India

Nesamani: Who is he and why is the world praying for him?

Neasamani Image copyright BBC Tamil
Image caption What happened to Neasamani?

Who is Nesamani and why is seemingly everyone in the world praying for him on Twitter?

Many Indians were left wondering what was going on as #Pray_for_Neasamani and #Nesamani began trending first in India and then across the world.

And no-one seemed to know him - apart from those from the southern state of Tamil Nadu who began the trend.

Contractor Nesamani is actually a fictional character from a 2001 Tamil film played by an iconic comedian.

The "plea" to pray for him is based on a scene from the popular film Friends.

In the scene, Nesamani is a building contractor played by actor Vadivelu. He is trying to restore a historic building, but is struggling with his bumbling assistants who insist on taking everything he says literally.

Disaster soon strikes.

One of them, who is trying to fix a doorway at the top of a staircase, drops his hammer. It lands right on top of Nesamani's head, causing him to (very theatrically) fall down.

#Nesamani is still the number one trend in India on Twitter, and also the second trend worldwide.

But why is this trending now?

According to Sowmya Rajendran, the film and features editor for the south Indian website The News Minute, it all began with a memes page in Pakistan on Wednesday.

Someone on the page, called Civil Engineering Learners, posted a picture of a hammer with the question "what is the name of this tool in your country?".

This prompted an alert Tamil Facebook user to comment that it was called Suthiyal in his language and then added, without any context whatsoever, that "contractor Nesamani's head was broken... with it".

You may also like:

"Another Tamil user who was clearly in on the joke answered 'is he ok now?' and that's where it all began," Ms Rajendran said.

Other Tamil users began commenting as well, all making references to the scene from the film.

And soon, it took on a life of its own.

On Twitter, people began "praying for him" and the memes it seems, wouldn't stop coming.

Nothing was spared. People referenced "hospital bulletins" similar to those issued when prominent state politicians are sick and there were even photoshopped 'tweets' from world leaders.

And everyone wanted in.

Politicians piped up, as did senior journalists and stars from the film fraternity.

The 'political tone'

Many seemed to revel in the fact that no-one in the rest of the country seemed to know what was going on, with many making mocking references to politics.

"As you know, Tamil Nadu completely bucked the national trend, voting overwhelmingly in favour of the party that did not ally with (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"In Tamil Nadu, people take a lot of pride in their culture - in standing apart and being different. This is also an assertion of identity. The rest of India doesn't understand us - we walk our own path," said Ms Rajendran.

She added that for the people of the state, the film was so familiar, they didn't even have to "think twice" when it became a meme.

"Vadivelu is very popular here and Tamil Nadu has a very vibrant meme culture. So his films from the 90s and early 2000s are used a lot in memes - particularly in political commentary," she said.

But what does the man himself think?

"We asked him that ourselves and several Tamil television channels had reached out to him to ask precisely that. But he isn't on social media and he said he had no idea what was going on," she said.

More on this story