Tragedy has dealt a death-blow on clean comedy. A pall of gloom has enveloped humour. His fans triggered an avalanche of clips and talks on Social Media taking most of us out of the gloom. This is his greatest achievement throughout his life. A celebration of humour. Even in death scenes, he would pen hilarious dialogues. He hated crying. He would never cry at death.
Even, his own.
Crazy Mohan. The unparalleled humourist of our generation.
He is celebrated the world over by the Tamil audience for carpet-bombing them with his jokes. From the first row to the last. Like the “I mean what I mean” of MMKR (Michael Madana Kama Rajan) or the Munnaadi, Pinnaadi, Kannadi of Panchathanthiram. Savour this from his Marriage Made in Saloon, written decades before MMKR and Panchathanthiram.
He would never compromise on the quality of humour. One instance where he was stuck for almost 10 days because he wanted an apt joke in a scene as a repartee
அப்பா: சீனு, மாதுவோட ப்ரோக்ரேஸ் ரிபோர்ட் பார்த்தேண்டா கடைசியா எழுதிய சப்ஜெக்ட்ல நூத்துக்கு இருபது மார்க் வாங்கி இருக்கான்.
சீனு: சொன்னா நம்பமாட்டீங்க சார், அதே எக்ஸாம்ல நான் நூத்துக்கு என்பது மார்க், அதுவும் எப்படி? மாதுவை பார்த்து அப்படியே காப்பியடிச்சு.
அப்பா: மாது, இங்க வாடா, போன எக்ஸாம்ல உன்னை பார்த்து காப்பி அடிச்ச சீனு என்பது மார்க் வாங்கியிருக்கான், உனக்கு எப்படிடா இருபது மார்க்?
மாது: சீனு என்னை பார்த்து காப்பி அடிச்சான், என்பது மார்க் வாங்கினான். நான் எனக்கு முன்னாடி இருக்கிற பையனை பார்த்து காப்பி அடிச்சேன், இருபது தான் வாங்கினேன்.
அப்பா: குழப்பாதடா, ஒன்னு சீனுவுக்கு வந்த என்பது மார்க் உனக்கு வந்திருக்கணும், இல்ல உனக்கு வந்திருக்கிற இருபது மார்க் சீனுவுக்கு வந்திருக்கணும். ரெண்டு பேரும் காப்பி அடிச்சது ஒரே பையன் பேப்பரை தானேடா.
மாது: புரியாம பேசாதப்பா. சீனு பி எஸ் சி கெமிஸ்ட்ரி, நான் பி எஸ் சி பிசிக்ஸ், எனக்கு முன்னாடி உக்கார்ந்த பையன் பி எஸ் சி கெமிஸ்ட்ரி, சீனு மாதிரி.
அப்பா: ஒழுங்கா காப்பியடிக்க கூட துப்பில்ல. ஏண்டா, காப்பி அடிக்கிற பையனுக்கு, தான் காப்பி அடிக்கிறது பிசிக்ஸ்-ஸா கெமிஸ்ட்ரி-யான்னு கூட தெரியாமலா இருக்கும்.
மாது: சொன்னா நம்பமாட்ட. அன்னிக்கி ஹால்ல உக்கார்ந்த நாற்ப்பது பேர்ல இருபது பேர் பிஸிக்ஸ், இருபது பேர் கெமிஸ்ட்ரி, ஒருத்தரை விட்டு ஒருத்தர் ஃபெயிலாகி இருக்கான்னா பாரேன்.
For the non-Tamizh readers, here’s my poor translation in English:
Father: Cheenu, I saw Madhu’s progress report. In the last exam, he got only twenty out of a hundred.
Seenu: You won’t believe me, Sir. I got eighty in the same exam. In fact, I copied word for word from Madhu’s paper.
Father: Madhu, How is it that you got only twenty and this fellow who copied from you got eighty?
Madhu: Cheenu copied from my paper and got eighty marks. I copied from the guy sitting in front and they gave me only twenty.
Father: How is this possible? Either you should have got eighty or Cheenu should have got twenty. Both copied from the same source, isn’t it?
Madhu: Appa, Cheenu is B.Sc Chemistry, I am B.Sc Physics. The guy in my front desk was also B.Sc Chemistry. Like Cheenu.
Appa: Useless fellows. you guys don’t even know whether you are copying Physics or Chemistry.
Madhu: Don’t yell at me. There were 40 students who took the exam in the Hall. Believe me, Every alternate student failed.
I distinctly remember Mohan telling all of us that this is a sequence of jokes he termed as the “late realisation” jokes. So we should give a little more time for the audience to react with laughter and we should wait for the laughter to subside before delivering the next dialogue. He would stand in the sidelines of the stage and ensure we are not overlapping any jokes on the laughter that never seemed to end.
He would never compromise on the quality of humour. One instance where he was stuck for almost 10 days because he wanted an apt joke in a scene as a repartee. It was in the same play, Marriage Made in Saloon. The hairdresser is asked to double up as a doctor and certify that Madhu has turned visually challenged. Because the heroine Madhu is trying to woo has a soft corner for differently abled persons. The heroine, Janaki looks at the hairdresser, now in a doctor’s get-up and says:
ஜானகி: டாக்டர், நான் உங்களை எங்கயோ பார்த்திருக்கேனே…
Mohan stopped writing at this spot. Until he got the right punch line. This was that line:
பார்பர் முத்து: நீங்க என்னை பார்த்தே இருக்க முடியாது. நான் only for Gents.
Janaki: Doctor, Your face is very familiar. I have seen you somewhere.
Barber Muthu (in Doctor’s get-up): Madam, there’s no chance you would have seen me. I am only for Gents.
His humour was harmless. It would never hurt anybody. Irrespective of the religion or the community one belonged. I remember two examples. In Return of Crazy thieves, the heroine is a Christian in love with a Hindu boy Madhu. One of his most successful plays, it was staged decades ago at a hall especially for a Christian audience. The hall was full of Fathers and Nuns. I still remember the way they enjoyed each of the jokes. There was no dialogue that brought a frown on anyone’s face. Oru Babyin Diary Kurippu had Cheenu as Nattukottai Chettiar or NagarathAr. I did that role in many shows. We staged the play for late Kumararaja Sir Muthiah Chettiar’s Birthday celebrations. Kumararani Meena Muthiah, late M.A.M. Ramaswamy was in the front row of an audience that was full of NagarathArs. Cheenu was Cheena Thana in that play and would speak the NagarathAr dialect. The play was so well received. After the play, Kumararani walked up to the stage to congratulate Mohan for the way he handled the subject and for his humorous lines.
Many celebrities who are less successful than Mohan has exhibited counterfeit humility in public. Mohan was always himself. Genuine. Both in private and public life. Some of my friends who do not know him personally as I do have often wondered what made Mohan such a nice fellow. The answer lies in the statement he has made in many of his talks. His joint-family. The values it gave him. The number of great traits he could pick up from each member. And successfully retain them throughout his upward graph.
His grandmother Chemba would give him a Rupee and at the end of the day check his pocket and ask him what he did with four annas. He learnt the value of money from her. Even during his Sundaram Clayton days, he would religiously handover his pay to her and seek his daily expenses on a day to day basis. And throughout his writing days, he never ever bothered himself with the economics of his creations. It was left to his brother Balaji and his childhood friend Vasu, who was the secretary of Crazy Creations.
Balaji was Mohan’s Hanuman, Lakshmana, Bharata & Shatrughna, all rolled into one. My friendship with Mohan preceded the beginning of my friendship with Balaji.
His grandfather, Sriman Venkatakrishna Iyengar, was a retired senior proof-reader in The Hindu. He had an eagle eye for observation and detail. A man has given to humorous exaggeration. A trait Mohan picked up genetically and spun it with great hilarity. Mohan’s success in semester exams would be highlighted to regular visitors like us that he “stood first in the University”. He would eulogize Mohan as Ravi Varma. Kambar. Kalidasa and Bharatiyar. He would enjoy his grandson’s Art, poems and humour. And revel in his growing success.
His mother was an epitome of beauty and grace. She was the backbone of the family. Her curiosity is only matched by her perseverance. In many ways, the speed of her thinking and her common sense reflects in the spontaneity of his thoughts and the delivery of his lines. His freshness in thinking is clearly from her genes.
I would rate his father, Sri Rangachari as a greater humourist than Mohan. Pity he wasn’t a writer. Talk to Mama for 15 minutes and you will realize where Mohan got all that sense of humour. Till his death a few months ago, he was not just his father, but his accountant, banker, auditor, tax filer and the planner of all his finances. Mohan’s qualities of placing a premium on integrity and fair play is a clear inheritance from his father.
His Periyappa Sri Krishnaswamy was a very humble being. Even in poignant moments, you can see that complete acceptance of Karma on his face. Never perturbed, he always had a knack of composed thinking. His Periyamma was always Manni Amma to all who know her and close to the family. I have never heard her speak more than what is required. Her affection to Mohan and Balaji often surpassed her affection to her own children Bhaskar, Sheela and Vasanthi.
Mohan’s sister Leela, cousins Sheela and Vasanthi would be the first to read his works since the early days of his writing. Their wholesome praise was always a tonic to him. His cousin, Bhaskar, would religiously drop Mohan and Balaji’s children along with his own daughter to school every day and pick them up. He continues to be the pillar of Crazy Creations with the back-stage work. The entire joint family respected Mohan’s talent. Adored him. Offered him their unconditional love. And took up voluntarily and with pleasure, the household chores. Giving him ample time and freedom to regale the audience the world over.
His late maternal uncle Sriman Srinivasan was a lesson for all of us on how unwavering an affection between a brother and sister should be. Long before the release of Pasamalar, they were the living Shivaji and Savitri. Almost on all days, Mama would pedal in his cycle, all the way from Mambalam or Tiruvallikkeni to Mandaveli with oru mozham mallippoo for his younger sister who is Mohan’s mother. Mohan imbibed this trait and was generous in his affection to his sister and his cousins.
Balaji was Mohan’s Hanuman, Lakshmana, Bharata & Shatrughna, all rolled into one. My friendship with Mohan preceded the beginning of my friendship with Balaji. There is nothing that he would do without consulting Mohan. And there is nothing Mohan would do that would displease Balaji. The creator had a wonderful in-house exhibitor in Balaji. For over 6500 shows he rendered his brother’s lines faultlessly, with a great sense of timing, throughout the world. And dedicated every show’s success to Mohan.
More than any of these, it is Nalini Manni, his wife who was his greatest strength. A very intelligent woman of few words. Calm. Dignified MithabhAshi. Perhaps, the last wedding function they attended together as a couple was to my daughter’s wedding on 8th March this year. His loss is a disaster for all of us. Not all disasters have equal impacts. Her loss is profound.
The world has lost a great human being. I have lost a wonderful friend. But, I am glad that Balaji, Vasu and Kanthu will take his legacy forward by continuing to stage his plays. I have told Balaji that one day I will fly back to Chennai and do the Padmanabha Iyengar role of Mohan in Marriage Made in Saloon. A role I did as his substitute countless times.
Om Shanthi Mohan. Till we meet again. Up there.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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Amazing human being, had the good fortune of viewing his play and meet him in person. Even though he is no more his humour is still with us.