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cinema cinema:tamil

Siri On You Crazy Diamond

Crazy Mohan: A Remembrance

“Margazhi thingal!

Adutha line enna?”

“Margazhi sevvai”

I think my life changed when I picked up a cassette of Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam (CTIP) in a basement book store..

Ok strike that that out, life did change really and I would never be able to listen to Thiruppavai without a chuckle.

The golden age of Tamil Drama was well behind me, I have heard only stories- the ones I had listened (not seen) by that time featured Sve Shekar.

 Natakhapriya cassettes would be bought, to be exchanged with another friend who could recite “Alwa / 1000 Udhai Vaangiya Aboorva Sigamani” at will, when teachers looked the other way. I marveled at his ability.

But this Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam cassette was something different; it did feature Sve Shekar but claimed to have been written by Crazy Mohan. I never knew, honestly- a rare and perfect combination- the timing of Sve and the dialogues and situations of one Mr. Mohan, who I had known from multiple collaborations with Kamal.

By this time MMKR was curriculum.

Perfect because of the coming together of talents.Rare because this is the Tamil comedy drama equivalent of Eric Clapton playing with the Beatles and like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ it was pure gold; there was a joke in every line, hell there was a joke even when there were pauses. It was that good.

Within 5 minutes I knew that this would trounce”Alwa” or such in any discernable comedic aspect and I took it upon myself to memorize it and became a quoting repository.  Despite the cassette being a live scratchy recording complete with a wailing kid and continuous laughter probably from the seventies!

I didn’t know it was Mohan’s first play and I didn’t realize its importance, then.  

Oh I love the movie dialogues, don’t get me wrong- but I believe everything started from this heist comedy at Palavakkam. Mohan had the ability to begin with situations that seem quite normal – like for example the perpetually jobless hero (Uppili) but add increasingly crazy elements to it.

In Crazy Mohan’s world situations are more important than the story, the situations that are formed in his head knows no bounds because imagination does not come with an input cost.

A character reading the newspaper is his favourite and I know translating into English won’t help, but nevertheless will attempt.

<Situation: Kuppusamy is convincing Sudarsanam to purchase a house in the outskirts of Chennai and asks his son, the foolish Uppili to read aloud a particular advertisement from the newspaper>

Kuppusamy: Uppili come on read the advertisement from the paper’s 4th page

<pause>

Kuppusamy(dissing his son) : Do you know number 4? It is the number that comes after 3

<Mild laugh>

Uppili: OoooOooo number 4? I thought the one that comes before 5

<Still more laughs>

Uppili continues: Nonsense Appa, do you think I don’t even know 4.

<Pause>

I have studied till SSLC

<Pause>

I can count till 10

By this time the whole auditorium is laughing. Also count me giggling with my Walkman on multiple train journeys, this was my Hamlet. I should internalize it.

 Uppili then goes on to read murder stories and inappropriate advertisements for the next five minutes till they come back to the situation of buying the house.

Uppili continues to my greatest hero- he says the most random things-makes insane movie references- and is a master in irritating others and doesn’t really want to work. It’s probably Sve’s best role and he carries the persona into his other plays, but albeit without Mohan’s situations and the dialogues.

Personally, CTIP is worth obsessing over for a lifetime(again, my Hamlet). It features kind thieves- a kidnapping gone wrong- deaf assistants and literally a Vinayakar Ex Machina and countless jokes in between. The fact that Uppili thinks Sholay is a Malayalam film is absolute looool material.

Mohan would also take many things with him from CTIP to the movies, including ‘Ekalyvan’, a reference which would continue till his last collaboration with Kamal(Vasool Raja MMBS). It is a work which will sow the seeds for many Crazy variants.

Has there been a more fruitful writer-star combination (well Kamal is not just a star) than that of Kamal and Crazy?

There have been and will be too- many impactful working relationships, but I doubt if there would be anything that would reflect the quality with which Kamal and Crazy would produce.  All 11 of them gems, designed to appeal to different types of humor seekers; there can be no one clear favorite.

Come to think of it, most of the stories that Kamal would have pitched Crazy are inherently sad ones and heavy drama material that could on any day fit Kamal’s serious part of the filmography

  • Panchatantiram: hero is unable to overcome the separation from his wife
  • Avvai Shanmugi:  hero somehow wants to win back his child
  • Kadhala Kadhala: two orphans must succeed in life to help other orphans
  • Thenali: hero is unable to come to terms with the reality of losing his homeland

Amazing how they developed situations over each of these- they throw in some Wodehouse-there’s some classic Hollywood screwball- and some Keaton/Lloyd/Chaplin-there’s some Nagesh too. It’s a professional relationship made in comedy heaven. They literally completed each other’s sentences.

Mohan would continue to be one among many of the crown jewels at Kamal’s RKFI court contributing to other movie discussions.  

Just a crazy thought/prophecy: MMKR will live forever and when the future cineaste digs up the others in the list is bound to be surprised.

“They made MMKR and made these too? Mind-blowing”

A body of work which is also a gift that keeps on giving (laughs).

Will we find someone crazier?

 But that how do I know sir?

Thank you Mohan for being Crazy.  

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cinema cinema:tamil

Mistresses of Disguise

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Often one is faced with a sort of conundrum while talking with friends and arguing with adversaries, this is of course not idle talk; but most discussions on regional films are put down as a pale imitation or a perfect carbon copy of some other film from some corner of the world; this is of course true. Sadly there are many such films which can be down under the ‘lack of originality’ column, but wait should there be a ‘lack of originality’ column in the first place or in other words should originality be a parameter of necessity. In liking a film? I do not think so.

1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire is the spirit around which K.S. Ravikumar’s 1996 Avvai Shanmugi is built, a story about a dad dressing up as a nanny so that he could meet his children(child in the latter) who have been whisked away from him by court proceedings.

The preceding paragraph sums up both films for those who are yet to see it and will make more sense in the following ones where points are made for and against.

Firstly both are big family films, comedic takes on fragility of the family, sexist at times when the till-then underachieving protagonist instructs (at times by use of song and dance) the ex-lady of the house as to how families run on compromises etc and wins back a place into the family; but then which is more funnier?

Pierce Brosnan a good two years away from Goldeneye, plays a dashing man out to fill the place vacated by idealist<?> voice-over artist Robin Williams and the film progresses with Williams’ attempts to thwart these advances, if you will notice that there is no such character present in Avvai.

 Heera Rajagopal plays the sex-opposite character of Pierce in Avvai, obviously made out as a second romantic lead to suit the star Kamal Haasan.

This is just the first of the things that Avvai doesn’t get right (in a manner of truthful adaptation), the lead heroine played by Meena is not career driven as Sally Field is, to say even more she does not even have a career; there is no particular reason for her to employ a nanny in the first place unless of course you give in to the reason that she assists her father (Gemini Ganesan) in the leather business and is too tied up to look after her daughter.

While Robin Williams’ feminine histrionics can be justified as his career as a voice over artist, Kamal Haasan plays a guy on the fringe of the entertainment industry (a dance assistant) but Doubtfire is a meticulously plain and not entirely funny account of an emotional man trying to win back his children.

Ok funny is a relative thing, what is funnier to you might not move a muscle on my lips; but what is inspiring about Avvai is that it is absolutely outrageous, a full-out attack to make you laugh so much so that it makes Mrs. Doubtfire looks like a tired old mouse saving up cheese.

This outrageousness alone makes Avvai a far better film, while Doubtfire entirely rests on the talent of Williams to make up the humour: a task he never fails; Avvai is filled with seriously funny actors upping the laughs per minute rate. There is the drunken make-up man Joseph who could make a parrot into a monkey, the dumb cook Pasha or Palavakkam Swaminathan with dreams of acting, the much-in love house owner Mudhaliyar, the ever snooping Sethurama Iyer ( Delhi Ganesh in a role like no other) as said above there are not even sketches of any such characters in Doubtfire, with introductions which are so diverse <Avvai> swirls around in madness finally elevating this film to comedic greatness.

My attempts fall in vain, as I will try to explain a sequence as follows: there are two people in love with Kamal Haasan as Avvai Shanmugi while he tries to pitch one against each other by claiming things one normally shouldn’t, at one point it is really difficult for the protagonist to keep track of what lies were said to whom, Avvai willingly finds itself in such hilarious situations from which there is no visible escape route except a deadly end.

Not only the final moments after the big reveal (in true sense) are but a big drag in Mrs Doubtfire, there is also the thread of the Robin Williams character trying to get better in his career(hmmm), which completely lacks the punch and the fulfilment that Avvai’s madness provides.

I agree that I am being unfair to Doubtfire for wanting it to be something which it is not, it is by its own standing a likeable children’s comedy and that’s about it; but that is the only way I get to show how different Avvai is different from Doubtfire and how it appeals to me more, how the seed of the cross dressing dad is borrowed and made into something bizarre, a lesson in uncontrollable madness, the screw-ball to end all screwballs. Avvai is not funny because it is complex, it is complex and funny and improves with every viewing.

All this of course will not matter to those who have never heard of Avvai Shanmugi (or ever will) and those who will find it difficult to appreciate it even with Tamil subtitles, but for those who few, those very few who have seen both movies  are more likely to genuflect to the complete comic madness (again!) of Avvai , so much so that originality arguments are thrown out of the window and down comes the blinds.

So next time, when you state something in the lines of “this film is a frame by frame of that”, make sure you have seen ‘that’ film first and how similar or how different it is, nopes you will have to do more than read the IMDB summary to bring down a movie.

 

PS: Avvai Shanmugi released to roaring reception on Diwali day 1996, the film’s credits do not acknowledge the writers of Mrs. Doubtfire which it rightly should have, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from liking the film.