Popular Tamil actor and comedian Vivek was popularly called 'Chinna Kalaivanar' for his social reformative dialogues in Tamil cinema. Launched by legendary filmmaker K Balachander in the late 1980s, he went on to act in over 200 films. Becoming one of the most sought after comedy actors of Tamil cinema in the 1990s, he retained a strong hold in the industry. He is widely regarded for his performances in films such as Perazhagan (2004), Run (2002), Saamy (2003), Unnaruge Naan Irundhal (1999), Anniyan (2005) and Sivaji (2007), among several others. Winning several awards for his performances, he earned three Filmfare Awards for Best Comedian in Tamil for his performances in the films Run (2002), Saamy (2003) and Perazhagan (2004), and five Tamil Nadu State Film Awards for Best Comedian for the films Unnaruge Naan Irundhal (1999), Run (2002), Parthiban Kanavu (2003), Anniyan (2005) and Sivaji (2007). His style of comedy comprised one-liners and word plays, featuring social and political satire. He was last seen onscreen in Dharala Prabhu (2020), which was the Tamil remake of the Hindi film Vicky Donor (2012). Besides an actor and a comedian, he was also an activist and a playback singer. He was bestowed with the Padma Shri Award, India's fourth-highest civilian award in the year 2009 by the union government, for his contribution to the arts.
Born in Sankarankovil, Tamil Nadu, on 19 November 1961, he graduated from the American College in Madurai. Employed in clerical work at the state secretariat, he also dabbled part-time in humour and mimicry shows on stage. Transitioning to cinema, he went on to make a mark for himself with his comedy tracks in films. He became synonymous with humour with meaning, imbuing his comedy with social service messages such as anti-caste discrimination, education for the underprivileged, family planning, environmental protection and more. Clean humour marked his portrayals, an element which he reportedly scripted himself along with his close-knit team of friends, even in films that starred top leading men like Rajinikanth, Dhanush, Vijay and Ajit.
He created a strong body of comedy work that is considered no less than iconic. These include Pennin Manathai Thottu (2000), Lovely (2001) in which he played Azhages aka Al Gates, Ullam Kollai Poguthae (2001) which poked fun at the computer trend, and the runaway success Run (2002) which was one of the best roles in his career and also earned him a Tamil Nadu State Award for Best Comedian. His act in Kadhal Sadugudu (2003) ensured laughs even though the film tanked at the box office, while Saamy (2003) saw him target the issues of caste, the continuing conflict between Saivites and Vaishnavites, and marginalisation of the underprivileged. While Whistle (2003) did not set the cash registers ringing, his performance as auto driver Sahadevan was widely appreciated. He essayed one of Tamil cinema’s iconic characters – Inspector Das - in Pasupathi c/o Rasakkapalayam (2007). His comical interpretation of a villager was a huge success in Ainthaam Padai (2009). With Uthama Puthiran (2010), he proved he still retained his touch even though comedy in films was changing and new faces coming in. Returning to the bare basics, he showed his expertise whether it was slapstick, timing or dialogue delivery.
Other note-worthy films of his include Budget Padmanabhan (2000) for its ‘Krishnan Nair’ skit where the depressed romantic converts himself to a Malayali to impress the girl from Kerala, Youth (2002) in which his character Karuthu Kandasamy takes a dig at his own fame as one who proffers messages in his films, and Dhool (2003) in which he delivered one of his best performances in a mainstream film.
His endeavours as an environmentalist saw him start a movement to plant a billion trees across Tamil Nadu—he was advised to do so by former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam. His contribution to the green movement saw the Tamil Nadu government turning to him whenever a celebrity face was required to promote a social message. He was the face of several social messages from a campaign against water stagnation in the fight against dengue, to following of protocols during the pandemic. He would deliver them in his trademark humorous yet thought-provoking style.
He worked in more than 150 films, his last performance being that of the fertility doctor in the Tamil version of Vicky Donor, namely Dharala Prabhu (2020).
On 15 April, 2021, he had visited a government hospital with the state’s leading health officials in attendance to take his first shot of Covaxin in front of TV cameras. Hoping to dispel public fears over vaccination, he stressed on the need to be vaccinated and also follow all the Covid protocols to combat the second surge of the virus. Less than 24 hours later, he had suffered a cardiac arrest, attributed to a 100% block in his left anterior descending artery. Vivek passed away on 17 April, 2021 in Chennai. He was 59. He was survived by his wife and children.
On his untimely passing, director Vasanth observed, “Vivek was the conscience keeper of Tamil cinema and led from the front showing his co-stars how their celebrity status can be used to improve our society. He would always be remembered as a caring comedian.”
Images courtesy : https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/lifestyle/veteran-south-indian-actor-vivek-passes-away-240665