswanathan?

bombay dosti said...

mahanadhi... oh sure!!!

Anonymous said...

http://www.hindu.com/fr/2008/11/07/stories/2008110751030400.htm



A well written tribute

Anonymous said...

sila nerangalilla vara lecherous old man was not Poornam, it was YG Parthasarathy, father of Hawkeye Blog legend YGM!

BTW#, Why YGM not in the list of Poornam, VKR etc? Insult!

Annamalai Muthiah said...

Hi

I see you all are discussing a movie, ore oru gramam, released in the late 80's . I have been looking for another movie also released in the late 80's where a mother loses her face in an accident and the children don't recognize her anymore. Finally she goes mad. Can anyone reply back with the movie name? I have been looking for this movie's title for so long, any suggestions in this regard will be appreciated. You can reach me through email: am2ta@virginia.edu

Annamalai