In his movies, he was mostly the innocent man. Ethical, often victimized, but one who tried his best. There were some notable exceptions to this too. My memory isn't what it used to be so I putting the following out with a higher-than-usual probability of error. Somehow, when I think of Poornam, I am reminded of the set of short-story series he did many years ago for DD. He did about 2-3 different short stories each spanning 2-3 episodes. One was about a middle class man's travails and another was set in the pre-independence era, where Poornam tries to avenge an English Durai. Those stories were really impressive and we got to see Poornam hog the limelight, which was usually never the case. Another forgotten but classic movie comes to mind when I think of Poornam. It has been many years since I saw this movie and I can only vaguely recollect it. How many of you remember the movie where he forges his daughter's caste certificate to indicate that she is a Scheduled Caste woman? Lakshmi plays the daughter who grows up to be an IAS officer (gets in through reservation). Poornam pretends to be her Gumaastha. She gets caught one day and there is a court case etc. It got a national award and was shown as part of Sunday afternoon DD series. If anybody remembers the movie's name please let me know.
Among his popular movies; Anjali (I love the way he says "Mrs Shekhar" and "society"), Mahanadhi, Thillumullu (his dialog "unga appan perusaa onnum sonnadhu kedaiyathu" somehow stays in the mind), and Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu stand out. He was criticised for his role in Moondrampirai. My least favorite role was the one Poornam played in 'Aasai'. He overcooked that role. My most favorite Poornam movie would have to be Varusham 16. As a head of the family who tries to unite two different factions in the family, his was an endearing and touching character. The scene where he deals with his goat getting shot is a magic movie moment. The situation was carefully constructed to touch an emotional nerve and the way Poornam delivered that scene was simply heartwrenching.
In my grad school days 2 sentences gained immortality among all of Poornam's Mahanadhi dialogs. They were "vayasu aayiduthu veggietariyan", and "appo nee brahmanan illaya" [said in Poornam style with the correct amount of give-up-ness or shock]. My grad school roommates repeatedly used the dialog to tease their meat eating/chivas regal amukkifying 'iyer' roomies. The dialog become so popular that we began to say these two sentences for pretty much everything. It did not require an explicit relevence for us to say these sentences. We just said it. People - who were lazy, who kept getting out first ball, who had pot belly, who had no energy or enthu - kept saying "vayaasu ayiduthu, vegetarian" - as some form of an an excuse. People - who watched porn, who made lewd comments on women's anatomy, who didn't understand sanskrit words, who basically did anything (normal or abnormal) were subject to "appo nee brahmanan illaya comment". At one point N.Indians grad students were saying this to other N.Indians without knowing the meaning of this sentence.
Poornam played a sad and serious character in Mahanadhi, which itself was a very serious movie. The fact that his dialogs in that movie are now being used in jokes and mimickry situations is a peculiar legacy that Poornam leaves behind. His stammer "athu..athu.athu vandhu vandhu" was his trademark filler before he began a sentence and this has become legendary. He is probably the most mimicked among all non-hero non-comedian non-villian characters. It probably speaks volumes about his unique intonation and voice. One can imagine how these characteristics were his assets during his radio career. But it is surprising to note that he translated that uniqueness to his movie stint too. In my mind, he joins small-role legends such as V.K Ramaswamy, Shanumuga Sundaram, and Major Sunderrajan. People who stood out in small character roles not just for their performance but also for the uniqueness they brought to the role. They delivered dialogs in their own idiosyncratic ways and while doing that they oddly enough reminded us of sombody we knew. That's why they are memorable. Poornam Viswanathan, his voice and his trademark stammer will live for a long time in our minds.