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How Ramesh Kanna and Vivek made popular ’90s comedy serial ‘Top Tucker’

The serial played for 21 weeks as half-hour episodes on Sun TV.

Way back in 1993, small-time television producers K Iyyappan and KV Kiran Kumar of Balaji Creations, approached a Tamil film comedy actor, who was then just a couple of films old, to make a comedy serial for a newly launched television channel in Tamil. The comedy actor then recommended a friend, who was also new in the industry, to direct the serial. The serial would go on to play for 21 weeks, bringing both of them great recognition, in addition to boosting the newly launched channel’s viewership.

The comedy actor we’re referring to is Vivek and the friend he recommended for direction is actor/director Ramesh Kanna. The serial was called Top Tucker and starred a bevy of television and comedy actors. It ran for 21 weeks as half-hour episodes on Sun TV.

Ramesh Kanna, who shares this story with TNM, is pleasantly surprised when we call him to discuss it. “Oh yes! That was years ago. Is it on YouTube now?” he says, and begins to laugh. “It was the first comedy serial on Sun TV and was a great hit back then,” he adds.

The serial stars a huge cast, most of whom are endearing television personalities. There’s Pandu, Kumarimuthu, Manager Seena, CR Saraswathy, Omakuchi Narasimhan, Thideer Kannaiah. Cinema actors Disco Shanthi and Pratap Pothen, too, make cameos.

The serial is based on a small-town character, Parasuraman (Vivek), who is sent away from home to learn life in the big city. What’s most interesting for us to watch now is how this serial might have introduced certain ideas and improvisations into Vivek’s comedy that we’ve seen on the big screen.

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If you recall, Vivek’s character in Run (2002) too leaves home to find life in a big city. The beginning of Top Tucker is similar to this plot. In fact, remember that scene from Run where Vivek’s character, who is new to the city, enters the Cooum to take a bath? Well, looks like Ramesh Kanna had thought about it in the early ’90s.

In one particular scene from Top Tucker, Parasuraman slathers oil on his body, and enters the Cooum thinking it’s like the river in his village. This spectacle is watched by a crowd that gathers along the banks. There are also flashbacks where Vivek’s character thinks of his past and feels bad for leaving home. All too familiar now.

Once in Chennai, Parasuraman moves into his aunt’s house but his cousin Indhumathi (played by actor Meera) hates the idea and comes up with plans to get rid of him. The serial is light-hearted and has dramatic plot twists. Meera’s character too is ahead of her times, especially for a television serial. She’s bold, free and is shown to be someone who gets her way. Her costumes capture the early ’90s fashion so well, a time when pearls were paired with jeans and high buns were the rage.

Looking back at the time when the serial was made, Ramesh Kanna says, “I had done a film that was yet to be released and Vivek was still working at the Secretariat, he had just acted in a few films. It all started very casually.”

Ramesh Kanna recalls, “Vivek and I became friends at the Madras Humour Club run by Kalakendra Govindaraj and Durai. That is where we met and we became closer while doing the series. Later on, he’d recommend me in his projects and I’d recommend him in projects that came my way.” 

And this camaraderie is also woven into the show. At the end of each episode, like that of an epilogue, Vivek and Ramesh Kanna play their original selves and take a dig at their own show. “We didn’t even know that it was called the epilogue back then,” Ramesh Kanna laughs.

“We just thought it would be funny to make some jokes and pull our own legs. It was something very new for both of us and we didn’t know how the audience would welcome the show. So we came up with that idea,” he shares.

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These epilogues, where Ramesh Kanna as the director and Vivek as the actor tease each other, tend to become more funnier than the show itself. For instance, in one of the earliest episodes, Ramesh Kanna and Vivek sit down and read letters from fans. Ramesh Kanna tells him that the response has been overwhelming and picks up a specific letter and reads it. Not convinced, Vivek asks him who it is from, and while he first hesitates, Ramesh Kanna admits that the letter is from his wife. “The letter writing comedy we did because we were not very sure of the response at first. But we were surprised when we began receiving very good responses. At one point, the serial became more important to us than our films,” he says, and adds that he was appreciated by his guru, director Balachander, and Kalanidhi Maran who was running the channel. “All that was a blessing,” he reminisces.

Ramesh Kanna goes on to add, “We did a lot of films after that and we did another serial. It was called Superstar and it ran on Sun TV for 21 episodes. I based it on Marilyn Monroe’s film Some Like It Hot actually,” he says. “I was doing Muthu at that point and Rajini sir, who would watch the episodes, would come up to me and say, ‘I thought I’m the superstar here but now you guys have become superstars, is it?’” he chuckles.

The serial is not explosively funny, yet it retains a charm that is hard to come by now — the early years of television comedy when word play was novel and simple antics played by characters on each other would elicit laughter from the audience. The other aspect we liked about the show was that it captured parts of Chennai that are now long gone. Do not miss the early episode when Parasuraman first travels to Chennai in an auto-rickshaw, gazing in wonder at the LIC building but not without annoying the auto driver with questions on the number of floors.

Television serials in Tamil have come a long way since the time they first began airing around the late ’80s. Our television soap operas are now largely criticised for the themes they deal with — revenge, murder plots, affairs, and vices of all kinds, take your pick. But comedy serials are few and far between and that makes Top Tucker an enjoyable watch even today, over 27 years since it was first made. 

Start watching the serial here: 

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Source: The News Minute