Indian Economy, Indian Economy is the Best Economy…
A look at the man who made this phrase a memorable one in the 1980s
In 1953, an innocent young 15year old boy who had just completed his Class X exam at Banadurai High School in Kumbakonam made his way by train to Madras to pursue his higher education (PU + college) at the Vivekananda College in Mylapore.
60years later, the young boy still has lost none of that innocence. And he remains a simple at heart and Humble to the core. Just that in these 6decades, Sundaresan 'Kathadi' Ramamurthy has become a household name not just here in Madras but the world over and achieved so much in the drama field that most others can only dream of.
Crazy Mohan compliments the man ‘If its drama, Thy name is Kathadi Dramamurthy’ (Read Interview below).
When Kathadi Ramamurthy came here to Madras in the summer of 1953, he had no inkling of what was to follow in the coming decades. His uncle (R Raghunathan of The Hindu) had almost ordered him to come to Madras to pursue his studies.
The first big milestone in his long six decade association in the theatre field came in his first year at Vivekananda College. In late 1953, there was a call from the college for participation in the annual drama. Ramamurthy along with Jaishankar, Ambi (Cho’s brother), Narayanaswamy, AN Radhakrishnan and PN Kumar (the last two played lady characters) became part of this drama troupe.
As part of the annual day drama in 1954, 15year old Ramamurthy played Pakiri, the villain’s assistant in Devan’s Gomathiyin Kathalan. During the four years at college, this team also presented Miss Janaki, Mr. Vedanthan and Sriman Sudarshanam. Their favourite hangout every evening was at Nageswara Rao Park and Guptas States Hotel where Drama was the only topic of discussion!!
At the end of that decade, Ramamurthy approached Natesan Iyer, the then secretary of RR Sabha for an opportunity. It was co-incidence that Bageerathan, a renowned writer of the time, was also present there chatting with Natesan Iyer on a book – Thenmozhiyal- that he had just written. Natesan Iyer asked Ramamurthy if his troupe could convert the book into a drama. Kathadi approached radio announcer Koothapiran (later a popular Tamil cricket commentator on AIR) to dramatise this book. It was a drama that also Cho debut. Ramamurthy played the role of Pannaiyar’s assistant and a drunkard, a role that received positive feedback from the audience.
Launches Own Drama Production
In October 1965, Kathadi launched his own production house - ‘Stage Creation’- with Shivaji Chaturvedi, TD Sundararajan and Bobby Raghunathan. Kathadi has an interesting story to narrate on the search for the first script. They were scratching their heads one evening over dinner in a restaurant (the current Balaji Bhavan) in Pondy Bazaar when Aravalli Easwaran suggested contacting Kothandaraman of The Hindu who at that time was a well know situation comedy writer.
Kathadi called Kothandaraman who greeted him as ‘Kasi’ (a role that he had played in Sambavani Yuge Yuge), something that brought cheer to Kathadi as it once again gave him the confidence that people were taking notice of him. Kathadi liked the script that Kothandaraman shared and his troupe presented ‘Inai Illa Jodi’ at Mylapore Fine Arts. Since then, over the last 5decades, Stage Creation has presented around 40 plays including Goodbye to Love, Idayam Pesigirathu, Sambuvin Mainthu and Odipona Kanavan.
Kathadi introduces Visu / Delhi Ganesan
It was Kathadi who introduced Visu in a directorial role in Dowri Kalyanam Vaibhogame (Delhi Ganesan too was made his debut in this). Over the next decade, the two worked together in successful plays such as Siruthu Kondu Azhugirom, Satyavan vs Savitri and Pattina Pravesam.
Big Compliment from KB
KB (K Balachandar) watched Pattina Pravesam it four times, coming back with Premalaya R Venkatraman and then with actor Asokan. 35years later, Kathadi, who played the role of ‘Dhandapani’, still treasures KB’s comments after watching the drama ‘Only in Cinema this happens. You go and watch a movie again and again and everything is the same. I have watched the drama four times and each time, every single scene from start to finish has been played out absolutely in the same way. Never before have I seen such a thing happening in a drama.’
KB adapted this play in the movie by the same name (popular for the Vaa Nila Nila song) in 1977 using several of the artistes of the troupe. (Delhi) Ganesan was introduced in this movie. Kathadi did the same role in the movie as in the drama that of ‘Innocent Dhandapani’ who is used for smuggling. He ranks this as his favourite role in movies.
Into Movies - 1967
A decade earlier, Kathadi acted in the first of his 75movies. It was a chance meeting at the house of Madras Sisters (Dancers) at the current Residency Hotel building that landed Kathadi a cine role. Madras Sisters acted in his dramas and Kathadi used their T. Nagar house for rehearsals. Their father introduced Kathadi to P Madhavan who offered him a role in Penne Nee Vaazhga in 1967. He stuck to only small roles in movies for he could not take off from office (Jensen Nicholson) for long. In many movies, he played the friend of Jaishankar. A few of his favourite movies include Keezhvaanam Sivakkum, Pattikada Pattanama, Pattinapravesam and Niraikoodam.
The Turning Point of his life
The turning point of Kathadi’s life came when he was introduced to Crazy Mohan in the late 1970s through Bobby Raghunathan (See below for full details).
In the Crazy Mohan scripted Ayya Amma Ammamma that was telecast on Doordarshan in 1982 (Crazy Mohan had scripted this in 1978 as Pathi Patni Aur Ma), ‘Kathadi Ramamurthy’ played the role of Raghupathy, the ‘obedient’ 34year old husband burning the midnight oil to brush up his economics, as instructed by his wife who is keen to drive him towards promotion at office
Kathadi made this character memorable with his innocent depiction of Raghupathy and an extra ordinary dialogue delivery of Crazy Mohan’s beautifully crafted script – playing an irresponsible bachelor in the first part and then of one losing his complete freedom after marriage caught between the wife and the mother.
This drama was a big turning point in Kathadi’s career, one that made him a household name in just three weeks (The serial was televised as a 3part drama). To this day, Ayya Amma Ammamma and ‘Raghupathy’ remains audience’s all time favourite.
The dialogues delivered by Raghupathy became a craze of the 1980s with ‘Indian Economy is the best Economy’, his treatment of Manager Jagannathan, the cook ‘Iyengar’, his description of Podalangai Sambar and Tailor Baba Rao’s stitching his loose pant becoming part of dinner table discussions at home. Kathadi refers to his role of Raghupathy ‘as his most appreciated role’ worldwide, one that brought him fame not just here in Madras but where ever he went including the US.
How is the Indian Economy, Sir?
Once while in the US, a person came up to him and asked him as to how the Indian Economy was faring. Kathadi in his typical innocent style told the person about a possible case of mistaken identity and that he had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian Economy and that he was there in the US to meet his daughters. Kathadi was thrilled to hear an unexpected response ‘Raghupathy Sir, I am a big fan of yours and was referring to your Ayya Amma Ammamma dialogue.’
Kathadi as the Detective Sambu
The other big moment of his drama career came when Sambu Nataraja Iyer called him one evening for a meeting and informed him about his plans to revive Thuppariyum Sambu and the choice of Kathadi for the title role. Kathadi was lost for words that evening at the enormous confidence reposed in him.
During the inauguration of the play, Nataraja Iyer joked ‘I have nothing to lose really. Either way, I will be praised for this decision. If Kathadi does a good job, I will be praised for the selection. If he does a poor job, people will praise me saying that no one can match Nataraja Iyer.’
He came back after the play and patted Kathadi on the back with the words ‘you have played it much better than I did. I am proud of you’. Those were unforgettable words of praise for Kathadi, one he still cherishes.
Kathadi’s nephew acted as Sambu’s son in that play. Interestingly, years later, his nephew’s son acted as Sambu’s son while Kathadi continued to play the role of Sambu, a role that he had by then made his very own.
School days in Kumbakonam
Kathadi had an early initiation into drama watching his father, S. Sundaresan, a manager at the Muncipal Office in Kumbakonam perform as an amateur artiste at the renowned Vani Vilas Sabha. During that decade he would watch every drama his father acted in. He also began to perform small roles in school dramas. Many times, it was at his house that his Banadurai School mates rehearsed prior to the dramas that they presented.
With the passing of every decade, Kathadi has continued to show the same kind of passion in staging plays that he did as a school/college student. ‘I did not do plays for monetary benefits. Applause from the audience meant everything for us.’
Kathadi lauds the role of his wife Meenakshi whom he married in 1966. He says ‘I did not know anything about my two daughters for a long time. As an artist, I was blessed to have such a good wife. While I was shuttling between my office work and drama, day in day out, it was my wife who took great care of my daughters and brought them up all by herself.’
Kathadi has staged 40dramas /presented 6500 drama shows on stage. ‘Dowri Kalyanam’ and ‘Honeymoon Couple’ have been staged 350times. He is a recipient of the Kalaimamani Award, Nataka Kala Sironmani Award, Nadiga Choodamani, Best TV Serial Comedian Award and Nataka Rathnam Award, among several other prestigious awards.
Despite all these achievements, accolades and awards, Kathadi remains humble. He says we used to breathe plays. All our evening and late night discussions centered on the next play and trying to making the audience enjoy it.
Kathadi may be 75+ and well into his 6th decade as a theatre artiste but his passion for acting hasn’t waned one bit. He continues to keep himself busy and is often seen shuttling between rehearsals for his play and shooting for TV serials. He says pursuing his passion at this age gives him a lot of positive energy and that is one of the reasons he is still mentally and physically fit. Also, he remains a simpleton with no airs about all his achievements. The almirahs in his house are full of awards he has received. He says he recently had a big fight with his wife on where to keep these. His wife had the final world and allocated a room just for his awards as there was no more space in the hall.
And as a parting remark, he says ‘like in Ayya Amma Ammamma, ‘I had to concede here as well to the wife and act as per her direction’.
He is relieved that she does not want him to study economics anymore!!!
The Name Kathadi
Ramamurthy has a hearty laugh when asked if his kite like lean physique (that could be blown away any moment) was the reason for the name Kathadi. Settling back on his seat and trying his best to control his giggle, he reveals ‘That’s what most people have come to think. It actually had nothing to do with my physique.’
He recounts the story that goes back in time to the early 1960s when Cho wanted to direct ‘If I get it’ (Ennidam Kidaithal), Ramamurthy (that was his name for the first 20+years of his life!!!) suggested that this be done by his troupe ‘Viveka Fine Arts’. He contacted Rajagopal of Mylapore Fine Arts for help only to be told ‘You are all Nellikai Mootai’. Rajagopal referred to the dispersed group and wondered if such a group could co-ordinate and bring out a successful drama.
He somehow managed to convince Rajagopal and the drama, in which Jaishankar too was introduced, turned out to be a big success at the Mylapore Fine Arts.
In ‘If I get it’ Ramamurthy played the role of ‘Kathadi’, a cartoonist. His performance was so commendable that people who met him over the next few days and weeks started addressing him as Kathadi. Also, people who saw him on road went on to remark ‘Anga paaruda, Kathadi poraar’. He initially felt very embarrassed and shared his discomfort with Sambu Nataraja Iyer who on hearing this told him that this was actually a great compliment from the audience and that he should add it before his name.
‘There may be many Ramamurthys but there is only one Kathadi.’
‘When it comes to drama, Thy name is Kathadi Dramamurthy – A ‘Steyn’less Delivery’ – Crazy Mohan
Crazy Mohan was groping for success in those early days (he was still in his 20s). He says Kathadi gave it to him on a silver plate with his outstanding dialogue delivery in Ayya Amma Ammamma. He says that without doubt it was Kathadi who taught him writing (and his brother Balaji acting).
This coming from a man who had already scripted a great success for himself with his Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam in 1976 is a great compliment to Kathadi’s contribution to the theatre world in the last 6decades.
Crazy Mohan wrote three stories for Kathadi - Honeymoon Couple, Here is Kasi and Ayya Amma Ammamma (this was staged as a play ‘Pathi, Patni Aur Ma’ in the late 70s) with the last becoming a sensational hit. ‘I got introduced to Kathadi through my neighbour Bobby Raghunathan. Kathadi wanted me to write a poignant story for a middle aged man!!! I had to think of a family story when I had to write something for him.’
‘He beat everyone’s expectation as Raghupathy. His dialogue delivery was truly outstanding. In cricketing parlance (since you are a cricketer), it was a Steynless delivery in AAA. He had dialogues in almost every scene and there was supposed to be a lot of strain on him. But he carried the story effortlessly. Kathadi gave colour and real life to my dialogues.’
Those days he would do 25shows a month of Honeymoon Couple and Ayya Amma Ammamma.
Crazy Mohan goes on ‘in the early part of my career, Kathadi was my ‘go to man’ in terms of scripts. I used to show every script to him and in no time, he would get back to me with the edits. He was my Script Editor. Since I was occupied with office work (Crazy Mohan worked in Sundaram Clayton- his first and last job), Kathadi even used to play my role as an actor in my plays. He was instrumental in the development of my troupe.’
‘Looking back, Kathadi was my Gateway to success in the world of theatre. He taught me first to crawl and later to walk on stage. It was he who helped me raise the bar in my script writing. Truth told Kathadi made me fly high.’
Crazy Mohan also shares a historical connection with Kathadi’s family. ‘Kathadi’s father Shri Sundaresan and my grandfather used to present plays at Vani Vilas Sabha in Kumbakonam. This I came to only much later.
To me, he is an icon of Kumbakonam alongside the great Ramanujam.
‘In the 35years that I have seen him, he has never got affected by success or failure. He is a true karma yogi. He is very meticulous, sincere and disciplined. After 50years of staging plays, success has still not gone to his head. Even today, he gets a standing ovation when he comes on stage. He is ageless.’
When it comes to drama, Thy name is Kathadi DRamamurthy
THIS STORY FEATURED IN THE HINDU FRIDAY REVIEW