Monday, August 16, 2010


He ends his talk, asks Sriram to finish the formalities and tells the audience he is running a montage of Chandrababu’s songs. “Those who are interested can stay on”, he says. Not a soul moves. That is Mohan Raman for you.

As Mohan completes his presentation, I am at my wits’ end – how do I blog a review of this evening with the massive amount of notes I have taken? And, as I thought about Mohan and his travails – how the hell could he have researched, met the right people, sourced the film clips and put together a presentation like that? If Mohan could take all that trouble for not just about a hundred people that evening, but for his love for the city, I had to say so. And say so through my blog.

As I saunter into The Park on Nungambakkam High Road at around 1820 hrs., happy that I have made it early to find a seat for myself, I find almost all seats taken, but not a soul. They are at the snack counter, eager to finish off before the presentation begins. The hero of the day arrives a little later, well in time for his talk, but the hall is full, notwithstanding the extra chairs commandeered for the crowd, and people end up sitting on the carpets. That is Mohan Raman for you.

Mohan has been presenting for the Chennai Heritage lecture series for four years now, and things have never been different. Always pulling in the crowds, Mohan regales us with wonderful anecdotes, wittily presented. A lovable chide here when a mobile blares, a quick repartee there make the evenings great fun.

This year the lecture was on Madras Bashai and the man who introduced it – J P Chandrababu, that master of the silver screen. Babu, as we shall refer him now on, was a performer par excellence with a wonderful talent for singing, dancing, acting and, as Mohan put it, calling a spade a spade, not matter who or what it was about. This last trait of Babu’s probably ended up with Babu having squirmishes with the probably the entire phalanx of stars of the Tamil tinsel world. Babu was extremely confident in his talents and his films reflected that.

Mohan spun in a perfect example of Babu’s supreme confidence. When Sahodarigal was made by AVM and the edited work was viewed, Chettiar, as AVM was fondly known, worried a lot about how a tearjerker could make it big at the box office. He called for Babu and asked him to see the movie. Babu’s first reaction was that it would bomb and he said as much. Chettiar asked Babu if he could do something. Babu asked for seven days, a few artistes and a free hand to have scenes inserted wherever he wanted. Most importantly, Babu asked for a lakh as remuneration when Chettiar was mulling a tenth of that! Babu, in his plainspeaking tone told off Chettiar: “You lose six lakh if you don’t pay me one lakh”. Such was Babu’s supreme confidence in himself he landed that job, finished the scripting, filming, re-editing and handed over the film to Chettiar in the given time. The film was runaway winner at the box office!

Another interesting nugget was the ‘contrived’ and ‘acted’ out fight between Babu and Sivaji Ganesan in Sabash Meena. In one scene when Babu is asked to stay outside the house with the hand rickshaw, Sivaji enters and picks up an argument. Sivaji little expected Babu to land a blow. The shot was cut, and the next time, Babu gives a shove at Sivaji’s face with his palm. Arguments follow, all when the cameras are rolling (Sivaji too utters a few choice Madras Bashai words here)! At the end, Babu makes a public apology on the camera, as Sivaji exits the scene. A wonderful impromptu performance, notwithstanding the man opposite was as big a superstar as you got!

The most hilarious episode of the evening for me was the way Babu behaved at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Invited after a performance to rejuvenate the jawans post the 1962 war with China, MSV, Babu and Sivaji were closeted with the then President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. The President asks for a performance, but the three are aghast – the orchestra is already on its way home! Undeterred, MSV asks for a harmonium and Babu sings Pirakkum pothum azhuginran … for the President. Half way through the song, as the President is immersed in the philosophy of the song, Babu jumps across and sits on the President’s lap and continues singing – something that makes the others aghast, but the President enjoys, gently running his fingers through Babu’s hairs!

There were a lot of such interesting snippets of information rendered in an inimitable style only Mohan can. Some of them were how Babu managed to meet S S Vasan; how he picked up Madras Bashai at Triplicane and Mir Sahibpet; his performance in Gul-e-bagavali; his yodeling – then a first in Indian cinema; the irony of Babu playback singing for Sivaji in Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmmachari and for Veenai Balachander in AVM’s Penn, but having Sirkazhi Govindarajan sing for Babu in Sabash Meena; Babu successfully getting in the baila genre through Kungumapoove Konjupurave – a massive hit even today; MSV failing Babu in a voice test and Babu getting his revenge as he rejected tune after tune, only to appreciate the fine work when MSV actually dances out the song – the list is endless.

Babu’s personal life was not a bed of roses – a failed marriage, a not-so-successful beginning and end to his film career, his alcoholism, the list can go on. All this laid bare by Mohan, right in the presence of one of Babu’s family lent a great deal of authenticity. Not that we really needed proof; Mohan is so careful and authentic in his research. His presence is commanding, laugh-a-minute type.

My daughters ask me the question, “Appa, when is Seenu Sir’s lecture this year?” My folks have hated the character Seenu Sir in the Tamil serial Anandam – but loved the actor. I only have this to say: Seenu Sir, if there is one lecture that the entire family turns out to listen to, it is Mohan Raman’s – no matter what he talks about!

For one of the most versatile actors the Tamil film industry has ever seen, the homage could not have come on a platform more apt and by a person more apt. Such was Mohan’s performance that Babu, had he been around, would have been overwhelmed and compelled to say ‘Superaa kalakkitiye – innoru daba sollu naina!”


Blogger rajaram said...


Guess you have become a fan of Babu also. Let me give you a biography on him, when i meet you next. You would read a lot more 'interesting' sidelights of babu. His fall from being No 1 comedian was quite dramatic.
however, i am a bit surprised by your praise on Mohan Ram. sure you must have heard something on Hagiography.
i guess the topics that MR chooses are popular and so the crowd laps it all. anyway, am happy that you and all in the family enjoyed the evening...


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