Innoru pazham

A quick post in which we celebrate Kavundamani and Senthil, fixtures in the storied comedy track of Tamil cinema. Actually this is just an excuse for me to share my favorite routine. For a more in depth look at these guys’ comedy and their caste implications, check out “On Castes and Comedians: the language of power in recent Tamil Cinema” by K Ravi Srinivas and Sundar Kaali in Ashish Nandy’s 1999 book, The Secret Politics of our Desires: Innocence, Culpability and Indian Popular Cinema. Excerpt:

Especially noteworth is the dominant mode of comedy over the past several years which comprises two comedians, one of whom is in a dominant position and the other subservient (these are usually played by two well-known comedians in Tamil cinema, Kavundamani and Senthil, though there are exceptions). The dominant one constantly bullies, exercises authority over, and is scornful towards the physical appearance and personality of the subservient one. The latter is clever at dodging this direct and indirect violence, and eventually succeeds in outwitting the former. Though this is nothing new in terms of structure and is well represented in a variety of comedy traditions, ranging from circus clowning to the Laurel and Hardy films, its caste implications are particularly strong in Tamil cinema and this adds a different dimension to the basic structure of comedy.

Anyhoo, here’s the clip, from the 1989 film, Karagaattakkaaran (translation after the jump):

Kavundamani gives Senthil one rupee and tells him to buy two bananas and come back. Senthil narrates this to the shopkeeper, who doesn’t really care. Senthil asks how much the bananas are. “Two for one rupee,” he replies, to which Senthil responds, “One rupee for two!” This goes on until the shopkeeper relents and tells him to pick the fruits himself.

Senthil returns and gives Kavundamani the banana he hasn’t eaten on the way.

Senthil: Here you go, boss.
Kavundamani: What’s this?
Senthil: A banana.
Kavundamani: How many did I tell you to buy?
Senthil: Two.
Kavundamani: One is here. Where’s the other one?
Senthil: This is the other one.
Kavundamani: Oi, what did I tell you?
Senthil: You told me to buy banana.
Kavundamani: How much did I give you?
Senthil: One rupee.
Kavundamani: How many bananas for one rupee?
Senthil: Two bananas.
Kavundamani: One is here. Where’s the other one?
Senthil: This is the other one.

This goes on as Kavundamani gets angrier and angrier. Eventually after the woman comes out and the story repeats itself, she asks Kavundamani, “Why such a big fight over a fruit?” And then the greatest line ever:

Kavundamani: What? How can you say a fruit ain’t no thing? A fruit is a big friggin’ deal! It was because of a fruit that Paramasivam’s family was ripped in two, one half going to Pazhani! That was a mango, this is a banana, but the problem is the same!

48 thoughts on “Innoru pazham

  1. So the story of the last line (as I know it) is that one day, the sage Naradar goes to visit Paramasivam and his family. He comes with one mango and gives it to Paramasivam, who wants to give it to his sons, Murugan and Pillaiyar. The problem is that this is a fruit of knowledge, and cutting it in two for them to share would dilute its power.

    So Paramasivam tells the boys that the first one to circle the world gets the fruit. Murugan jumps on his peacock and is off. Pillaiyar’s vehicle is a mouse, and there’s no way he’s going to make it around the globe as quickly as his brother.

    So he thinks about it for a minute, then walks around his seated parents, and sticks his hand out for the mango. “What’s this?” asks Paramasivam. “You are my world,” Pillaiyar replies. His father has no choice but to give him the fruit.

    Murugan eventually returns, having flown around the world, learns what’s happened and gets pissed, and goes off to live on a different mountain, Pazhani, the site of one of the most famous Murugan temples. Pazhani = Pazham + nee (fruit + you): You are the fruit.

  2. The story of Paramasivam can be found in Mahabharata? Or is this just a Tamil story describing why Muruga’s temples are found on higher grounds?

    From my observation (inferential stat, lol), many iyers/iyengars adore Vivek (not you, but the comedian) while the same thing cannot be said about the other tall comedian.

  3. Yes, we have no bananaaaaasssss. Er, or, we have the other banana.

    @Duh? I think the idea is that one guy is ostensibly subservient in a hierarchy (analogous to caste). And then he subverts that structure. Interesting take, Vivek.

  4. Anonymous: The story of Paramasivam cannot be found in the Mahabharatha, but instead in the Puranas. Ever heard of those?

    Vivek: My new favorite is Vadivel. I loved him in Kanthaswamy, even if the rest of the movie was a seriyaana bore. (Do you have any idea if he’s in Enthiran?)

  5. Wow! The Kounder (aka Koundamani or Goundamani) on SM! Nice :)

    A bunch of Kounder’s “punch dialoques” have entered Tam pop culture. They are as popular (read beaten to death) in Tamilnadu as the Governator’s “I’ll be back” is in the rest of the world. Btw, the most common Goundamani – Senthil routine is one where Senthil asks Goundamani “interesting” questions about life, stumping Goundamani in the process. As for this particular routine, there was a followup sequence in a completely different movie a few years later where Senthil is forced to admit that he had in fact eaten the “other banana”.

    Maitri: Vadivel has become boring and stale. Compared to Koundar/Senthil, the Vadivel brand of comedy is at best toilet humor.

    Anon1: Not sure where you got the “many Iyer/Iyengars like Vivek” stat, but as far as I know, everyone trips on Goundar/Senthil while Vivek comes across as a irritating caricature sometimes.

  6. There are certain modern day Madrasi bahse that has these comedians punchline in it. “Enna look uddere?” is one that I can think about. (translation for non-Tamils: why are looking at me in a very rude(and funny) tone.

  7. While I get the caste analogy, (and I’m highly amused that anything from Karagattakaran made it to SM), I have to say that IMO the Tamil obsession with everything being about caste and associated hierarchy has gone too far when it’s used to explain a Senthil-Goundamani routine (and a tired one at that).

    From a purely comedic standpoint, I like Vivek and Vadivelu better anyway.

  8. To clarify, that excerpt from the essay was just a general introductory paragraph. It didn’t pertain to this routine specifically, although the bit about clever parries is quite evident in this clip.

    The essay goes on to analyze specific films, but Karagaattakkaaran isn’t one of them.

  9. Most comedy is about power in some way, no? Because laughing generally means laughing AT something, and often someone, even if it’s done gently. Someone wins, someone loses. When convention is upended, it’s funnier. (Many of my thoughts on comedy come from having taken an awesome class called Wit and Humor with Leo Damrosch. I think I took it the first year he taught it. It was GREAT.) In a South Asian context, caste is a prevalent power structure. Doesn’t seem unreasonable to reference it. Think about the power structure between Jeeves and Wooster, to cite just one example…

  10. Caste is about power. This comic routine is about unequal power. Hence it is a critique of caste ?

    How about this ? George Bush was laughable. This routine is funny. So it is a critique of the Bush administration.

    Little bit like a Rorschach test.

  11. Caste implications? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! If anything Senthil and Goundamani have rarely ever played roles anchored to a particular jati. It is true that the jati being portrayed is clear even when it is left unsaid. The duo have almost always in every film played roles anchored in the same jati. Karagattakaran (musicians) or as in Chinnavar (fishermen). In Gentleman they played some indeterminate jati, but the roles were set in a large Iyer household. In Indian Senthil is the big man (a motor vehicles inspector) while Goundamni as fixer’s (Kamalahasan) flunky is the supplicant. What is more interesting which the authors are clueless about is the color and physique prejudice in popular Tamil culture that plays itself out in the Senthil-Goundamani routine.

    Here’s a clip from Indian

  12. @!jyotsana “What is more interesting which the authors are clueless about is the color and physique prejudice in popular Tamil culture that plays itself out in the Senthil-Goundamani routine.

    I assumed you didnt read what the author wrote.

  13. I get what you’re saying, Vivek, and I truly appreciate these comedic routines from an intellectual perspective. But I’ve spent far too many hours awake on overnight buses in Tamilnadu, with these movies playing at full volume. I have to admit that I CANNOT stand this brand of comedy. I find it loud and obnoxious and basically, unfunny (there’s some casteism, or perhaps classism, sneaking in, right there). I have not watched nor will not watch a movie with Senthil-Goundamani or Vadivelu or their ilk.

  14. But I’ve spent far too many hours awake on overnight buses in Tamilnadu, with these movies playing at full volume.

    Didn’t get your train tickets in time, eh?

  15. Yet another excuse of a post by ever-newbie vivek. Dude, when are you going to start contributing YOUR own inputs of some substance, to these random news clippings & videos??

  16. Probably as soon as I start having my own ideas. Shouldn’t be more than 6 years or so, I hope. When are you going to start blogging?

  17. Vadivel has become boring and stale. Compared to Koundar/Senthil, the Vadivel brand of comedy is at best toilet humor.

    Given that I watch a grand total of two Tamil movies a year, Vadivel could very easily have jumped the shark and I’m half a decade behind. There’s always something about slapstick, physical humor done juuuust right that I enjoy.

    On a related note, I re-watched Chandralekha recently and, man, the songs and dance routines are so much better than today’s. But, you could say that about Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, XYZPDQwood, etc.

  18. Anon, I am referring not to the power equation between Goundamani and Senthil’s respective roles, but of the prejudice given play through this sort of humour. Colour prejudice in Tamizh movies is its own creation. Tamizh movies offer a range of comedic characters that is unmatched in other cinematographies. The genteel class types (refers to the class of their roles not the actors’)- P.A. Ramaswamy, Sarangapani, Thangavelu, VK Ramaswamy, Nagesh, YGM, Mouli, Kathadi, Crazy Mohan, Visu etc. Then the intermediate class types of Surulirajan, Thengai Srinivasan (Kasethan Kadavulada). Then the even coarser comedy of Senthil, Goundamani and Vadivel. Vivek has been through the entire spectrum and is definitely the finest comedian around. Janakaraj did that before Vivek and is a fine screwball comedian. And not to forget Kamalahasan a comic genius be it in slapstick or screwball or scripting comedies. Others such as MR Radha (and even the late K. Baliah) performed mixed roles anchoring comedy and villainy or senior citizen. I know I am leaving out several names.

  19. vivek is more popular among girls i think, atleast i like vivek and most of my friends do too.. Goundamani uses some seriously gross words..

    The caste reference is one of those usual intellectual stretch.. extreme stretch.

  20. “Goundamani uses some seriously gross words..”

    But all Tamil youths (fobs in America) that I knew (even through facebook) use vulgar, rude, and gross words like those spoken in Chennai 60028.

  21. I remember in one comedian’s interview that “koundamani”/ “kounder mani” does not indicate the caste of the artist. Rather, the prefix “kounder” came to be because he was extremely good in giving “counters” or counter-comments. So, its not “kounder” mani, its “counter” mani…

  22. @#25 Badri

    lol..did you get that from wikipedia? I read the same thing. Pls cite your source…lol

  23. My comment may say more about me but I am convinced that pazham refers to phallus. When these guys appear on screen, I turn my metaphor filters to full capacity.

  24. My comment may say more about me but I am convinced that pazham refers to phallus.

    Wendy Doniger doesn’t know Tamizh (not that she knows much else) as with most of her star pupils who simply make things up as they go along. So your dissertation proposal to the Univ of Chicago? Nice try no cigar

    Summa eru, gnana pazhame!

  25. Summa eru, gnana pazhame!

    what do i know?! eru is nasty iru is to stay.

    mango – maanganigal thottilile thoongudhadi kanne….maalayil parimaara…

    vaazhai pazham – phallus…i will offer a non-existent 200K in addition to whatever clay institute decides to award for proof from other commenters.

  26. How about you help us get more of a handle on the phallus metaphor throughout the whole routine and see if anyone bites? I think you might be a little premature in your conclusion.

  27. what do i know?! eru is nasty iru is to stay.

    Met a phoren, Anngilathil E endra ezhuthu, Tamizhil I endra ezhuthukku samamakum. Nee oru eru (erumai) endru naan sollavillai. Iru, pichhiko’nnu sonnen. Avaladhan naina. edhukku summa mampazham, palaapazham, vazhapazham pathi pesukinurukke? Periyavare, poruLai aaraayumpodhu, karuthai sattru taLLivekkavendum. Adhukkudhan gnana pazhame’nnu sonnen. Aana nee seriana maangaa’nnu ippathan terinjukunnen!

    Vivek, avagaLe, tamizhil karutthuparimattrathukku kodutha vaippukku nandri!

  28. Vivek, avagaLe, tamizhil karutthuparimattrathukku kodutha vaippukku nandri!

    எந்த விவேக்? சிரிக்க வைக்கும் விவேகா அல்ல ஜாதியைப் பற்றிப் பேசிக்கொண்டு போர் அடிக்கும் விவேகா? :P

  29. excellent analysis.take the 25 roobees vivek.

    i couldn’t agree more with the post. i remember idly watching the credits of goundar veetu mapillai scroll by on k-tv one hot night, and not being entirely surprised to see-just after supporting actor: ‘kalabhavan mani’ and stunts:’Horse Muthu’, a category i hadn’t seen before- subalternating text: ‘smt gayathree devi, spl cameo derrida saar’ and then the anna dropped and the movie made complete sense.

    also have you noticed the insidious venniradai moorthy’s ‘brraaap’ ruse to subtly keep the thengalai iyengars in their place. classic. vadagalais rock!

    I remember in one comedian’s interview that “koundamani”/ “kounder mani” does not indicate the caste of the artist. Rather, the prefix “kounder” came to be because he was extremely good in giving “counters” or counter-comments. So, its not “kounder” mani, its “counter” mani…

    oh yeah? i read in ananda vigadan (vol 37 1999), that in an interview gounds claimed that it was a bastardization of condom mani some point about caste being the prophylactic of the oppressor.

    What is more interesting which the authors are clueless about is the color and physique prejudice in popular Tamil culture that plays itself out in the Senthil-Goundamani routine.

    i am curious about this. are you arguing that there is a relative color/size difference between the 2 masters? the brushes you use must be really fine.

    Tamizh movies offer a range of comedic characters that is unmatched in other cinematographies. The genteel class types (refers to the class of their roles not the actors’)- P.A. Ramaswamy, Sarangapani, Thangavelu, VK Ramaswamy, Nagesh, YGM, Mouli, Kathadi, Crazy Mohan, Visu etc. Then the intermediate class types of Surulirajan, Thengai Srinivasan (Kasethan Kadavulada). Then the even coarser comedy of Senthil, Goundamani and Vadivel. Vivek has been through the entire spectrum and is definitely the finest comedian around. Janakaraj did that before

    i am not sure what i should be more offended by -that you put vk ramaswamy in a higher class than thenga, or that you think vivek and janakaraj are in the same class. no more rajtv for you.

  30. நகைச்சுவை நாயகன், இளைய கலைவாணர், மக்களின் கலைஞர் விவேக் அவர்களும், அறிஞராகிய விவேகந்த அன்பர் விவேக் அவட்களும் பட்டி மன்ற மேடை மீது ஒன்றாக அமர்ந்து நகைச்சுவை மற்றும் ஜாதி மற்றும் பழங்களை பற்றி ஓர் கருத்துரங்கம் நடத்திவைத்து கொடுத்தல் முக்கநிச்சரின் சுவைக்கு மீஞ்சியதக கருதுவோம்

    அதுவரை நகைச்சுவை நாயகனின் மின்னலே திரைபடத்திலிருந்து சிலநிமிடங்களை பார்த்து மகிழவும்

  31. i am not sure what i should be more offended by -that you put vk ramaswamy in a higher class than thenga, or that you think vivek and janakaraj are in the same class. no more rajtv for you.

    If there are comedians I do not like, OK change that, I don’t care for. NS Krishnan heads the list. I’d be happy if I could diss NSK like Hitchens dissed Bob Hope

  32. @31, Vivek Handle on the phallus? Premature conclusion? Suggestive verbal imagery aside, can tamilians pronounce ‘zh’ – I thought only malayalees could!

  33. Ronnie,

    can tamilians pronounce ‘zh’ – I thought only malayalees could!

    கோழை கள்வன் புகழை இழந்து இகழை அடைந்தான் Kozhai kalvan pugazhai izhandhu igazhai ataindhan

    The cowardly thief lost fame and earned opprobrium

    There we have a lot of zh in Tamizh

  34. Don’t they say “pallam” (as in lollipop)? Oh and I forgot “bites” – some pun in cheek talent, Vivek.

  35. Tamizh movies offer a range of comedic characters that is unmatched in other cinematographies. The genteel class types

    Do the genteel classes also shout?

  36. For my money, “Innoru Pazham” is THE greatest comedy bit in Tamil cinema, ever. Period. I always thought that the concept of an absurdist Abbott-and-Costello routine by Senthil and Goundamani, in a B-center movie starring, of all people, Ramarajan, was truly inspired. Imagine how heartbroken I was then to recently learn that this bit was actually ripped off from a similar routine in a 70s DD comedy show called Haas Parihaas (if somebody has the video, I’d be very grateful). It doesn’t make this sequence itself any less enjoyable, but it doesn’t feel like genius any more.

  37. I was then to recently learn that this bit was actually ripped off from a similar routine in a 70s DD comedy show called Haas Parihaas

    Thats what they want you to believe. The first recorded instance of this interaction actually occurs in a lost chapter in Ponniyin Selvan, titled pazhamudircholai, where Sambuvaraiyar -the kounder archetype orders Mazhavarayar. -a falstaffian senthil to get 2 nos. fruit from the local pazhamudir nilayam. Damn hindi plagiarizers, nothing is sacred. First bakiaraj and now this?

  38. So what is this “zh” about? I have been to Madras many times in the past. I always heard Tamil pronounced as Tamil, not Tamizh. And how do you pronounce a “zh” versus a “Z” ?

  39. always heard Tamil pronounced as Tamil, not Tamizh

    Good to know I’m not the only one. Even the YouTube title says valapalam, not vazhapazham.

    “zh” versus a “Z”

    In “zh”, the tongue is placed higher, towards the roof of the mouth – a feat that tamilians are incapable of :)

    Damn hindi plagiarizers

    Movies like Garam Masala and Khatta Meeta are remakes of Malayalam movies but the director (Priyadarshan) is from Kerala and directed the Malayalam versions too, so the north-south divide becomes fuzzy.

  40. @Reader #43:

    How come there’s no coverage about the deluge in Pakistan?

    Absolutely right. Apologies. Busy at work. Forthcoming.

    @dingchak #45: HA!