Chunky short lines that make audiences go crazy; tracing the evolution of ‘punch dialogues’ in South Indian films

Coming to Mollywood, ‘complete actor’ Mohanlal would be the one who delivered the most punch lines.

They call him the ‘Style Mannan’ for a reason. Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth has this magic of delivering chunky short lines in the most stylish tone and mannerisms. If you have ever been to theatres to watch the ‘King of Style’ in action, you couldn’t have missed the euphoria of his fans as the hero blurts stirring dialogues that pack a punch.

The magic has been working for decades altogether. Each time his film gets released, Indian cinema will be gifted with an ‘iconic dialogue’ that remains etched in the minds of movie bluffs forever. Naan Oru Thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna madhiri, Naan Vandhutenu Solu Thirumbi Vandhutenu, Kabaali Da! – the list seems unending. His latest superhit flick ‘Jailer’ also packs one, Hukum, Tiger Ka Hukum (Order, Tiger’s order).

While it was a solo affair so far for the superstar in his films, ‘Jailer’ has Malayalam actor Vinayakan too spouting off a punch line, while nailing the role of the villain to perfection. He delivers it in pure Malayalam dialect– Manasilayo Sire (Have you understood, sir?). It may be the first time that a Tamil film has the audience going wild due to a Malayalam punch line.

While tracing the evolution of punch dialogues, there’s no second thought on whether to start the attempt from the ‘Style Mannan’ himself.

Tamilians first came to experience a hair-raising dialogue with the Rajini movie ‘Pathinaru Vayathinile’, released back in 1977. The villain who repeatedly squeals ethe eppadi erukke (how is this) impelled much curiosity in them. Then the audience applauded the villain role as much as that of the hero. And when the hero delivers the punch dialogue seeveduven (will chop you off) with the natural ‘Annan style’, the Tamil heartland turned it into a big celebration. The 1982 flick ‘Moondru Mugam’ too has a riveting punch line, Teepettikku rendu pakkam urasuna thaan thee pudikum. Anaa indha Alex Pandian ku endha pakkam urasunaalum thee pudikum. (To lighten a match stick, you have to rub both sides of a matchbox, but this Alex Pandian will be on fire even if you touch just any part.)

By then, the style and mannerisms of Rajini, especially his killer smile, gradually became a part of the Tamilians’ life itself. Thereafter, a series of hit films – Thalapathi, Annamalai, Mannan, Uzhaippali, Arunachalam, and the like, saw him riding on the wave of his success to be the highest-paid actor in Indian cinema. It became a headache, or rather a responsibility, of scriptwriters to pen punch dialogues for all the films that he commits.

When the ever-green hit ‘Baashha’, arguably the most loved film of Rajanikanth, was released in 1995, a tug dialogue too got churned out and imprinted in the minds of movie buffs: Naan Oru Thadava Sonna, Nooru Thadava Sonna Madhiri. (If I say something once, it’s like saying a hundred times). And his one movie was in fact equal to 100 films. We could only size up ‘Baashha’ like that. He then caught the imagination of the audience by delivering the punch lines Enn Vazhi, Tani Vazhi (My way, my own way) in Padayappa and ‘Coool’ in Shivaji.

But Rajinikanth appears in ‘Jailer’ without the usual pomp and gaiety. The same has led to the villain role ‘Varman’, essayed by Vinayakan, attaining equal prominence in the movie. However, the hero breaks out of his shell and exhibits his true form in the second half. And there was this striking scene in the climax when the hero looks eye-to-eye with the villain and retorts the villain’s own punch dialogue. The audience in theaters of Kerala and Tamil Nadu goes into a frenzy as Rajinikanth utters back Manasilayo Sire in Malayalam in Tamil slang in his unique style.

Coming to Mollywood, ‘complete actor’ Mohanlal would be the one who delivered the most punch lines. Though the dialogue in the film ‘Rajavinte Makan’ – My number is 225’, went viral among the youths, it was not intended to be one and penned in the Dennis Joseph film as a simple dialogue that the hero says in one scene. The viewers, though, celebrated it in an unusual way and the rest is history. It was in the 1990 flick ‘Lal Salam’ that Mohanlal delivers for the first time a punch line, for its own sake. His fans were thrilled no end as Mohanlal delivered the dialogue of the character Nettooran Stephen, Ennode Kalikaruthee, Njan Nine Kali Padipikume (Don’t play with me. I will teach you a lesson). Scriptwriter Cheriyan Kalpakavadi later revealed that in real life the dialogue was that of former minister T V Thomas, a CPI leader from Alappuzha, who married veteran CPM leader K R Gowri Amma, and not Nettooran Stephen. He used to say the dialogue often. But in cinema, it was written not for the character, Minister D K Antony (Murali), but for Mahanlal’s Netooran Stephen.

The new punch line that was received well by the audience came in the 1993 movie ‘Yoddha’, directed by Sangeeth Sivan. The hero, played by Mohanlal, would whisper Othiram, Kadakam, Ozhive, Kadakattilozhivu, Pinnasokanum without fail before his showdowns with the opponents. But once Mohanlal says Sambho Mahadeva with all the timing in the superhit film ‘Aaram Thampuran, released in 1997, it became the onus of scriptwriters to ensure delivery of sharply written lines for maximum effect in his films. In fact, the punch line in the film was a contribution of a friend of the movie director Shaji Kailas. Whenever, the director calls this bestie, he greets with Sambho Mahadeva instead of the customary ‘hello’. Shaji Kailas took note of this and used it to maximum effect in the Mohanlal-starrer.

The next punchline is inspired by a prominent personality hailing from Kozhikode and director-cum-scriptwriter Renjith’s buddy. On certain occasions, he won’t address others by their names, but simply calls them Dineshaa, like Mone Dineshaa Oru Chaya, Mone Dineshaa Oru Cigarette. This is what eventually became an evergreen punch line of Malayalam cinema – Nee Poo Monee Dineshaa (You go Mr Dinesh) from the megahit ‘Narasimham’.

Thereafter, all the scripts that Renjith wrote with Mohanlal in mind invariably had the hook lines that further glorified the superhero characters on screen. Savari..giri..giri in Ravanaprabhu, Bestee Kannaa Bestee in Chandrolsavom…the list is unending! A few of them failed to click, though.

After Renjith, the one who wrote the most punch lines might be scriptwriter T A Shahid. Most will be familiar with the superhit dialogue in ‘Rajamanickyam’, Yevan Puliyaanu Ketoo (he’s in fact a tiger), humorously delivered in Trivandrum slang. He bid goodbye after delivering a handful of movies with one-liners– Ninakonnumariyilla Karanam Neeyoru Kuttiyaane (You know nothing because you’re just a child) (Naatturajavu), Appo Enganaa, Evidokke Tanne Kanumalloo (How are you, you’ll be around naa) (Balettan), Bejaarakkalle Koyaa, Njammalum Kozhikodangadeennaa (Don’t make it worse my friend, I too hail from the Kozhikode market) (Ali Bhai), Vadakkan Veetil Kochunjinode Odakkan Nilkallee, Odachu Kaiyee Tarum (Don’t try to mess with Vadakkan House Kochunjee. You will pay the price) (Thanthonni) – some of them became the trend and found their way in casual talks of commoners, while others failed to get counted.

Though there was a usage Ettikandappan in ‘Valyettan’, the audience, for unknown reasons, didn’t receive it well. Scriptwriter T A Razzaq had penned a soft liner Daivom Kavalundakum (God will save you) in ‘Vesham’. Similarly, Suresh Gopi delivers the punch dialogue Madhava, Mahadeva in the Shaji Kailas movie ‘Chintamani Kola Case’. That didn’t click, maybe the audience was still under the influence of Sambho Mahadeva.

But a cinema dialogue delivered by Suresh Gopi later became synonymous with the actor himself – Ormayundoo Ee Mughom (Do you remember this face) in ‘Commissioner’. It again appeared as a punch line in two other films in which Suresh Gopi essayed the lead roles – ‘Summer in Bethlehem’ and ‘Varane Avashyamund’.

Renji Panicker penned the words Ormayundoo Ee Mughom as a normal start of a conversation indulged in by the hero. Suresh Gopi nailed it to perfection with his unique style. The punch line became immortal once mimicry artists used it to charm the audience. Suresh Gopi too shot to superstardom with his role as a Police Commissioner in the 1994 flick.

And when Suresh Gopi roared Phaa Pullee (You good for nothing) in ‘Ekalavyan’, ‘Commissioner’, and ‘Bharath Chandra’, it created waves in the theatres. Renji Panicker has this habit of receiving audience applause by making the hero retort the same dialogue used by the villain. The Aayushmaan Bhava in ‘Ekalavyan’ and Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavanthu are examples of that. He also stole the audience's hearts by making Suresh Gopi repeat the dialogue of M G Soman Germanaa Ilyodaaa (Is it the German breed) in the second half of the bumper hit movie ‘Lelam’.

It would be T Damodaran and Dennis Joseph who hooked the audience with punch dialogues among the yesteryear writers. Those who were not even born during the era of actor Jayan, can recollect with ease the long winding dialogues that he rendered in his masculine voice in the movie ‘Angadi’ (1980).

Another hit line that made it big among the Malayali viewers was Thomasukuttii Vitoodaaa (run Thomas Kutty run) in Siddique-Lal’s comedy flick ‘In Harihar Nagar’. Though Namukee Chodichu Choodichu Pokam (Let’s keep enquire the place and go) dialogue from the movie ‘Ayal Kadhayezhutukayaane’ didn’t rise to the class of punch lines, it’s still at the tip of the tongue of most Malayalis. The cinema didn’t fare well at the box office, but the dialogues in it were received well.

In Dileep's 'Runway,' the villain Kalasala Babu delivers a punch dialogue, Adi Sakke. When Jagathy Sreekumar says, Ithu Enne Uddeshichanu, Ennethanne Uddeshichanu, Enne Mathram Uddeshichanu (It's meant for me, it's meant only for me, 'it's meant just only for me) in 'CID Moosa’, we can see the shadow of a punch line.

If we turn back to Tamil, we can see that Vijay is one actor other than Rajini who wins the applause of the audience by delivering punch lines. It is the specialty of Tamil filmdom that I'm Waiting, the interval punch dialogue in ‘Thuppakki’, became the regular interval dialogue for later Vijay films.

Despite all these, all the popular writers in Malayalam are of the opinion that it is not the dialogue or the punch line that decides the success of the film.

“Punch dialogue, punch line, all these came to Malayalam from Tamil. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, such films created a huge trend here as well. However, now the situation has changed. Dialogues in the spoken language of ordinary people are more accepted. Those who write for mass films are also trying to do that. And in films with superstars, there need some punch dialogues to idolize their characters. By luck, it'll click. However, content is more important. The challenge for a writer is to find new content,” says Udaykrishna, a writer who has several mass films in his name.

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