When he was alive, Crazy Mohan never really got tired of repeating how he met Kamal Haasan, whose link and influence proved to be crucial for his film career, and even his life.
'Crazy', as he was generally referred to, would have completed 70 years on October 16, and also marked 40 years in filmdom — his first-ever Tamil movie, Poikkal Kuthirai, was released in September of 1983.
Crazy often said that his first major meeting with Kamal was at a burial ground when the latter was shooting for the Tamil film Sathyaa. Since that movie was released in January 1988, it is most likely that the meeting, which transformed Crazy's life and career unimaginably, took place in 1987. Like everything about his film career, it was one of chance. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
But the two should have met before too. For, Kamal played a cameo (as himself) in Poikkal Kuthirai, which is a reprise of Crazy's popular stage drama Marriage Made in Saloon.
The film, directed by K Balachander (lyricist Vaali made his debut as an actor in it), didn't do well and Crazy's film career looked to have crash-landed even before it took off. So he was back to his office and stage plays.
But in late 1987, the veteran director Muktha Srinivasan (the man who later produced Mani Ratnam's tour de force Nayakan) wanted to remake the Malayalam comic caper Nadodikkatu, starring Mohanlal and Sreenivasan in the leads. The Malayalam movie now has a cult following.
Muktha Srinivasan, who produced and directed the Tamil remake, knew the core of the film was comedy and wanted a writer who could flesh that out without making a mere copy of the original. That he chose to title this movie Kathanayakan may be due to the fact that Muktha had some run-ins with Kamal during the filming of Nayakan and he was trying to prove some strange point to the actor. But that is not germane here.
Second attempt too wasn’t impactful
Now, Muktha had an eye for spotting talent. He was the one who introduced another brilliant humor-writer from Tamil stage plays, T S B K Moulee, in Tamil films as an actor in the 1973 movie Suryakanthi. For the dialogues of Kathanayakan, Muktha went to Crazy, and the latter got another chance to parade his skills as a writer in films.
Though Kathanayakan was a moderate hit, and its humour taken note of, nobody then spoke about the dialogue writer. The film, at least at that point, was known for the comedic show of Pandiarajan and S Ve Shekar as Mani and Ramani. So, Crazy's second coming was also not making many ripples.
But when 1988 arrived, with the new year Crazy's fate was also changing.
Kamal, at the start of the year, had gotten down to venture on his new movie with a character that he would play as a dwarf. He had shot a few scenes also but when the veteran Panchu Arunachalam saw the rushes, he was unimpressed. He reportedly told Kamal that the film was too raw, and except for the dwarf character, nothing worked.
A chastened Kamal roped Panchu as the story writer who thought up a character that would be the brother to the dwarf. They eventually had a typical revenge story with the two brothers taking out the killers of their dad.
Kamal, who was getting into the experimental phase of his career, wanted to make the film an all-out spoof on typical revenge stories — it was Kamal's way of laughing at the established trends of filmmaking in Kollywood — and the title of the film was in itself revealing of this mindset. Apoorva Sagodharargal is the same as the 1949 Tamil hit which itself was an adaptation of Alexander Dumas' famous story The Corsican Brothers.
The story was about two lookalike brothers who get separated by a villainous uncle who murders their parents. The story is about how the two brothers join together in avenging their parents' killing.
The best comic duo in Tamil cinema ever
But Kamal was reportedly talked out of an outright spoof as a star like him would not be accepted playing a caricature. His previous experience in Telugu, Oka Radha Iddaru Krishnulu (1986), — it was dubbed in Tamil as Hare Radha Hare Krishna"— which had an enjoyable parody spirit did not do well. That might have chastened him.
But anyway, Kamal wanted his Apoorva Sagodharargal to be if not spoofy then at least goofy. Hence he wanted Moulee who was known for his humour plays then to be in charge of the lines. But by then Moulee was busy in Telugu, and so Crazy's name was considered.
Lady luck was ready to smile for a humorist as one of the most famed and enjoyable collaborations in Tamil cinema was getting started.
What happened after that is now too well known. The two hit it off so much that they made comedy movies, which stars hardly attempted (Sivaji's Galatta Kalyanam, Ooty Varai Uravu were considered exceptions), mainstream chic. A flurry of laughathons, which were not mindlessly dumbed down humour works, emanated from the duo.
Just look at their body of work together after Apoorva Sagodharargal: The absolute hall of famer is of course Michael Madana Kamarajan (1990). Indran Chandran (1990), Magalir Mattum (1994), Sathi Leelavathi (1995), Avvai Shanmugi (1996), Kaathala Kaathala (1998), Thenali (2000), Panchathanthram (2002), Pammal K Sambandam (2002), Vasool Raja MBBS (2004).
There were portions in Manmadhan Ambu (2010) that Crazy wrote (no prizes for guessing which sections), but the rest of the film was by Kamal himself. In all, they worked in 11 movies officially together, though there are enough indications that he was involved in parts of Dasavatharam (2008) and Mumbai Xpress (2005) too.
Kamal’s hand in Crazy’s humour
Crazy understood the ways of Kamal and adapted himself to the needs of his films. Crazy's strength as a writer was he had a yen for word plays (bilingual puns) and also knew how to create situations that lent themselves to comical chaos on screen.
Since he used the strength of the language (Tamil) for his jokes, they are almost untranslatable. Hence, unavailable to other language followers. That is a bummer really. For, Crazy deserves to be celebrated across the country. His comedy can help spread happiness and bonhomie.
Anyway, Kamal was crafty and smart enough to use Crazy's strength while he himself filled in the areas where Crazy was wanting.
Crazy's characters, as those who have seen his stage dramas would know, were stereotypical with not much depth. But they were created just to reap laughs. They were there to deliver the comically rife lines. But essentially, Crazy was a man without malice. It was impossible for him to think up characters and situations that are intrinsically bad or evil.
But cinema needs strong characters that are not one-dimensional, and that is what Kamal thought up for Crazy. And that is why some of the memorable mainline comic characters in Tamil cinema belong to the duo.
It can be no exaggeration to say that Crazy would not be the comedy legend that he is now without the contribution of Kamal in tandem. Just look at the films that Crazy worked on in Kollywood without Kamal, and most of them wouldn't even ring a bell.
Even those non-Kamal successful movies of Crazy — there are a few — had an indirect Kamal connection. They belonged to the same ecosystem.
The riotously funny Chinna Maapillai (1993), Vietnam Colony (1994) were directed by Santhana Bharathi who is a well-known Kamal groupie.
Chinna Vathiyar (1995) was directed by Singeethan Sreenivasa Rao, a known Kamal acolyte and also the director of Apoorva Sagodharargal, Pushpak, and MMKR.
Aahaa (1997) and Poovellam Kettupaar (1999) were also hits. But in spirit they were all Crazy plays (mistaken identities, miscommunication and secrets leading to fun situations) and in any case were directed by Suresh Krissna and Vasanth respectively, who were trained under K Balachander, whose hand in shaping Kamal's early cinematic sensibilities can never be debated.
Crazy's films outside of this orbit, including Rajinikanth's Arunachalam (1997), Ratchagan (1997), Mr Romeo (1996), Idhaya Thirudan (2006) are hardly remembered for their comic lines. And that wouldn't be Crazy's mistake. It is just that the filmmakers did not know how to utilise his priceless talent.
Crazy's passing away in 2019 was sudden. But as a writer he was well past his prime by then. The last decade of his career was no patch on what had preceded.
Even his dramas, even if they remained popular, had lost their original charm. Chocolate Krishna and Google Gadothgajan, his dramas in 2010s, were pale pastiches and were just derivatives of his previous stuff. He had also cut down on his humour writing and began to focus on Tamil poetry (venba, to be precise) and religious offerings. It was almost as if he kind of knew of his impending end.
Death may have had the last laugh, but the laughs that Crazy provided are everlasting.
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