In the poverty stricken days of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, nobody took comedians seriously. Even if you were born with 206 funny bones, no one would notice you, as there was no concept of stand-up acts, mimicry or Lollu Sabhas. The only mass medium of entertainment was Tamil Cinema, a world dominated by singing heroes, crying heroines and scheming villains.
To be deemed humorous, you had to be supremely talented and more importantly, you needed a name that evoked a smile. That’s probably why many funny men of the past consciously spiced up their pedestrian name with a titter-inducing prefix.
K.A. Thangavelu was one of the earliest comics to use this trick. He promoted himself as ‘Danaal’ Thangavelu. Everywhere he went, the director used to ask him the same question, ‘What the heck is Danaal?’ and he used to recount gleefully that the character he played in his debut flick ‘Singari’ had this mannerism of repeating the word ‘danaal’ all through. The mannerism became popular and hence the name.
Likewise Sundaresa Ramamurthy once played the role of a cartoonist called Kathadi (Tamil for ‘kite’) in Cho Ramaswamy’s play ‘If I Get It!’ From that day, he chose to call himself ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy.
‘Thengai’ Srinivasan has a similar story. Having played a coconut seller who walked away with the applause in ‘Kal Manam’, he decided to announce himself to the film world as ‘Thengai’.
Even the Stan Laurelesque ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimhan picked his quirky screen name from the reed thin character he played in the stage play ‘Naradarum Naangu Thirudargalum’. In comparison, Loose Mohan had it easy. He just borrowed it from his dad ‘Loose Arumugham’ who in turn earned his spurs in the drama ‘Tight and Loose’!
Suruli Rajan didn’t have to resort to any such tomfoolery as he was named after his family deity with an amusing name - Suruli Vellapar, the god on the hilltop graced by the Suruli waterfalls. Suruli, by the way, means ‘the curled one’.
Idichapuli Selvaraj, Venniradai Murthy, Goundamani and Crazy Mohan have carried on the zany tradition. Sadly, the Viveks, Vadivels and Santhanams of today are no longer mirthful.